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Well, That Sucked

Photo: Patrick Smith (Getty)

At no time was Super Bowl 53 as compelling, entertaining, or satisfying as that video of a naked guy pooping while flipping into a lake. Sunday evening would have been better spent watching that again. But we watch the Super Bowls we are given, so our options are either to admire the defensive dominance on display in the Patriots’ 13-3 win over the Rams, or to whine about it. Guess which I choose.

In a game that was the worst of all worlds, this was somehow the lowest-scoring Super Bowl in history while also being the Patriots’ largest margin of victory in a Super Bowl; it was not close and it was not fun. (Unless you are a Patriots fan, in which case I can’t imagine you’re reading this, since you’ve already scrolled to the bottom to email me a misspelled taunt.) Defensive showdowns can be captivating, but this was not one of them—it lacked the push-pull drama of the best low-scoring games, its flow never told a real self-contained story, and it had all the tempo of an arrhythmia. It was a chess match in which both players kept knocking over their pieces and one side stood up and took a giant dump on the chessboard.

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It was a record-setter. Surely that can’t be a bad thing? Well, those Super Bowl records:

  • Fewest points in a game
  • Fewest points in a game by a winning team
  • Fewest points through three quarters
  • Fewest touchdowns in a game
  • Fewest passing touchdowns in a game (tied)
  • Fewest points in a game by one team (tied)
  • Fewest touchdowns in a game by one team (tied)
  • Most consecutive drives by one team ending in a punt

Yeah, about that last one. Maybe this list, of the Rams’ drives, is a better summary of the night:

I hope you like punts. Hell, I like punts, but that doesn’t mean I want to see 14 of them. The Rams’ three lowly points represented their lowest-scoring game since they were being coached by Jeff Fisher. “It’s shocking,” said Rams OT Andrew Whitworth. “It’s just embarrassing. It stings to play that way.”

It was, on that side of the ball, nearly as brutal just to watch. Sean McVay, whose offense inspired teams around the NFL to hire an army of McVay clones, was by his own admission “outcoached.” Every attempts at the Rams’ signature jet sweep was blown up in the backfield or at the line. Nearly every play action was neutralized by two deep safeties. All credit to Pats defensive coordinator Brian Flores and his unit, but let’s not overlook just how punchless and putrid the Rams looked on their own. Jared Goff, who apparently forgot that you’re allowed to throw the ball away, was overmatched and overwhelmed. And Todd Gurley, one of the best running backs in the NFL, was given just 10 carries.

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Gurley insists he was healthy, which, if true, makes this all the worse. The Rams, third in the league in rushing this season, put up just 62 yards on 18 carries, and moved the chains only twice on the ground. What’s the explanation for largely abandoning the run game, even though the passing game was equally as ineffective? “I think a lot of it was a result of some of the things [New England] did but then also the play selection,” McVay said. “I was not pleased with my feel of the flow of the game at all.”

All of it added up to make a must-watch (and the most-watched) game unwatchable, which is just how things shake out sometimes. But for it to be this team, and for them to lose that way to that team...well, it sucked. It surely sucks much harder for the actual Rams players and coaches, but that doesn’t feel much like solace. Andrew Whitworth sought context to function as consolation. “At the end of the day,” he said, “we’re all gonna die.” This is true. But is it too much to hope for for our football games not to look like that before we go?

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