By Craig Ellenport | Jan. 21, 2019
The matchup for Super Bowl LIII is all set. After a wild Sunday – the first time in NFL history in which both conference championship games went into overtime – the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams will meet on Feb. 3 in Atlanta for the NFL championship.
As we embark on two weeks of analysis, hype, more analysis and more hype, here’s a quick look ahead to Super Bowl LIII, along with a look back at Sunday’s action:
• Patriots-Rams is a rematch of Super Bowl XXXVI, the game that started the Patriots dynastic dominance in this century. This year will mark their ninth Super Bowl appearance since then. Head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady are 5-3 in NFL title games.
• To say this is a classic matchup of youth vs. experience is putting it mildly. To wit: Super Bowl XXXVI was played on Feb. 3, 2002. Rams head coach Sean McVay was 16 at the time. Rams quarterback Jared Goff was 7.
• The overtime victory in Kansas City was New England’s 36th playoff win, tying the Pittsburgh Steelers for most all-time postseason wins by one franchise. If the Patriots win Super Bowl LIII, they will own that record for themselves and they will tie the Steelers’ other all-time mark of six Super Bowl wins.
• Tell us if this sounds familiar: On their way to beating the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI, the Patriots won a playoff game against the Raiders in which they were aided by one of the most controversial non-calls in playoff history, which was followed by their kicker making a clutch field goal to force overtime and then another clutch field goal to win in overtime.
That’s exactly what happened in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday. When officials did not call pass interference on Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman, it forced the Saints to kick a go-ahead field goal with enough time on the clock for the Rams to come back and tie the game at the end of regulation. The league office called Saints head coach Sean Payton immediately after the game to apologize for the blown call, which now resides alongside the Tuck Rule Game as one of the most controversial non-calls in NFL history.
• Had pass interference been called on Robey-Coleman, the Saints would have had first-and-goal with 1:49 left to play. The Rams only had one timeout left, so the Saints could have run the clock down and kicked a chip-shot field goal with less than 20 seconds on the clock.
• While the Rams would have needed a miracle if pass interference had been called, they still needed to make plays after the Saints took a 23-20 lead. The controversial non-call perhaps overshadowed the heroics of Jared Goff. The least-heralded of the four quarterbacks in the conference title games, Goff was at his best in crunch time. The Rams QB completed 25 of 40 passes for 297 yards with one TD and one INT. On the final drive of regulation, he completed four passes for 45 yards to get his team in position for the game-tying field goal. A turnover gave the Rams excellent field position in overtime. On second-and-13 from the Saints’ 45, Goff was about to get sacked when he made a sidearm toss to tight end Tyler Higbee for a modest 6-yard gain – just enough to set up Greg Zuerlein’s game-winning 57-yard field goal.
• As for the Patriots’ win, Chiefs fans are still upset that presumptive NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes never had a chance to get on the field in overtime. Tom Brady and Company won the coin toss and took the opening overtime possession 75 yards for the game-winning score. In 2010, the NFL changed the overtime rule, first for postseason games, mandating that both teams get at least one overtime possession unless the first possession results in a touchdown. So the bottom line is that the Kansas City defense just needed to keep New England out of the end zone to give Mahomes a chance. If the Chiefs give up 70 yards and a field goal on that drive, they’re still alive. It wasn’t as if one fluke play made a difference; it was a 13-play drive. That’s 13 opportunities for the Chiefs’ defense to make a stop, and they didn’t do it. Defense was Kansas City’s concern going into the postseason, and it was the defense that failed them. Nothing unfair about it.