ATLANTA - How many times have we seen this?
New England quarterback Tom Brady drops back, looks down the middle and at the last moment, flicks his head to the left and launches a pass down the sideline to his massive tight end Rob Gronkowski.
The ball drops perfectly into Gronkowski’s hands, even though he’s surrounded by three defenders.
Brady threw that pass to Gronkowski with just over seven minutes left in Super Bowl LIII. Gronkowski’s catch put New England on the Los Angeles Rams’ 2-yard line. On the next play, Sony Michel slashed into the end zone and the Patriots had the only touchdown of the game. It was more than enough to win.
“This is surreal, unbelievable,” Gronkowski said. “Tom threw it to me, and I had to make a play. He knows to trust in me and throw that ball, and I’m going to grab it. When it comes to crunch time, I always find a way.”
It could be the last pass Brady ever throws to Gronkowski. The talented tight end took a long time to decide whether to return for the 2018 season. He’ll have to decide whether he wants to go through another season of the pain that comes along with the acclaim and glory of playing in the NFL.
But that is a topic for another day.
“I haven’t thought about that decision at all,” Gronkowski said. “Tonight’s the night to celebrate with my team. That will be decided in the next few weeks.”
Sunday, the Patriots were more interested in discussing their 13-3 victory in Super Bowl LIII, their second Super Bowl victory in the past three years and their sixth victory in nine Super Bowl appearances with Brady at quarterback and Bill Belichick as the head coach.
Continuity and a great quarterback and coach matter.
“It’s an honor to play with a guy like that,” wide receiver Julian Edelman, selected as the game’s MVP, said of Brady.
“This is the sixth time he’s won. That’s pretty insane.”
Before Brady threw that pass and Michel slashed into the end zone, Super Bowl LIII bore little resemblance to a championship game. It seemed destined to go into NFL lore as the worst Super Bowl ever played, a game with all the points coming from field goals.
Brady and Gronkowski saved the game from such infamy, although to them, it was a wonderful outcome.
“It feels a lot better than last year when we did get points on the board,” Brady said.
Philadelphia beat New England 41-33 in Super Bowl LII.
“We were just chipping away,” Brady said. “We moved the ball decent, we just couldn’t get points on the board for one reason or another.”
Before that pass to Gronkowski, New England showed few signs it deserved to win.
Fortunately for the Patriots, the Rams showed even more signs they deserved to lose.
The Los Angeles Galaxy of Major League Soccer put more marks on the scoreboard in some of their matches than the Rams’ normally high-powered offense did against New England.
The Rams can blame themselves for that.
Their offensive line rarely gave quarterback Jared Goff a clean pocket.
Goff was not blameless, and he’ll face questions about his performance until he leads the Rams back to this game and either to a victory or puts up numbers that make it clear he was not at fault.
“He’s a special kid, and I’m sure he’ll be back,” Rams offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said.
The Rams’ biggest scoring opportunity came in the third quarter, immediately after Los Angeles called a timeout, on first down, no less.
Using the timeout seemed worthwhile when Brandin Cooks was uncovered in the end zone after an apparent blown coverage by the Patriots.
But Goff put too much air under the ball, giving Jason McCourty time to recover and knock the ball from Cooks’ hands.
The final factor in the Rams’ dismal offensive performance was the Patriots. They dialed in the correct defenses at almost every crucial juncture. Goff would begin to display a hot hand, only to have it cooled by a blitz that threw him for a loss.
“They were doing such a good job defensively mixing it up on us, and we were having a hard time moving the ball,” Goff said. “One play, one play, we just couldn’t get one play. We know what kind of offense we are, and what they did tonight against us is impressive.
“We know what happened. We got outplayed, we got completely outplayed. I tip my cap to them. I’m mad at myself. I wish I had done things differently. I wish I could go back and make plays.”
The Patriots excel at finding a way to make plays. Brady has been doing it for 18 years.
This game will be remembered as a thing of beauty only by residents of the New England states and other Patriots backers.
“It wasn’t pretty,” Edelman said. “But I’ll take an ugly win over a pretty loss.”
There was more action in the opening minutes of “Victoria” on PBS than in almost the entire Super Bowl.
The ultimate difference, though, as it often is, was Brady. He put together one drive, with a perfect pass at the most opportune time. When given an opportunity, Brady does not fail.
He gives every indication he intends to succeed for at least one, and maybe more years to come.
As long as he does and as long as Belichick, one of the most adaptable coaches in the game’s history, continues to run the show, the Patriots will start every season, and end most of them, as the favorite to win the Super Bowl.