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The Game Manager, Super Bowl 53: Patriots 13, Maroon 5, Rams 3

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The score was a throwback to the Super Bowls of the 70s. The highlight was a commercial throwing back to many of the best players in the history of the NFL. Sean McVay looked like he wanted to throw up.

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NFL: Super Bowl LIII-New England Patriots vs Los Angeles Rams
Oi McVay
Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Everybody’s talking about how bad that Super Bowl was.

(This is not a cue for you to ask “How bad was it?” just so I can respond with some lame joke. But don’t worry, plenty of lame jokes will follow. That’s been The Game Manager’s trademark for 21 weeks, and I’m not re-branding in the last column.)

Sure, the game was relatively boring, uneventful, and anti-climactic, but at least it wasn’t a blowout — staying within one score for the first 58+ minutes.

That’s what I’m talking about. Plus, we were treated to an epic punting duel! That was worth the price of admission right there.

Or not. I can imagine that making you mad. Not Trey Wingo mad, but still.

In a year which featured the 54-51 game that was supposed to symbolize the sport’s move toward offensive fireworks, it was pretty shocking to get the lowest scoring Super Bowl in history.

Those games were all pre-1980. The days when head-hunters roamed the secondary, linebackers clotheslined defenseless receivers over the middle with impunity, and roughing the passer was only called if blitzers used switchblades. This is not that time.

Now, slot receivers are protected like endangered species, pass rushers can’t hit a quarterback high or low, and defenders aren’t allowed to attack a ballcarrier’s head — not even psychologically.

With that in mind, this was a truly embarrassing display for the Rams offense.

How embarrassing was it?

It was so embarrassing, they’ve already recorded this over the game tape:

Some quick points (which is exactly what that game needed):

  • Speaking of things that game could’ve used, a decent halftime show would’ve been nice. That’s not entirely fair, as “Super Bowl halftime performer” is right up with the most thankless, yet high profile, jobs there are — along with “Oscars host” and “White House press secretary.” Also not fair: Us having to watch that halftime show.

About the only nice thing I can say is that it did a lot to further the “Free the Nipple” movement.

  • The only people not complaining about the halftime show were too busy complaining about the show on the field before and after it. Especially since there was an enticing alternative universe that came so close to occurring in this timeline.
  • Speaking of alternative universes, there has to be one in which Brandin Cooks was the MVP. His numbers approached Edelman’s as it was.

If he holds onto either the aforementioned near-TD, or his end zone drop which could’ve tied the game on Rams’ last drive, both Cooks and the Rams might’ve lugged trophies back to LA. On the former, Jared Goff definitely shoulders more blame, but Cooks did have the ball knocked out of his hands. On the latter, Harmon grabbed his arm a bit early, which could’ve been called pass interference, but that’s a still a catch you need to make if you want to beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl.

That’s two near-misses for Cooks this year, and two lost Super Bowls in two years.

He’s got to be bummed out. But at least he’s not contemplating his own mortality.

In last week’s preview, I listed the seven people I thought might influence the game most. Let’s a take a look at how right, and wrong, I was:

7. Wade Phillips

I pointed out his previous success vs. Tom Brady, and thought he might be able to limit the Patriots offense. He certainly did, holding Brady to a 71.4 rating, and the Patriots to 13 points. That would’ve been enough to win 17 of the previous 18 games the Rams played this year. Just not this one.

6. Aaron Donald

I pointed out Donald could almost single-handedly swing a game. Also, that by focusing on him, the Patriots could open themselves up to a big game from Ndamukong Suh. Neither had any impact at all. As mentioned, the Rams played well enough defensively to win, but one big play from either might have changed the result. Credit has to go to New England’s offensive line and their legendary coach, Dante Scarnecchia.

5. Todd Gurley

Is he still in the league?

Gurley’s disappearing act makes last year’s benching of Malcolm Butler by Bill Belichick look routine. He was the Rams offensive engine. Not only his running and receiving, but as I pointed out last week, he made them the best play-action team in the league. Suddenly, he was no more than a rumor, like Dread Pirate Roberts, or Keyser Soze.

I also brought up the distinct possibility that Gurley’s knee injury had limited his availability vs. the Saints. The Rams denied that for two weeks. Early in the game, CBS sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson quoted a Rams source, saying Gurley would run early and often in the Super Bowl, and C.J. Anderson would only spell him occasionally “to make sure that knee isn’t a problem.”

Wait. What knee? The knee that wasn’t injured? The knee they said was not the reason he barely played at New Orleans? The knee that wasn’t on the injury report? That knee?

The Rams are in a tough spot. If they say Gurley was hurt, they get in trouble with the league for circumventing the injury report. If they don’t, they raise questions about Gurley and/or Sean McVay choking when it mattered most. I’m not sure which is better, but they’re sticking to the latter, with McVay blaming his lack of touches on rhythm. Doesn’t he know the rhythm method doesn’t work?

4. Sean McVay

Think the teams that hired McVay disciples as their head coaches are re-thinking their choices after that debacle?

It’s only one game, and McVay has done an incredible job with the Rams, but Sunday was one of the worst called games I’ve ever seen. Yes, he was going against The Master, and his top weapon may have been hurt, but Doug Petersen hung 41 points on the Patriots in last year’s Super Bowl with his backup QB.

