NFL: Patriots and Rams set up Super Bowl showdown
Once again it was Tom Brady who led the Patriots to a third straight Super Bowl
Tom Brady of the New England Patriots reacts after defeating the Kansas City Chiefs in overtime during the AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images
Conference Championship Weekend’s biggest takeaway
Déjà Vu for Belichick and Brady as win over Kansas City sets up familiar Super Bowl matchup
February 3rd, 2002. The 11-5 New England Patriots, led by second-year back-up quarterback Tom Brady, face off against the 14-point favourite St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI.
The NFC Champion Rams are seeking a follow-up to their 2000 Super Bowl win and feature eventual Hall of Famers Marshall Faulk and Kurt Warner on a record-breaking attack known as “The Greatest Show on Turf”. On the other sideline stand the wide-eyed young quarterback and an unsuspecting Bill Belichick, who at the time has only two winning seasons as a head coach to his name.
New England win the match, 20-17, in what is deemed one of the greatest upsets in modern NFL history. At 25 years old, match MVP Tom Brady ties legendary Joe Montana as the youngest quarterback in NFL history to win a Super Bowl. A dynasty begins.
Seventeen years, 12 conference championship appearances and four Super Bowl victories later, the Patriots will once again face the Rams on February 3rd in the Super Bowl. In many ways besides the date, the story is the same for New England.
The team finished 11-5 this season and will enter the Super Bowl as underdogs. Despite Tom Brady’s status as a legend in 2019, he and the Patriots have been questioned at every turn this season just as they were leading up to the franchise’s first Super Bowl run in 2002.
Sunday’s AFC Championship match proved no different as far as expectations were concerned, as the Patriots entered the match against the Chiefs with many pundits predicting Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes would snatch the proverbial torch from Brady’s grasp after falling just short in a week six defeat.
The likelihood of Mahomes and Kansas City moving past Brady appeared high with two minutes to play in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s AFC Championship game, as a two-yard touchdown run by running back Damien Williams with two minutes to play gave the Chiefs a 28-24 lead in front of a roaring home crowd.
Two minutes was too much time for the greatest quarterback of all time, however, as Brady led New England on a vintage late-game touchdown drive, covering 65 yards in a little less than 90 seconds to take a 31-28 lead.
Proving his worth as Brady’s understudy, Mahomes matched Brady’s late-game heroics with a scoring drive of his own, launching a four-play, 48-yard drive to set up a match-tying Harrison Butker field goal with eight seconds to play.
The match moved to overtime, where New England won the toss and elected to receive. Brady capped his masterful day with a 13-play, 75-yard match-clinching touchdown drive while Mahomes watched helplessly from the sidelines as the Patriots ran out 37-31 winners.
With the win, New England clinched its ninth Super Bowl appearance (third straight) in the past 18 years, and for the first time since this dynasty began, the Rams – albeit now representing a different city – await.
NFC Championship Recap
Rams defeat Saints, 26-23 (OT)
After jumping out to a 13-0 first-quarter lead, the Saints were unable to hold off the LA Rams in New Orleans, falling to Sean McVay’s squad in overtime, 26-23.
The crucial turning point for LA came during a gutsy fake punt call from their own territory while trailing 13-0 in the second quarter. After converting the 4th-and-5 on the fake punt, momentum appeared to shift in the Rams’ direction, as they went on to score 10 unanswered points to close out halftime.
New Orleans scored on its first drive of the third quarter to give the team a 20-10 lead, but LA again responded with 10 unanswered points to tie the match at 20. The Saints had an opportunity to close the game out on the ensuing possession, but a crucial uncalled pass interference penalty by the referees forced New Orleans to settle for a 31-yard field goal by kicker Wil Lutz, giving them a 23-20 lead with 1:41 to play.
Jared Goff led the Rams on a last-minute field goal drive on the ensuing possession to send the match to overtime.
After winning the coin toss to begin overtime, New Orleans elected to receive. Needing a touchdown to win the match outright, the Saints came out with an aggressive passing attack. The strategy backfired early in the drive, however, when a Drew Brees pass intended for Michael Thomas was intercepted by Rams cornerback John Johnson near midfield.
A five-play, 15-yard drive positioned Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein for a long field goal attempt to win the match, which Zuerlein converted to send LA to the Super Bowl.
Play of the weekend
John Johnson intercepts Drew Brees in OT
With the Saints facing a 2nd-and-16 from their own 34, Drew Brees launched a wobbling 20-yard pass intended for wide receiver Michael Thomas high into the air. Rams cornerback John Johnson backpedaled and intercepted the overthrown pass as he fell onto the turf, giving LA possession in need of only a field goal to win the match.
Super Bowl Preview
New England Patriots (11-5) vs. LA Rams (13-3)
Despite their playoff history, the two Super Bowl competitors offer little in the way of recent game tape analysis. The teams last played in 2016 – the year before head coach Sean McVay reinvented the Rams franchise – with the Patriots winning at home, 26-10. This year’s match will take place on Sunday, February 3rd at 11:30pm (GST). Atlanta will host this season’s festivities at the recently opened (2017) Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Team Rankings (based on points for/against during the regular season)
Rams attack - 2nd
Rams defence - 20th
Patriots attack - 4th
Patriots defence - 7th