Phil Perry's Super Bowl report card
The grades reflect what everyone saw in Super Bowl LIII: A dominating defensive performance by the Patriots with brief glimmers of offensive competency.
It wasn't a perfect day, by any means, so we can't hand out "A" after "A" simply because the Patriots won the Super Bowl, the same way every player will receive a game ball for this one. What we will do is point out the good, bad and ugly, as we do every week.
Click through for the final Report Card of the season...
Tom Brady's interception to finish New England's first drive was inexplicable. On the television broadcast, Tony Romo insisted that Brady was having trouble distinguishing between man and zone, but on that throw -- with a corner aligned on tight end Dwayne Allen and no one traveling with Julian Edelman's motion -- it looked like zone from the jump. Why Brady threw it where he did was a head-scratcher. As was his fumble. Why hold onto it so long? Why not protect it better if he knew taking a sack was in play? Brady threw into coverage quite often: a screen to Sony Michel never had a chance; Rob Gronkowski's fourth-down target that led to a turnover on downs was equally hopeless. He had other throws that were simply off the mark: A screen to James White was low; several throws to the outside misfired. But when the Patriots needed Brady, he came through with two dimes to Gronkowski on the game-winning drive -- an over-the-shoulder floater and a 29-yard dart down the seam. Those elevated this grade somewhat, but it was still an uncharacteristic performance from a quarterback who had lit it up in his last three Super Bowls.
RUNNING BACK: B
There was some question at halftime as to why the Patriots got away from the running game after it worked so well for them early on. It's true, they ran it well early, with Sony Michel taking carries for 13 and five yards. But the Patriots picked up a total of seven yards on six carries on their next drive. LA's front was flying to the ball quickly and stuffing gaps before Michel, Rex Burkhead or James White could hit 'em. Eventually, things picked up. What the Patriots did on their final drive was what a running back (certainly an offensive lineman) dreams about, being able to the drain clock with a lead. This grade would've been helped significantly by a little more production in the passing game -- something we thought was a sure thing when Alvin Kamara exposed Rams linebackers in coverage in the NFC title game. But White and Burkhead combined for 20 yards receiving on six targets. One, a screen to White, was a bad throw by Brady but could've been caught. Michel was thrown to twice, but he might've only seen one as he didn't look back in time for a screen when he was well-covered.
Julian Edelman couldn't have done much more. He consistently separated from his assignments with ease, picking up 141 yards while reeling in 10 of his 11 targets. He had a drop, but he also churned out almost half of his yardage (66) after the catch, showing good explosion with the ball in his hands. We know the Patriots had trouble scoring points, but had it not been for Edelman, the Patriots offense would've had trouble simply retaining possession. He had eight first downs on the night. Meanwhile, the Patriots didn't get much from anyone else at this spot. Phillip Dorsett wasn't targeted. Chris Hogan was targeted six times without a catch. Cordarrelle Patterson caught both of his targets and rushed twice for a total of 21 yards.
TIGHT END: B+
Rob Gronkowski picked up a penalty to help dock this grade, but otherwise, there wasn't much to critique here. His 29-yard catch will go down as one of his most clutch -- if not the most clutch -- of his career. His first-down catch to get the game-winning drive going might've been more difficult than it looked as he sold the run-block than had to track the football over his shoulder down the sideline on a wheel route -- something he doesn't do all that often. He helped create room in the running game also was used as a pass-protector one-on-one on the outside on occasion. A good indication of the Patriots plan, James Develin cracked the 30-snap mark for the third time in his team's last five games, and he allowed Sony Michel to plow into the end zone untouched for the game's only touchdown. Linebacker Mark Barron wanted nothing to do with the Patriots fullback (who we always include in the tight end grade) on that particular play.
