The Super Bowl is set, with the New England Patriots facing the Los Angeles Rams on Feb. 3 in the 53rd edition of the game in Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The two teams advanced on a thrilling Sunday of championship games, both of which went to overtime. The visiting Rams beat the New Orleans Saints, 26-23, and the visiting Patriots outlasted the Kansas City Chiefs, 37-31. It was the first time in NFL history both conference championship games were decided in overtime.
By Monday morning, the Patriots were favored over the Rams by two points.
The Super Bowl figures to be a contrast of familiarity with novelty, experience with youth. New England has become as much a part of this game as beer commercials and halftime performances; quarterback Tom Brady and Coach Bill Belichick will participate in their ninth NFL title game in the past 18 seasons. They’re already won five in that span, and Brady, 41, has collected four Super Bowl MVP awards.
The Rams, meanwhile, have a second-year coach in Sean McVay, just 32 years old, and the youngest head coach to reach a Super Bowl. Their stars have grown up watching Brady and Belichick; quarterback Jared Goff is 24, as is star running back Todd Gurley, and defensive stalwarts Aaron Donald, Michael Brockers and Dante Fowler are all 28 or younger. The difference in age between Brady and Goff, more than 17 years, will be the largest between starting quarterbacks in Super Bowl history, according to the NFL.
And this could will be a showcase for the new-look NFL, in which offense rules. The Rams were second in the NFL in both yards and points; New England finished fifth in total yards and fourth in scoring. There were 38 points scored in the fourth quarter of the Patriots-Chiefs game Sunday, the most ever in one quarter of a championship game.
This should also be a showcase for CBS color analyst Tony Romo, who’s seeing-the-future calls during Sunday’s Patriots win were nearly as memorable as Brady’s heroics.
The Patriots needed a pair of fourth-quarter rallies this time, before getting the ball first in overtime and driving for the winning score. The Patriots thus continued their irrepressible dynasty, which hasn’t flagged even as Brady entered his 40s. Sunday marked New England’s eighth straight appearance in an AFC championship game; the Patriots are in the Super Bowl for a third straight year, and for the fourth time in five years.
The Rams advanced after winning an NFC championship game marked by officiating controversy, clutch performances from Goff and the Rams defense and remarkable kicking. Playing on the road in the deafening Superdome, the Rams trailed by 13 points early before steadying themselves at the end of the first half. They tied the game in the second half but could have been finished late in regulation, except officials missed an obvious pass interference call, forcing the Saints to kick a go-ahead field goal.
But the Rams then drove down the field to set up a 48-yard field goal from Greg Zuerlein with only 15 seconds left in regulation, forcing overtime. And after a tipped Drew Brees pass was intercepted, Zuerlein hit a 57-yard field goal barely three minutes into overtime to win the game.
That put the Rams in the Super Bowl for the first time since the “Greatest Show on Turf” teams played in two Super Bowls in three years, in 2000 and 2002. Those teams, though, were based in St. Louis. The franchise relocated to Los Angeles before the 2016 season, a year before McVay arrived. McVay, who will turn 33 on Thursday, was the youngest head coach in NFL history when he was hired by the franchise in 2017.
And these Rams were assembled with this year’s playoffs in mind. The team already had the 2017 defensive player of the year in Donald and the offensive player of the year in Gurley, who played sparingly Sunday as he continues to return from a knee injury. Then they added a massive infusion of talent: receiver Brandin Cooks and cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib in offseason trades; Ndamukong Suh in free agency; pass rusher Fowler in an in-season trade.
The veteran Patriots dominated the Chiefs at the start, outgaining them 245 yards to 32 in the first half, when they built a 14-0 lead. But the Chiefs rallied in the second half, with phenom quarterback Patrick Mahomes getting untracked as the crowd in frigid Arrowhead Stadium roared. Brady, meantime, had an uncharacteristically erratic game, throwing two interceptions.
But then came that exhilarating fourth quarter, with Brady and his teammates converting on one third down play after another. And then came overtime; Brady is now 3-0 in playoff overtime games.
So the Patriots and Brady are back on football’s biggest stage, the first team to lose a Super Bowl and then return to the game the following season since the Buffalo Bills in 1994. This time New England will face the Rams, 17 years to the day after Brady beat the same franchise for his first Super Bowl win.
Super Bowl Basics
When: Feb. 3, 6:30 p.m. Eastern.
Where: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta. It will be the third Super Bowl in Atlanta, and the first at the stadium, which opened in 2017.
Broadcast crew: Jim Nantz and Tony Romo, with Tracy Wolfson and Evan Washburn providing sideline reporting.
Online: The game will be streamed by CBS All Access.
Odds: By Monday morning the Patriots were two-point favorites, with an over/under of 58 points.
National anthem: Gladys Knight will perform the national anthem.
Halftime show: The show will be headlined by Maroon 5, Travis Scott and Big Boi.