ATLANTA — Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Brandin Cooks had barely noticed the ball was in the air by the time New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore jumped up and intercepted Rams quarterback Jared Goff at the 2-yard line late in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LIII on Sunday.
The Rams’ offense had struggled all night, and Goff had rarely tried to throw downfield. But trailing by a touchdown and with an all-out blitz in his face, the third-year quarterback tried to force one.
Gilmore was more prepared for it than Cooks, and Gilmore’s interception set up the Patriots’ game-sealing drive during a 13-3 Super Bowl win that was dominated by defense.
“When they get towards the touchdown, they like to take shots. I knew he was going to chuck it up and I made a great play,” Gilmore said. “It’s what you dream about. It’s a great feeling.”
The Patriots’ sixth Super Bowl win in the past 17 years featured their biggest margin of victory, but also perhaps the least excitement, with just one touchdown and two turnovers combined between the teams.
“The Rams played so well. Their defense was great, they made it tough on every play,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said. “We finally got a touchdown, and our defense had their best game of the year.”
New England outgained the Rams, 407-206, but a few key plays early meant the Patriots could only muster a field goal before halftime, leading 3-0 at the break.
Los Angeles, meanwhile, struggled on offense. Rams running back Todd Gurley had just three carries for 10 yards before halftime and didn’t appear to be at full strength, battling a left knee injury that wasn’t mentioned on Los Angeles’ injury reports throughout practice but clearly seemed to be an issue, with backup CJ Anderson receiving more carries than Gurley.
After the game, however, Gurley and head coach Sean McVay again insisted the star running back was healthy.
There were no injuries — real or imagined — to blame for the anemic passing attack, however. Goff finished 19-38 for 229 yards and an interception, never looking like the quarterback that led the NFL’s best offense in 2018.
“[The loss] kills, and it hurts me so much just knowing how well our defense played,” Goff said. “To play that well defensively and us not hold up our end of the bargain. It’s our job to score points, and we didn’t do that tonight.”
After driving to the 34-yard line on the opening drive, Brady’s first pass of the game was intercepted by linebacker Corey Littleton after being tipped by cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman.
On their next drive, the Patriots faced a fourth-and-5 from the 28-yard line and attempted a field goal, but kicker Stephen Gostkowski pushed the field goal wide left.
Later in the half, New England was on the brink of field goal range before a sack from defensive end John Franklin-Myers pushed them back. The Rams’ defensive line was winning enough battles to prevent Brady from getting too comfortable and stop the running game from chewing up time of possession.
“We moved the ball decent, we just couldn’t get the points on the board for one reason or another,” Brady said. “But in the end, it feels a lot better than last year, when we did get some points on the board [and lost].”
The Rams finally got on the board with their third series of the second half, when a series of Goff passes led to a field goal. For a couple of seconds, however, the drive seemed destined to end with a touchdown.
On first down from the 29-yard line, Goff fired a pass to Cooks, who was standing all alone in the back of the end zone. But the pass took long enough to arrive that cornerback Jason McCourty had just enough time to recover and come all the way across the field to break up the pass as it arrived.
“Just running my tail off on the backside,” McCourty said. “It wasn’t a great play as a defense, but we were able to get the ball out.”
McCourty’s desperation play held the Rams to a 53-yard field goal from Greg Zuerlein that locked the game at 3-3 entering the fourth quarter.
The Patriots’ touchdown drive was a flash, needing just five plays and 2:49 to go 69 yards and score. Brady began the series with four consecutive passes, the final being a 29-yard touch pass to tight end Rob Gronkowski that put brought the Patriots down to the 2-yard line and setting up a score from running back Sony Michel.
Los Angeles nearly had an answer, with Goff throwing for completions of 19 yards, 11 yards and 17 yards to put the Rams on the 27-yard line. There, he tried to find Cooks in the end zone twice. After the first was broken up, Gilmore was in perfect position to intercept the next.
“Stephon got the pick and then we were able to run a bunch down and [Gostkowski] kicked a field goal,” Brady said. “That was a great way to end it.”
The Patriots then chewed up 3:05 of the final 4:17 with a 72-yard drive that ended with a field goal, putting the Rams down two scores with just more than a minute to play and no timeouts.
Zuerlein missed a 48-yard field goal with eight seconds left to seal it completely, and the Patriots left Mercedes Benz-Stadium with another ring.
“It wasn’t pretty,” said wide receiver Julian Edelman, whose 141 receiving yards earned him MVP honors, “but I’ll take that ugly win over a pretty loss any day.”
James Crabtree-Hannigan is a senior in the Philip Merrill College of Journalism, covering the Super Bowl for the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism.