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Rams get no rings for this win, only satisfaction

New England coach Bill Belichick talks with Rams head coach Sean McVay.
New England coach Bill Belichick (right) talks with Rams coach Sean McVay after L.A.'s 24-3 victory.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The Rams won Thursday night, but there were no confetti cannons lining the SoFi Stadium sidelines.

The New England Patriots lost 24-3, but they have at least three more games until they pack for the offseason.

This wasn’t some kind of Super Bowl mulligan.

Much as people wanted to compare this Week 14 game to Super Bowl LIII two years ago — when the Patriots collected their sixth ring with a 13-3 victory over the Rams — this wasn’t some kind of redemption game.

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It was a big win for the Rams, looking to stay atop the NFC West, and a painful defeat for the Patriots, who could miss the playoffs for the first time in 12 years.

And New England now knows how it feels to walk away with a mere field goal. It was the Patriots’ lowest-scoring game since a 16-0 loss to Buffalo in Week 4 of the 2016 season.

But a Thursday night game in an empty stadium does not exorcise the demons of that Super Bowl loss, nor was this a legitimate rematch, considering the rosters are so different than they were two years ago. No Tom Brady, Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski on one side, and no Todd Gurley, Ndamukong Suh, Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters and many more on the other.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick talks with a referee.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick talks with a referee during a game against the Rams at SoFi Stadium on Thursday.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

It wasn’t as if Sean McVay, young grasshopper, snatched a pebble from the hand of NFL master Bill Belichick. It was just two teams heading in opposite directions.

Still, some wanted to bill this as the Redemption Bowl.

“It’s something you think about because it was the last time we played them, being a cross-conference opponent; it was a big game,” McVay said. “That’s always going to be a part of the coaching trajectory for me and a night that you’ve got to be able to learn from.

“It was important because it was our ninth win. But as far as any sort of redemption ... it doesn’t give back the hurt or the scars from that night. I can promise you that.”

Former St. Louis Rams coach Mike Martz said the concept of redemption is not front and center for coaches and players focused on the now.

“That redemption thing is a bunch of crap,” Martz said.

The NFL’s history of confronting crisis is a crisis unto itself. Is there reason to believe the league has the courage to make the hardest decisions about the coronavirus?

And he knows. He was in his second season as head coach of the Rams in 2001 when Brady and the upstart Patriots pulled off a shocking upset of the high-flying Rams, establishing the first cornerstone of a football dynasty.

That said, Martz is duly impressed with McVay, 34, still the NFL’s youngest head coach even though he’s in his fourth season.

“Sean is an anomaly,” Martz said. “I’ve never seen anything like him in football. Even Bill Belichick at that age didn’t have his acumen for football. He truly is in my mind kind of a genius in leadership with people.”

With Thursday’s victory, McVay improved to 42-19 in his three-plus seasons, which is identical to Belichick’s record over that span.

It’s clear there’s enormous mutual respect between the coaches, and it’s also obvious the sting of losing that Super Bowl, and in such frustrating fashion, gnaws at McVay.

So it had to be satisfying for McVay — and for Rams quarterback Jared Goff — that on the first play of the game, the home team completed a 25-yard pass, a yard longer than the Rams’ longest completion in the Super Bowl.

And rookie running back Cam Akers was more like Cam “Acres,” running for 70 yards in his first six carries, precisely twice as many yards as Gurley gained in the Super Bowl.

For much of the game, it felt like the Rams starters against a scout-team defense. How the Patriots four days earlier were able to rout the Chargers 45-0 is one of the great mysteries of this fall.

Even Belichick’s critics have to concede that if he’s not the greatest NFL coach in history, he’s squarely in that conversation. As for McVay, he has continued to evolve and might be in the midst of his best coaching performance.

Unlike the high-octane Rams of 2017 and ’18, this is a more balanced team that just as often wins behind its second-ranked defense.

The Rams, who haven’t had a first-round pick since taking Goff No. 1 in 2016, are winning in ways that are sustainable and repeatable, not just this season but for years to come.

But for McVay, the only way to wash away the nasty taste of that Super Bowl loss will be to get back to the NFL mountaintop and win it all.

Maybe that will happen. Or maybe he got there for his first and only time in his second season — that’s what happened with Dan Marino.

Martz can still remember every down of his Super Bowl loss, including how his Rams topped the Patriots in yards (427-267) and first downs (26-15), but also had three turnovers.

“It’s like it was yesterday,” Martz said. “That’s just the way it goes.”

But Martz understands the other side of it too. He was the innovative, mad-scientist offensive coordinator of the record-setting Rams two years before, when they beat Tennessee in the Super Bowl.

The Rams beat the New England Patriots 24-3 on Thursday to stay on top in the NFC West.

Sixth months after that win, the Rams played at the Titans in the second week of the preseason, with Martz in his first year as a head coach.

“All week, the people down there were calling it the redemption game,” he recalled.

The game was sold out, with ticket scalpers getting top dollar in front of Adelphia Stadium. Navy SEALS parachuted in during the pregame show. Titans coach Jeff Fisher kept his starters in for three quarters — even though Martz pulled his after a couple of series — and Tennessee won the meaningless game 30-3.

“When I went for the handshake after the game, I asked Jeff, ‘What’s wrong with you?’” Martz recalled. “He said, ‘Oh, no. It’s not me.’ Come on.”

Before they parted, Martz had one more question.

“Want to see my ring?”


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