The delirious, delightful morning after a Boston sports team secures its latest championship typically goes something like this:
Grab some coffee, go get the paper (it remains a singular joy to see a print front page after a championship), read up on any angles you may have missed the night before (and watch for amusing, cryptic Gronk/Brady Instagram videos), grab more coffee, keep trying to make sense of it all, and smile through the day in that happy haze that’s a combination of sleep-deprivation and pure can-you-believe-this satisfaction. Then have more coffee.
We’ve got that morning-after routine down now, don’t we? We’ve certainly had enough practice.
In the sunrise hours after the Patriots’ 13-3 victory over the Rams in Super Bowl 53 – our region’s 12th major sports championship since 2001, as you may be aware – here is my attempt to make sense of it all.
Gronkowski shined, but will he return?
We did get that Gronk/Brady Instagram video, and as usual they managed to seem dorky and impossibly cool at the same time while chilling out at what appeared to be the postgame party. One of the fun plot developments of this fairly difficult championship season was recognizing the genuine bond that Gronkowski and Brady have off the field, especially in challenging times. Brady clearly sympathizes with and appreciates all Gronk has put himself through physically to be that force of nature on the football field.
It’s obviously possible that Sunday night was the last time we will see Gronk play football, though I believe the longer he goes without an announcement of his intentions the better the chances are that he returns in a quest for a fourth ring of his own.
Gronk was at his best Sunday, with two catches on the game’s lone touchdown drive, an 18-yarder and a spectacular full-extension diving grab (of easily Brady’s best throw of the night) that put the ball at the 2-yard-line. If he doesn’t come back, well, that was a perfect final scene, wasn’t it?
Defense overcame Chung injury
I’ll admit it if you will: I thought the Patriots defense might be in serious trouble when Patrick Chung departed less than a minute into the third quarter with a broken arm.
Chung is one of those quintessential Patriots veterans who doesn’t get much national acclaim, and doesn’t always get a lot from the hometown observers either, but who is always one of the first to receive praise from Belichick after a strong showing by the Patriots defense. He’s versatile, rangy, smart, and tough, and it was not obvious how or if Brian Flores would be able to replace him.
As it turned out, the Patriots defense held it together, with its array of defensive backs performing ably and Rams quarterback Jared Goff being too overwhelmed to seize the moment. But it’s a tribute to Chung that the collective response when he got hurt was “uh-oh, one player can’t replace him.”
Cooks showed why Patriots traded him
That was the full Brandin Cooks experience, huh? All that was missing was him drawing a long pass-interference penalty, which was his specialty during his productive but enigmatic year with the Patriots.
Cooks finished with an excellent statistical game (8 catches, 120 yards), and gave the Patriots a lot of trouble in the fourth quarter. But he was also left with a couple of haunting what-ifs when it was over.
He was wide-open in the end zone due to a blown coverage in the third quarter, but Goff was late to recognize the situation, and Jason McCourty arrived just in time to bust up the tardy pass.
Cooks also had a catchable pass swatted from his grasp by Duron Harmon in the end zone in the fourth quarter. He’s a highly productive receiver, but he’s not the most reliable under the brightest lights. The Patriots were right to trade him.
A dominant defensive performance
I can’t decide if that was the most dominating performance by a Patriots defense in a Super Bowl, but I’m leaning toward a yes vote. The rough-’em-up performance by the 2001 Patriots against another flashy Rams offense has a special place in Boston sports lore, as well it should. It’s what got all of this started. But the Rams did come back in that game, tying the score at 17 late in the fourth quarter.
This Rams team, which scored 583 points this season entering the Super Bowl, finished the season with 586 points. They never could get it going.
Maybe that’s the difference between having young Goff and a veteran like Kurt Warner at quarterback, but this defensive performance – by Kyle Van Noy and Dont’a Hightower in particular – won’t soon be forgotten.
In a way, Hightower was the Gronk of this defense, a player who has endured so many injuries but somehow looked rejuvenated in January. Hopefully none of what transpired Sunday night will be forgotten, even if, amazingly, it now has to compete with our memories of five other Super Bowl victories.