For three-and-a-half quarters Sunday night, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots’ offense failed to gain any traction against the Los Angeles Rams’ defense in Super Bowl LIII.
But Josh McDaniels saw something he could exploit.
Tied 3-3 midway through the fourth quarter, McDaniels and the Patriots elected to go to a two-tight end set in order to get the Rams into their base 3-4 defense and attack it through the air. During the regular season, Wade Phillips’ 3-4 base defense was gashed through the air, giving up 7.2 yards per attempt and a two-to-one touchdown to interception ratio.
The adjustment worked to perfection.
McDaniels went big to get LA into its the 3-4 and then spread the Rams out and let Brady carve up them up in the middle of the field.
With the game tied at three, New England got the ball at its own 31-yard line with 9:31 to go in the game and McDaniels put the adjustment in and Brady immediately hit Rob Gronkowski for an 18 yard gain. Then, the Patriots ran the same play on the next three snaps, with Brady hitting Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman for 13 yards, then finding Rex Burkhead for 7 and finally connecting with a streaking Gronkowski for 29 yards down to LA’s 2-yard line.
Running back Sony Michel plunged in for the game’s lone offensive touchdown on the next snap and the Patriots won their third Super Bowl in five seasons, 13-3.
After the game, head coach Bill Belichick lauded McDaniels’ adjustments as the key to the win.
“Josh McDaniels made a great adjustment,” Belichick said, via Pro Football Talk. “We talked about that on the sideline. We went to a two-tight end offense, but we spread them out. We were able to complete some passes to Julian (Edelman) and then to Rob (Gronkowski) at the goal line to score (on the next play). It was really well executed. It was not something we had anticipated doing a lot in this game. We did it against Kansas City, but it was kind of right time, right situation. We had good protection to be able to make those throws. Tom (Brady) did a good job getting the ball to the open guy. That was a great throw he made to Gronkowski to get down to the 2-yard line.
“Josh McDaniels did an outstanding job of play calling and eventually finding things that worked and made some big drives for us.”
Gronkowski noted after the game that when McDaniels doubled down on the play call, he knew it was his time to shine.
“I knew it was going to come to me,” Gronkowski told reporters. “I just had a feeling. You know we ran the play like two plays before, kind of beat the guy, had a little leverage. McDaniels saw it, he repeated the play again. I knew it as going to come to me, Tom put it up there, I went and made the play. Just surreal.”
The star tight end also told the media that McDaniels put that play in on the spot and that it wasn’t part of the original game plan.
New England’s offense sputtered for the majority of the lowest-scoring Super Bowl in history, but McDaniels’ brilliant adjustment was enough to get the Patriots the sixth Super Bowl title of the Brady-Belichick era.