Bill Belichick may have come up with a great defensive game plan, but it doesn’t take a genius to see New England’s defense has flaws. Last week, I pointed out their linebackers lack speed, and suggested McVay might take advantage by running plays to the edge as some team’s did this year and Jacksonville did early in last season’s AFC championship game. On top of that, the Patriots blitzed on 50 percent of their snaps. So where was the screen pass to beat the blitz? Where was the jet sweep or reverse to Cooks to exploit the edge?

New England took advantage of the Rams LB’s in coverage on Rob Gronkowski or Julian Edelman all day, but McVay couldn’t find a way to exploit his favorable matchup. There were no trick plays, exotic looks, or late motions to keep the Patriots off balance. Nothing that made it look like the Rams had an genius offensive mind on their sideline. That’s not to say McVay isn’t inventive, but Sunday showed it’s too early to anoint him the future of the league.

Also, was it just me or did it feel like the NFC West door cracked open a little Sunday night.

Good, glad I’m not the only one.

3. Jared Goff

If Edelman was the MVP, Goff was the LVP. I mentioned last week how inconsistent Goff could be — great one game, horrible the next. He was more Hyde than Jekyll on Sunday, playing poorly all game, especially so in the final 20 minutes when he made at least one and possibly two plays which cost the Rams go-ahead touchdowns.

Yes, it was a great play by McCourty, but it was only possible because Goff a) didn’t see Cooks uncovered in the end zone right away, and b) lofted the pass too much once he did spot him, giving McCourty the extra split-second he needed.

Tony Romo also pointed out on the broadcast how Goff failed to spot another uncovered receiver down the middle in a 4th quarter, which would’ve at least gotten the Rams into the red zone, and possibly the end zone.

And those were just the obvious ones.

Goff tied a bow around his big, steaming turd of a performance with his 4th quarter pick. Yes, he was pressured, but it was only 2nd down, and the Rams were enjoying their furthest penetration into Patriots territory. An overthrow there, and they have a 3rd down. Instead, the game was all but over.

The stink of his performance will linger. Questions have been raised, and I don’t think they’ll be answered with another good regular season.

1 (tie). Tom Brady/Bill Belichick

These two had the same result as usual, but they got there in very different ways.

Last year, Brady threw for a Super Bowl-record 505 yards, three touchdowns and no picks, and all people remember is he lost to Nick Foles. This year, he got karmic payback — as if he was owed that — and people will forget how badly he played for the majority of the game.

Brady can forget about his first pass being intercepted. He can forget about his fumble. He can forget that halfway through the 4th quarter his offense had managed all of three points. All history will show is he won his sixth Super Bowl.

For Belichick, on the other hand, this might have been his crown jewel, which is saying something. He was justifiably lauded for shutting down Buffalo and the K-Gun offense in Super Bowl XXV as the Giants defensive coordinator, and received glowing plaudits for shutting down the Greatest Show on Turf in Super Bowl XXXVI for the Patriots first title. But holding a team to three points in a Super Bowl is top-line-of-the-resume stuff for anybody. And this wasn’t any team the Patriots held without a touchdown, but the number two scoring offense in the NFL this season, and the 11th highest of all time. It was arguably the best defensive performance ever in a Super Bowl.

Also, let’s not forget this is the virtually the same defensive talent which had arguably the worst performance ever in a Super Bowl just a year ago. So what changed?

Add the Lions to the list of teams who might be questioning their choice of head coach.

This is the end... and also the beginning

So the season is over, and we now enter the football abyss. There’s very little action, but that doesn’t mean we won’t anticipate it with bated breath.

Yes, the combine, free agency, and the draft are about all we have for the next few months. But don’t fear, I have a plan to ease the pain. While this is the last Game Manager column, I’m prepping another series which I hope provides some tips on how to get your football fix until next season -- because the columns themselves won’t do.

Don’t get me wrong, it won’t hold a candle to actual football (what does?), but it’s a project I’m very excited about. If you like football and movies, hopefully you’ll enjoy it. Besides, what else are you going to do?

Throughout the offseason, I’m going to run down the best football movies of all time. They’ll be cataloged, ranked, and broken down within an inch of their lives. To prepare I’ve already watched a dozen contenders, and will watch many more before deciding where they rank. And when I say “watch,” I’m not talking about a simple viewing -- picture Belichick locked in the film room, all hopped-up on Adderall and soaked in his own filth, obsessively breaking down tape, analyzing every angle of every moment.

If that all sounds good to you (or even if it doesn’t), please keep an eye on this space over the next few months. The first installment will arrive in two weeks. In the meantime, if you have any suggestions for overlooked or under-appreciated football movies you’d like to see considered, leave your suggestions in the comments.

Poll

Who should be most embarrassed by their performance on Sunday?

This poll is closed

  • 35%
    Jared Goff
    (93 votes)
  • 39%
    Sean McVay
    (104 votes)
  • 2%
    Todd Gurley
    (7 votes)
  • 14%
    Adam Levine
    (37 votes)
  • 7%
    The Bud Knight
    (20 votes)
261 votes total Vote Now