The postgame news conference was over, and Rams coach Sean McVay had already blamed himself, saying he’d been completely outcoached. That he felt numb.
The New England Patriots ended what had been an otherwise dream season for McVay and the Rams with Sunday’s 13-3 victory in Super Bowl LIII that sent ageless Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick even deeper into Super Bowl lore.
As McVay headed back to the locker room after the lowest-scoring Super Bowl in history, he couldn’t help taking another shot at himself. The Rams’ defense played well. The offense, on the other hand, saved its worst performance for last.
“I don’t think I’ll ever get over it,” McVay said.
He could not yet consider the possibility of a return to the Super Bowl next year.
“That’s what’s so sickening about this,” McVay said. “You feel like you missed a great opportunity to try and capitalize on a chance to win a Super Bowl.
“I certainly didn’t do my part and that’s something that just really makes you sick.”
McVay, at 33 the youngest coach to guide a team to a Super Bowl, was not alone. Not Sunday and not through the years.
Belichick, 66, and Brady, 41, have made careers of leaving most Super Bowl opponents wanting.
Sunday’s victory before 70,081 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium was the Patriots’ sixth Super Bowl title under Belichick, tying the Pittsburgh Steelers for the most in NFL history. Brady’s sixth Super Bowl win was the most by any player in history.
“We grinded it out,” said Brady, who completed 21 of 35 passes for 262 yards, with an interception. “It was tough. They made every play tough tonight.”
The Rams were making their first Super Bowl appearance since the 2001 season, their first as a Los Angeles franchise since the 1979 season. But the matchup of coaching wits between the wunderkind McVay and the legendary Belichick did not play out.
The Rams produced only 260 yards, 14 first downs and the fewest points in McVay’s two seasons.
The Patriots pressured third-year quarterback Jared Goff, made running back Todd Gurley irrelevant and did just enough on offense to win their second Super Bowl title in the last three years, their third in the last five.
“We got outplayed,” said Goff, who completed 19 of 38 passes for 229 yards, with an interception. “We got completely outplayed.”
It was the second consecutive ineffective performance by Gurley, who has been nursing a knee injury since mid-December. After having only five touches in the NFC championship game victory over the New Orleans Saints, he gained only 35 yards in 10 carries against the Patriots and caught one pass for minus-one yard.
“They’ve been here three years in a row for a reason,” Gurley said of the Patriots, “and they got the job done again.”
A year after the Philadelphia Eagles defeated them, the Patriots showed the Rams that experience counts in the Super Bowl.
“It’s shocking,” Rams offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said of the ineffectiveness on offense. “It’s just embarrassing. It stings to play that way.”
Said running back C.J. Anderson, who rushed for 22 yards in seven carries: “They played New England football — that’s what they do, they’ve been doing that for years, so nothing changed. We just didn’t execute today, plain and simple.”
The Rams’ defense held Brady mostly in check through the first three quarters, but failed to put immense pressure on the 19-year veteran.
All the while, the Rams braced for the inevitable Brady drive.
“He’s Tom Brady, he’s going to make plays,” Rams linebacker Mark Barron said. “At some point something is going to happen.”
Brady made it happen, with perfection, during a pivotal sequence in the fourth quarter and the score tied 3-3.
Patriots fans had been chanting “Brady, Brady, Brady” during a TV timeout before he gave another prime-time performance, completing a mid-range pass to tight end Rob Gronkowski and then connecting with receiver Julian Edelman and running back Rex Burkhead before Gronkowski hauled in a 29-yard pass near the goal line. Running back Sony Michel’s two-yard touchdown run put the Patriots ahead 10-3 with seven minutes left.
That put the onus on Goff. The 24-year-old had struggled throughout the game, but this was a chance to show he was on par with the legendary Brady.
Goff found receivers Brandin Cooks, Josh Reynolds and Robert Woods for first downs. But one play after Goff just missed on a pass to Cooks, he went back to him again. This time cornerback Stephon Gilmore leaped and intercepted the underthrown pass.
“I knew he was going to throw it up and I knew I had to make a play,” Gilmore said. “I knew he was going to force it up there.
“Our defensive line put a lot of great pressure on him and he chucked it up and I was able to make a play.”
Michel broke free for a 26-yard gain that set up a Stephen Gostkowski field goal for the final points.
For McVay and his players, the defeat was too fresh to deeply reflect on their impressive season. They finished 13-3, won the NFC West for the second season in a row, and defeated the Dallas Cowboys and the New Orleans Saints in the playoffs.
The annual restructuring of the roster and the look ahead to next season will begin sooner than later.
Several players said the pieces were in place for a return to the Super Bowl.