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Jason McCourty closed huge gap on key play

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Mike Florio and Chris Simms hand out their superlatives for Super Bowl LIII as the Patriots beat the Rams, 13-3.

Arguably the most important play in Super Bowl LIII didn’t involve Tom Brady, Julian Edelman, or Rob Gronkowski. It involved an effort from defensive back Jason McCourty that, in hindsight, qualifies as downright superhuman.

With three minutes and 42 seconds left in the third quarter, the Rams still hadn’t scored a point. But they were about to take a snap inside the New England 30 for the first time in the game, and coach Sean McVay decided to try to turn a first-and-10 from the 29 into six points.

The call was the right one. Receiver Brandin Cooks sprang free down the middle (thanks to safety Devin McCourty following Robert Woods on a crossing route), and Cooks instantly was all alone in the end zone. Quarterback Jared Goff didn’t notice Cooks immediately, giving Jason McCourty a chance to notice Cooks, too. But with a thrown football typically moving faster than a human, Goff was poised to rack up an easy touchdown.

Jason McCourty had other plans. And he somehow executed them.

According to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats account, a 19.2-yard gap existed between Cooks and Jason McCourty when the ball left Goff’s hands. Jason McCourty closed that gap to disrupt the touchdown that, with an extra point, would have given the Rams a 7-3 lead -- and would have put the Patriots down four points with fewer than 19 minutes to play.

It’s impossible to know how the rest of the game would have unfolded from that point forward. But the touchdown surely would have given the Rams a lift, and it would have placed pressure on the Patriots to move the ball. One timely play by the L.A. defense could have set the stage for 7-3 becoming 10-3 or 14-3.