Patriots, Rams collide in Super Bowl generation game
by Rob Woollard
Tom Brady will chase a record-breaking sixth Super Bowl crown here on Sunday as the New England Patriots take on the Los Angeles Rams in a clash of the generations set to rewrite NFL history.
Brady, 41, will become the oldest quarterback ever to lift the title if he masterminds yet another championship in the latest milestone of a career that has shown no signs of flagging.
A win would also see Brady become the only player in history to win six Super Bowls, an achievement which may never been beaten in an era where the average length of a playing career has shrunk to around three years according to recent statistics.
Records are also set to tumble in the event of a win by the youthful Los Angeles Rams, who are led by 24-year-old quarterback Jared Goff and head coaching prodigy Sean McVay.
McVay, still only 33, will become the youngest head coach ever to win the Super Bowl if he manages to outwit Patriots counterpart Bill Belichick, 66, who has won five Super Bowls as a head coach and two as an assistant in a coaching career that dates back to 1975.
The generational chasm that exists between Sunday’s principal protagonists is highlighted by a cursory comparison of their respective biographies.
When Brady inspired the Patriots to their first Super Bowl in 2002, Goff was only seven years old.
“What do I remember about it? Nothing,” said Goff, the 2016 No.1 draft pick who has looked a model of calm this week as he prepares for the biggest game of his fledgling career.
Similarly, McVay was playing at quarterback for his high school football team when Belichick was winning his first championship with New England in 2002.
Moreover, the Rams’ head coach had not even turned one when Belichick helped the New York Giants win the 1987 Super Bowl as the team’s defensive coordinator.
– Brady irked –
The vast differences in experience between the Super Bowl rivals have prompted bookmakers to install the Patriots as favourites to win a sixth title, putting them level with the Pittsburgh Steelers as the most successful franchise in history.
The Patriots, who started the season sluggishly, have once again paced their campaign to perfection.
Against the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC championship game, Brady delivered another masterpiece of composure crowned by a game-winning drive in overtime.
The ferociously competitive Brady has sought to portray the Patriots — the most hated NFL team in America according to a recent analysis of social media — as underdogs, irked by suggestions earlier in the season that the team was in decline.
“It’s just part of who I am, part of my DNA,” Brady said. “Those motivations run deep. And when I get them scratched at, it’s great motivation for me.”
In attempting to claim a sixth Super Bowl, Brady will be able to turn to trusty pillars of previous successes.
Wide receiver Julian Edelman and tight end Rob Gronkowski remain favoured targets, while the Patriots have also forged a powerful running game through James Develin, Rex Burkhead and Sony Michel.
Despite the gulf in experience, the Rams have drawn confidence from a free-scoring campaign that saw them emerge as one of the most exciting offenses in the league.
The Rams also point to their victory in the NFC title game against New Orleans, where they battled through an ear-splitting maelstrom in the Superdome, as evidence of their maturity.
“Obviously they’ve played in a bunch of big games,” Goff said of the Patriots. “But we were inexperienced against New Orleans and we put that one away.”
– ‘We can get to him’ –
Like the Patriots, the Rams have developed a solid running game to expand their options, with the arrival of the physical C.J. Anderson at running back in December complementing Todd Gurley.
The Rams also boast the best defensive player in the NFL, Aaron Donald, who has a league-leading 20.5 quarterback sacks to his name in 2018, as they look to knock Brady out of his comfort zone.
“He’s a great quarterback, but you can pressure him, just like anybody else,” Donald said of Brady. “If we do our job, we can get to him.”
History shows however, that stopping the Patriots offense is easier said than done.
In their past two Super Bowl appearances, in 2017 and 2018, the Patriots have averaged over 33 points, while Brady amassed a staggering 971 passing yards across the two games.
It is the sort of record that makes Kurt Warner, Brady’s opposite number in the 2002 Super Bowl, lean towards the Patriots.
“The one thing that hasn’t changed with Tom Brady, it’s his ability to play big in the biggest moments,” Warner said.
“When the game’s on the line, he plays his best football.” (Agence France-Presse/AFP)