Patriots

Patriots

You might remember it as the game when Jeff Fisher, then coach of the Los Angeles Rams, thought Danny Woodhead (who last played for the Patriots in 2012) was still on the team.

You might also remember it as the game when Fisher could not find his challenge flag in a winter parka puffy enough to put Tom Brady to shame.

Regardless of how you remember it, the Patriots defeated the Los Angeles Rams 26-10 in the teams' last meeting, in Week 13 of the 2016 NFL season.

This was the Rams' first season back in Los Angeles, Fisher's final season as Rams' coach, and the nascency of a dramatic two-year turnaround, in which the Rams have gone from cellar dwellers of the NFC West to one win away from the franchise's first championship since Super Bowl XXXIV.

When these two teams last met, the Patriots were in the midst of one of the most storied seasons in the franchise history. Brady, having missed the first four games due to his Deflategate suspension, led the team to a 14-2, MVP regular season, and a legendary comeback Super Bowl win over the Falcons.

The Rams, meanwhile, had two of their most important puzzle pieces in place— quarterback Jared Goff and running back Todd Gurley. However, outside of Gurley and Goff, there is very little resemblance between this year's NFC champions and the team that came into Gilette Stadium on Dec. 4, 2016

The turnaround began immediately. The Rams fired Fisher days after the loss, and John Fassel took over as interim coach to close out the season before the Rams made Sean McVay the youngest head coach in modern NFL history the following offseason.

 

This gamble has paid off. McVay's coaching style and the Rams roster moves have empowered Goff, the first overall pick in 2016, to become one of the premier passers in the league, climbing nearly 40 points in passer rating between his seven starts in 2016, from 63.6 in 2016, to 100.5 and 101.1 in 2016 and 2017, respectively.

McVay can be seen on game broadcasts talking constantly into Goff's headset right up until the league-mandated,15-second play clock cutoff, coaching the Rams' star QB on the situation in front of him.

Meanwhile, Rams general manager Les Snead has done a masterful job in transforming L.A.'s roster from a unit that put up 4,203 total yards of offense in 2016, to what will likely be 7,000 total yards of offense for 2018 by the time Super Sunday comes to a close.

The Rams, between 2016 and 2018, have gone from a wide receiver group that included such names as Patriots' retread Kenny Britt, and Mike Thomas (not the Saints' Michael Thomas), to Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, and Josh Reynolds, powering an offense that has put up over 4,500 passing yards, close to the 4,700 put up by the legendary 2007 Patriots.

The Rams have gotten faster across the board, and the coaching and game-planning put into place by McVay have unlocked the potential of his talented team.

The Patriots, meanwhile, reached the Super Bowl twice in that same span, winning one and losing the other to the Eagles last season. Putting the off-field drama aside, the Patriots have remained true to the "Bill the GM" strategy of being cost efficient, replacing $62 million Giants left tackle Nate Solder with Trent Brown and dealing Cooks away to the Rams for a first-round pick.

While the Patriots have seemingly overcome this season's passing game woes after taking a flyer on troubled Browns receiver Josh Gordon. They've clicked on offense once again in recent weeks, it is the Patriots' defense that has stood out.

In an era where most NFL teams have seemingly gone away from emphasizing defense, the Patriots struggles last season, which culminated in the Super Bowl loss, were largely due to the defense's inability to get off the field in key situations.

The Patriots replaced Malcolm Butler with Jason McCourty, Stephon Gilmore has become arguably the league's best cornerback in 2018, and defensive end Trey Flowers has set himself up for a major payday this offseason.

Meanwhile the Rams defense has made upgrades across the board, acquiring Aqib Talib, former Dolphins enforcer Ndamukong Suh, and still feature Aaron Donald, who has become "pretty much unblockable," according to Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

Perhaps the best Patriots-Rams storyline going into Super Bowl LIII is that Belichick and Brady will again face the team they beat to start it all in 2001 — then 14-point underdogs to the "Greatest Show on Turf," Kurt Warner-led Rams.

 

As they say, the rest is history.

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