ATLANTA (AP) — That super shootout everyone expected turned into a defensive standoff. The New England Patriots showed they can win that type of championship game, too.
So after Tom Brady led one classic drive to win the Patriots their record-tying sixth Super Bowl, he perfectly summed up the 13-3 victory Sunday over the Los Angeles Rams.
"Finally got a touchdown and the defense played the best game of the year," Brady said.
In a season in which all sorts of offensive records were set, this Super Bowl rewrote the defensive record book.
"How about our defense? How about our defense?" he said. "They played unbelievable."
So well that their leader linebacker Dont'a Hightower, joked they had extra incentive.
"I'm tired of hearing about Brady," he said with a laugh. "I won one today — we all got one. It feels good for us to get it all. Shout out to him getting his, but this is a team game and it feels good to win."
But the defense still needed vintage Brady for one drive . He threw two perfect passes to Rob Gronkowski to set up rookie Sony Michel's 2-yard score — the only touchdown in the lowest-scoring Super Bowl ever. That put New England up 10-3. A late field goal clinched it 13-3.
No Super Bowl had gone into the fourth quarter without a touchdown. This one did, tied 3-3 — even though these teams had combined to average over 60 points a game.
When the Patriots needed a score, Brady, the oldest winning quarterback in a Super Bowl at 41, completed four straight passes, including a pair covering 47 yards to Gronkowski. The second , on which the star tight end beat two defenders, ended at the Los Angeles 2, the only time either team was inside the 20-yard line. Michel ran off left tackle for his sixth postseason touchdown.
"He knows to trust in me and throw that ball," Gronkowski said, "and I'm going to grab it."
Julian Edelman, the outstanding receiver who missed the 2017 season with a knee injury, was the game's MVP with 10 receptions for 141 yards.
With 4:17 left, All-Pro Stephon Gilmore picked off an ill-advised pass by Rams quarterback Jared Goff, who seemed overwhelmed by the big stage all night, at the New England 2.
Stephen Gostkowski made a 41-yard field goal with 1:12 remaining, completing a 72-yard march that took more than three minutes off the clock and included 26-yard runs by Michel and Rex Burkhead.
It was a workmanlike conclusion for the Patriots (14-5), whose losses all came away from New England. They beat the top two offenses in the Chiefs and Rams (15-4) in the postseason, and tied Pittsburgh for most Super Bowl titles.
"We're a relentless team," Hightower said after New England allowed the fewest points in a Super Bowl (tied with Dallas in 1972 against Miami). "We didn't give up. A lot was thrown at us. When we play like we did tonight, we can't be beat."
The Rams, who reached the NFL championship game with the aid of a major officiating error in the conference title victory at New Orleans, never really threatened to reach the end zone.
"Last time I checked, defense wins championships," Rams running back C.J. Anderson said.
At 66, Bill Belichick became the oldest winning Super Bowl coach. The Patriots beat the Rams, then representing St. Louis, to begin their dynastic run in the 2002 game. They also have beaten Carolina and Philadelphia (2004 and '05, the last back-to-back championships); the Seahawks in 2015; and the Falcons in 2017 in the only overtime in Super Bowl history.
They have lost three times, including to Philadelphia a year ago. New England is the first team since the 1972 Dolphins to win a Super Bowl the year after losing one.
How the Patriots accomplished it was atypical. The 10-point margin was their biggest in winning a championship.
"This whole year, it was the biggest team win, the biggest team Super Bowl that I've ever been a part of," said Gronkowski, who could be headed for retirement.
Brady, who has won four Super Bowl MVP trophies, wasn't particularly sharp — except when throwing to Edelman. He was the steadiest offensive player on the field.
"It just matters that we won," Edelman said. "It was a crazy year. We had a resilient bunch of guys."
Brady passed Hall of Famer Charles Haley to become the only player with six Super Bowl titles.
All those suspicions about the Patriots declining this season became moot as the defense made the 24-year-old Goff look awful and turned All-Pro running back Todd Gurley into a nonfactor.
It wasn't a typical New England championship win. The 2 1/2-point favorite Patriots moved the ball well, ran down the clock, but made uncharacteristic gaffes on offense. Goff and the Rams made more.
"I think we expected to score a lot more points than that," Goff said. "It sucks that's the way it worked out, but we'll use this as a learning experience."
A painful one.
LA's second-ranked offense managed 57 total yards for the first half. The Rams were completely overmatched on the line and were particularly unable to handle the elusive Edelman, who had seven receptions for 93 yards.
Coach Sean McVay, whose Rams never had been blanked in a first half, let out a long, deep sigh just before halftime, recognizing how badly his team was manhandled, even though it trailed just 3-0.
It was the lowest score at halftime since Super Bowl 9, which Pittsburgh led 2-0 over Minnesota.
McVay, the youngest Super Bowl head coach at 33, admitted he was outcoached. He had no answers as Gurley, coming off knee issues, managed 35 yards rushing, Goff went 19 for 38 for 229 yards and was sacked four times. Brandin Cooks, a Patriots receiver last season, did have eight receptions for 120 yards.
"They did a great job. I'm disappointed that I didn't do a better job of adjusting," McVay said. "I know there is a handful of decisions that I'm going to wish that I could have back, for sure."
Gostkowski's 46-yard miss wide left in the first quarter was the first unsuccessful field goal in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, home of the Falcons, by an NFL player all season.
The Rams' Johnny Hekker had a 65-yard punt in the third quarter, the longest in a Super Bowl. It was his eighth punt of the game — with 1 1-2 periods remaining — the most for LA in McVay's two seasons in charge.
Greg Zuerlein tied it with 2:11 left in the third quarter on the first drive on which Los Angeles gained more than one first down. His 53-yarder was the second-longest field goal in a Super Bowl.
McVay deferred after winning the coin toss. In their previous two playoff games, the Patriots marched right downfield to a touchdown with the opening kickoff, setting an immediate tone. This time, after Cordarrelle Patterson's 38-yard kickoff return and four successful runs, Brady's first pass was tipped by receiver Chris Hogan and cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman. Linebacker Cory Littleton made a diving interception. It was the first time Brady was picked on his initial throw in a postseason game.
New England lost safety Patrick Chung on the third play of the second half when his right forearm was caught between Gurley's shoulder pad and the helmet of teammate Jonathan Jones. Chung writhed in pain before walking off with an air cast on.