There are some among us who, in either private thoughts or stating it aloud, have wondered whether Sean McVay could one day grab the baton from Bill Belichick as the NFL’s premier head coach.
That handoff could have come as early as Sunday night in Super Bowl LIII, but after Belichick’s New England Patriots smothered McVay’s Los Angeles Rams, maybe it’s time to tap the brakes on anointing McVay as an offensive-minded second coming of Belichick.
At just 33 years old, McVay has accomplished levels of success only a handful of coaches have experienced in their careers. But Belichick coached circles around the supposed wunderkind Sunday night, leaving McVay searching for answers after experiencing his first bitter taste of failure at the highest level of the sport.
“There’s no other way to put it, I’m pretty numb right now, but definitely I got outcoached. I didn’t do nearly good enough for our football team,” McVay admitted in a postgame press conference.
It wasn’t just that McVay was outcoached — Belichick took him to school, stole his lunch money, stuffed him in a locker and rode off with his girlfriend for good measure. McVay and the Rams were supposed to be the epitome of the NFL’s pinball era of offense, and some wondered whether his offensive innovation would leave Belichick looking behind the times. In that scenario, McVay would usher in a new chapter of the NFL while continuing his rapid ascent to the coaching throne.
Instead, Belichick bamboozled LA’s offense, just like he did their St. Louis ancestors before them in Super Bowl XXXVI, the game that started Belichick’s two-decade reign as the NFL’s true genius.
McVay and the Rams studied the tape and presumably expected the Patriots to feature a defense heavy with man coverage, as they did in their two previous playoff games. Instead, New England featured a lot of zone, cluttering the field to take away the Rams’ runways. The New England pass rush confused LA quarterback Jared Goff, and all the while, a seemingly confused McVay showed a puzzling inability to adapt. Where Belichick and the Patriots thrive on making adjustments, McVay’s in-game alterations were nowhere to be found.
“I never really enabled us to get into a rhythm offensively,” he explained. “We didn’t really have any third-down conversions really the first half, and they did a good job. It seemed like every time we had a positive play then we’d get a penalty or move ourselves back. A lot of it was a result of some of the things they did and then also the play selection.
“I was not pleased at all with my feel for the flow of the game and kind of making some adjustments as the game unfolded and to give ourselves a chance to have success and put some points on the board. Credit to them, and they did a good job and I didn’t do a good enough job for us.”
Goff certainly picked an awful time for one of the worst games of his career, and that didn’t help McVay’s case. But if he’s going to truly be considered an elite NFL head coach, he needs to prove he can tailor his team’s plan within the game and not just in the week before. There’s no doubting his brilliance as a football mind, and in some ways, he truly has revolutionized the sport.
On a night that could have been McVay’s coronation, the staged looked too big for the young coach. When McVay and his club thought they had the answers Sunday night, Belichick and the Patriots brilliantly changed the questions. That made all the difference in the Patriots’ latest Super Bowl conquest, further cementing Belichick’s status as an all-time great and showing McVay has a long way to go before he can even think about being in the same stratosphere.