OFFENSIVE LINE: B+
For Brady's protection to allow him to be sacked only once, and against a group that includes Ndamukong Suh and Aaron Donald? That would be remarkable. And while Brady was sacked once, you could say that one was on the quarterback for holding onto the ball inexplicably. Brady was pressured just eight times in all, not nearly enough for Wade Phillips to come anywhere near replicating his game plan against the Patriots when he was with the Broncos for the AFC title game. Joe Thuney (pictured) might've had the pass-blocking rep of the season, allowing Brady enough time to make his 29-yard throw to Gronkowski when matched up with Donald one-on-one. This group knew that eventually, they'd be able to wear down the Rams front, and it seemed like with their four-minute offense at the end of the game that chewed up about three minutes total, that they did exactly that. Against a lighter defensive front, the offensive line did what it should have done, helping its backs pick up an average of 4.8 yards per carry.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B+
If not for a missed kick from Stephen Gostkowski in the first quarter, this grade would've been bumped up into the "A" range. Gostkowski helped atone with a second-quarter field goal and his game-sealing boot in the fourth, but it was Ryan Allen and the Patriots punt unit that put on a show from start to finish. His punt to finish off the first quarter was coaxed out of bounds by Matthew Slater at the six. In the third, he had a punt downed inside the five (Slater was there again). His next punt flipped field position when Slater and Keion Crossen made the stop for a loss of one at the LA 23-yard line. Then, to start the fourth quarter, Allen had another punt placed at the seven. A loss of five on a Julian Edelman punt return and an Albert McClellan hold didn't help this grade.
DEFENSIVE LINE: A
It wasn't just on the offensive side of things where the Patriots wanted to show that they were the more physical team. All throughout the Patriots defensive front, there seemed to be a concerted effort made to make the Rams turtle. It started on the interior with a couple of players who've had their up-and-down moments in 2018: Malcom Brown and Danny Shelton. Brown was hard to move all game and Shelton knifed through LA's blockers twice for run stuffs. Lawrence Guy also had his way with LA's interior, coming up with a season-high four pressures. Trey Flowers matched that number. When Adam Butler wasn't pressuring the quarterback himself, he was setting up his teammates for hits and hurries of their own by stunting and drawing attention to open up rush lanes. The Rams ran it 18 times for 62 yards for an average of 3.4 yards per carry. Against an offense that is predicated on zone runs and play-action off of those, this unit did a tremendous job of shutting down option No. 1.
A look back at the film might be demoralizing for Rams blockers. Why? Elandon Roberts brought Roger Saffold to his knees on one zone run when the Patriots had six at the line of scrimmage. Dont'a Hightower lit up tight end Tyler Higbee on a second-quarter play that he didn't end up impacting -- Shelton made the tackle for a loss -- but it may have had an impact on Higbee's willingness to mix it up from that point on. Aside from the jarring hits, there was big-time production from this group Sunday. Kyle Van Noy finished with five hurries and a sack. Hightower had five hurries and two sacks, and his sacks looked like plays where his job was to clear things out for others. Perhaps looking for those games up front, the Rams left Hightower alone and he made them pay.
Three total points? What's not to like? Why that little hyphen next to the "A"? Had it not been for a handful of gaffes from Jared Goff and the Rams offense, that final tally on the scoreboard would've looked different. That's not to take anything away from what was one of the best defensive performances in Super Bowl history. But Goff should've hit Brandin Cooks on his post route that Jason McCourty broke up. (For some reason, Stephon Gilmore didn't run with Cooks on that play, leaving McCourty as the only line of defense.) Goff should've hit Cooks on the post route -- the exact same play -- in the first quarter when McCourty didn't get over to help Gilmore. Cooks also dropped a potential touchdown pass in the fourth quarter before absorbing a hit from Duron Harmon. Otherwise, though, this group was superb. McCourty broke up another pass to Josh Reynolds down the field that negated what would've been an explosive gain on third-and-10 in the second quarter. Stephon Gilmore had his game-sealing pick -- helped in part by pressure created by his teammates in the secondary -- as well as a pass breakup when Goff forced one into Cooks. Patrick Chung also had a pass breakup and a run stuff before leaving injured.