Sam Landstra–Staff Writer
When Tom Brady and the New England Patriots won their first Super Bowl against the St. Louis Rams on February 3, 2002, Sean McVay was only a sophomore in high school. Fifteen years later, those same Rams, now located in Los Angeles, hired McVay as the youngest head coach in NFL history at 30 years, 11 months, and 19 days.
This week, McVay’s Rams will be busy gearing up for their matchup against the Patriots in Super Bowl 53. Much has changed since their last Super Bowl meeting.
Tom Brady, the then wide-eyed second-year quarterback is now 41 and in his 18th season alongside long-time head coach of the Patriots, Bill Belichick. Despite rumors of an eroding relationship a year ago, the combo remains intact. A peek in Brady’s trophy case shows five rings from eight Super Bowl appearances, as well as four regular season MVP’s.
These all-time accolades, however, have not stopped experts from predicting the downfall of the Patriots. Citing Brady’s age and a lack of talented positional players, not many people predicted the Patriots would get this far, especially after a rocky 1-2 start to their season.
While it may seem like a mistake to doubt Brady, a look into the past reveals that nearly all quarterbacks, even of Hall of Fame caliber, experience severe regression upon reaching the age of 40.
A 39-year-old Peyton Manning threw almost twice as many interceptions than touchdowns in his final season. Brett Favre, at age 41, ranked third to last in total QBR during the 2010 NFL season.
Yet Brady and Belichick appear to have evaded Father Time yet again. According to Pro Football Focus, Brady ranked as the fifth-highest rated quarterback this season, leading the Patriots to average the fourth most points per game. While, defensively, the Patriots have struggled to slow down opposing teams, allowing 354 yards per game, they never seem to break, given their seventh-ranked scoring defense.
It appears that the Patriots have used their doubters as motivators too. “You’re too ******* old! You’re too old!” Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman yelled at Tom Brady in the AFC championship game against the Chiefs following a 29-yard touchdown pass by Brady.
In a postgame interview after the AFC divisional game against the Los Angeles Chargers, Brady said, “I know everybody thinks we suck… so we’ll see.”
Perhaps the only way the Patriots will be able to prove wrong their naysayers will be by defeating the Rams, who stand as a stark contrast to the Patriots’ methodical, run-heavy offense with a high-flying, explosive style of play.
Headed by quarterback Jared Goff and running back Todd Gurley, the Rams’ offensive success has earned them comparisons to “The Greatest Show on Turf,” a name given to the record-breaking offense of the 1999-2001 St. Louis Rams.
McVay isn’t the only one who brings youth to his team. Only in his third season, a win this Sunday would make Goff the second youngest quarterback ever to win a Super Bowl. The 17-year age difference between Brady and Goff marks the largest in Super Bowl history.
On the other side of the ball, the Rams defense underwhelms. It ranks 20th in points allowed during 2018 despite a star-studded defensive line featuring Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh.
Neither team’s path to the Super Bowl is without controversy however. The Rams were greatly aided by a blown pass interference call during the NFC Championship game against the Saints. The missed penalty forced the Saints to kick a field goal and gave the Rams enough time to push the game into overtime, where they won on a 57-yard field goal. The non-call prompted NFL players such as Saints tight end Benjamin Watson to publicly call out NFL Commissioner Rodger Goodell, asking him in a tweet to “lead by example”
Although not nearly as significant, the Patriots were granted a free 15 yards and a first down midway through the fourth quarter following a questionable roughing the passer penalty called on the Chief’s defensive end, Chris Jones.
Video evidence shows Jones’ hand just barely grazing the front of Brady’s facemask as the ball is thrown. The Patriots went on to score during the drive, rather than being put in an unfavorable 3rd and 7th situation.
Both the Patriots and Rams are pushing these distractions to the side, focusing on what will be a classic matchup of young versus old.