There was a calm-before-the-storm feel to Saturday for the Rams and New England Patriots, who took turns milling about Mercedes-Benz Stadium taking photos with teammates, coaches, front-office staff, family members and friends the day before Super Bowl LIII.
“This breaks up the day and lets them participate in it with their families,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick told a pool reporter. “This is a dream for every player to play in this game, so to be able to share it with loved ones and family is special. We’ve tried to embrace it.”
This will be the ninth Super Bowl for Belichick and New England quarterback Tom Brady, who have won five NFL championships together, but it will be the Patriots’ first game in the new home of the Atlanta Falcons, which opened last season.
Belichick said he did not think noise in the stadium, which has a retractable roof and a capacity of about 75,000, would be as big of a factor Sunday as it was in the AFC title game in Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium.
“The stadium is so big,” Belichick said. “It’s going to be loud, but I don’t think it is going to be deafening loud, just because of the size of it and because the crowd is half and half, not all 80,000 against us.”
There were no Patriots players on the final injury report. Rams coach Sean McVay said his team will also enter Sunday’s game with a clean bill of health; both kicker Greg Zuerlein and safety Blake Countess were on the injury report this last week with foot injuries.
Final preparations for both teams also included reminders about the pacing of the game, which will have 11 commercials in each half and a 29-minute halftime.
“There’s no momentum to it,” Belichick said. “It’s like going to a traffic light, stop, traffic light, stop — that kind of thing. But that’s the game, so you’ve got to play it that way.”
Stay or go?
There was speculation after last year’s Super Bowl that Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski might retire, and a subpar 2018 season by his standards — 47 catches for 682 yards and three scores — did little to quell such speculation this week.
Instead of getting frustrated by repeated questions about his future, however, the affable Gronkowski had fun with them. In his final pregame interview with an NFL Network reporter after Thursday afternoon’s media session, Gronkowski was asked if Sunday’s game would be his last.
“They just asked me that — I gave them a yes, no, maybe, so,” Gronkowski said with a laugh. “We hit them all, so we’re good.”
Rams kick returner JoJo Natson regularly attended Super Bowl-viewing parties when he was growing up.
“Now it’s crazy that I’m actually playing in the Super Bowl,” Natson said, “and other people are going to be at Super Bowl parties watching me.”
Natson was released at the end of training camp. So “never in a million years” did he envision playing in the Super Bowl. The Rams re-signed him after Pharoh Cooper suffered an ankle injury in the season opener against Oakland.
“To be sitting here and getting ready to play in Super Bowl 53, it just feels so surreal,” he said. “I’m just happy everything played out the way it did because there’s no telling where I’d be or what I’d be doing if I didn’t get that call.”
On their toes
In addition to serving as extra defensive backs in nickel and dime packages, Jonathan Jones and Keion Crossen of the Patriots will be responsible for covering the Rams’ gunners — the outside men on the punt team.
It’s a job made more difficult by Johnny Hekker, the Rams’ punting and fake-punt specialist who completed a clutch 12-yard pass to Sam Shields on a fourth-and-five play in the second quarter of the NFC title game at New Orleans, swinging momentum of a game the Rams were trailing 13-0.
“You can’t fall asleep on any of those guys, without a doubt,” Crossen said.
Crossen was secretive when asked if he’d try to jam gunners at the line or play a few steps back and cover them like receivers.
“I can’t give you my info,” Crossen said. “Whatever they show us on film will dictate how I approach them. You definitely have to read your keys.”
Rams rookie linebacker Micah Kiser plays on the kickoff return and kickoff coverage units. Regardless of who wins the coin toss, he will be on the field for the start of the Super Bowl.
“One of the most iconic pictures and videos you always see is opening kickoff of the Super Bowl, and all the cameras going off,” Kiser said. “It’s going to be awesome to be out there.”
Follow Mike DiGiovanna on Twitter @MikeDiGiovanna