ATLANTA — Members of the New England Patriots’ defense had a clear message to send after Super Bowl LIII:
See, we told you so.
Facing the NFL’s second-ranked offense in Sean McVay’s Los Angeles Rams, the oft-criticized Patriots’ D delivered arguably the greatest performance in Super Bowl history Sunday night, holding Jared Goff, Todd Gurley and Co. to one measly field goal in a 13-3 victory at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The three points allowed were tied for the fewest ever in a Super Bowl and 29 fewer than the Rams averaged per game during the regular season. The game itself was the lowest-scoring Super Bowl ever, the Patriots winning in spite of their Tom Brady-led offense rather than because of it.
“We still have a bad defense?” linebacker Kyle Van Noy said after the game, a Cheshire Cat grin plastered on his face. “We have elite football players. We aren’t stars over here. We just show up to work and keep grinding and grinding and grinding. It shows. Look at the scoreboard. We’re champs again, baby.”
The Patriots forced punts on each of the Rams’ first eight possessions. They allowed 62 rushing yards to Gurley and C.J. Anderson — a battery that led the league in rushing over LA’s first three playoff games.
They sacked Goff four times — one by Van Noy, one by defensive back Jonathan Jones and two by linebacker Dont’a Hightower — and hit him 12 times. They broke up eight of his passes and intercepted one. All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore did the honors on that, snaring an errant Goff heave inside his own 5-yard line late in the fourth quarter.
Van Noy called Gilmore the NFL’s best cornerback — a sentiment several others echoed — and said New England’s secondary is the best in the league, as well. Wide receiver Julian Edelman was a deserving MVP recipient, he said, but he would have loved to see that honor to go Hightower, who also had two tackles for loss and a pass breakup despite spending a brief spell on the sideline with an injured hand.
Van Noy, who also fired off several postgame tweets directed at the Max Kellermans of the sports media world, was the most vocal champion of the Patriots’ defense, but he was far from the only one.
“A lot of people doubted us,” Gilmore said. “They doubted our defense. We stuck together. We got better and better as the season went on. We found our identity, and we believed in each other. I would take our defense against anybody.”
“Everybody tried to write us off as a team,” defensive end Trey Flowers added. “We’re old, we don’t have any players, things like that. But when you get it through hard work, when you get it thoroughly, it’s hard to write you off.”
Added defensive end Deatrich Wise: “Everyone was talking about the Rams defense. Everyone was talking about the (Los Angeles) Chargers D-ends. Everyone was talking about the (Kansas City) Chiefs D-line. No one was really talking about us. … We just wanted to show them we’re here, too.”
Add cornerback Jason McCourty to the list, as well: “I don’t care about what people had to say. We just knew what we were capable of, and we still had the chance to win the Super Bowl. It doesn’t matter how many people doubted us.”
Making the Patriots’ historic performance all the more impressive was that they had to play nearly the entire second half without starting safety Patrick Chung, who was lost for the game with a broken forearm.
Safety Duron Harmon saw his playing time skyrocket after Chung’s injury and came through with a game-saving pass breakup on the play before Gilmore’s interception.
“We have a good secondary,” Harmon said. “We play man-to-man just as well as anybody. Do we get the credit for it? Probably not. But I love the guys I play with.”