Was Super Bowl LIII the worst this millennium?

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In this Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019, photo New England Patriots’ Sony Michel (26) dives over the goal line for a touchdown during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl 53 football game in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

The New England Patriots defeated the Los Angeles Rams by a score of 13-3 in Super Bowl LIII, which will surely go down as one of the least interesting Super Bowls in recent memory. But the real question is: Was Super Bowl LIII the worst Super Bowl this millennium? There are a couple of Super Bowls involving the Denver Broncos that beg to differ. This week we debate whether or not Super Bowl LIII was the worst one since Y2K.

Sean Janos

Sure, this Super Bowl lacked the scoring and big plays that draw people out of their seats to yell and cheer at their televisions, but I think when you put the whole game in context, it becomes way more interesting. This Super Bowl was advertised as the best coach of all time going up against the young up-and-coming coach of the future, destined to take Bill Belichick’s throne as best coach in the NFL. Well, that’s exactly what we got. Sean McVay and Belichick duked it out in one of the most calculated chess matches we’ve seen in football. They each adjusted to the offensive game plans of their adversary so well that we only saw one red zone play combined between the two teams. Both coaches also refused to give an inch in the field position battle, resulting in few calculated risks from being taken. The two teams were pretty evenly matched, both coaches did their jobs well, and we saw a competitive game as a result. I don’t think that made it a “bad game” by any stretch.

Super Bowl XLVIII, on the other hand, was far less competitive. This was the Super Bowl you probably forgot about unless you’re a Seahawks fan, because they blew the Denver Broncos out 43-8. Despite scoring 43 points, a no-named defensive player named Malcolm Smith won the Super Bowl MVP for Seattle. There was no coaching chess match being played between the two coaches. Pete Carroll is perhaps best known for his Super Bowl coaching blunders. John Fox led the Bears to a 5-11 record last season, and then their new head coach led them to a 12-4 record this season. Heck, the game started with a wild snap launched over the 6-foot-5 Peyton Manning’s head and resulting in a safety. Now, that was a bad Super Bowl.

Jorge Eckardt

Super Bowl XLVIII was certainly bad, but this game was just flat out atrocious. I mean come on, it was 3-0 at halftime. There were eight punts and a turnover on downs in the first half. It was the lowest-scoring Super Bowl ever. You know it was bad when someone could make a legitimate argument for the punter being the Super Bowl MVP. After all, Ryan Allen did pin the Rams inside their own ten-yard line on multiple occasions, and Johnny Hekker set the Super Bowl record for longest punt. Sure, Julian Edelman brought home the trophy, but we all know who really deserved it.

There wasn’t even a single memorable moment in the game. Even the lone touchdown was a boring two-yard rush right up the middle. At least Super Bowl XLVIII was exciting. The botched-snap safety was exciting. The Malcolm Smith pick-six was exciting. The Percy Harvin kick return touchdown was exciting. This? This was just blah. What can you even latch on to for this game that was even close to exciting? The only thing that comes to mind is the interception that Brady threw on the first drive of the game: one because it was a terrible pass that was knocked in the air by the notorious Nickell Robey-Coleman, but also because the game had not become complete garbage yet. Even the Jared Goff interception wasn’t that exciting because it was a desperation throw that wasn’t close to any of his receivers. Gilmore never had an easier pick in his life. After that, it defaults to the field goals, and just how sad is that?

The true best part of the game? The NFL 100 commercial that played right before the halftime show. At least there Gurley ran the ball.

Janos

That commercial was great, but production will have to edit Brady’s sixth ring into it for accuracy. There were a couple plays that the Patriots had offensively that really stood out as memorable moments. Right before the two-yard Sony Michel touchdown you mentioned, Brady hit Rob Gronkowski on a perfectly placed throw for a 29-yard gain to set up the run from the goal line. In the second quarter, Edelman helped convert a crucial third down via a 25-yard catch and run that put the Patriots in field goal range for the first score of the game.

The Patriots really didn’t play that badly on offense. When you put it in perspective, 21-for-35 with 262 yards passing for Brady isn’t awful. MVP runner-up Drew Brees averaged 266 passing yards per game, and four Pro Bowl quarterbacks had less than 262 yards per game. Michel ran 18 times for 94 yards and a score, which is a productive game by any standard. Edelman’s 10 timely catches for 141 yards earned him some hardware.

The 13 points on the scoreboard doesn’t tell the whole story of the Patriots’ offense. The yardage they gained won them the field position battle, which resulted in Allen having many opportunities to pin the Rams deep in their own territory, and it forced Hekker to punt from his own end zone and break the longest-punt record. These little nuances in the game gave fans a unique Super Bowl, and that requires us to look at it from a bit of a different angle than “scoring equals excitement.” Plus, the score was close throughout, so the final result was still up in the air until the second New England field goal late in the fourth. You can’t say the same for Super Bowl XLVIII, which was 22-0 at halftime and 36-0 before the Broncos’ first score.

Eckardt

I’ll give you that: Brady’s receivers did make a clutch play or two, but the fact that 20 to 30-yard receptions are the absolute highlight and not just a five-second clip in the reel epitomizes how bad the rest of the game was. The box score and Brady stat line of 21-35 for 261 yards (no touchdowns and one interception by the way) doesn’t come close to telling the full story of the game, so it’s important to get some context.

Brady threw just 10 passes all game that traveled more than 10 yards from the line of scrimmage in the air, and he went just 4/10 on those attempts. Of his 35 passes, 25 traveled less than 10 yards from the line of scrimmage, and he even had more passes behind the line of scrimmage than over 20 yards downfield (5 to 3).

The Patriots receivers also accumulated about 135 yards after the catch, which is over 50 percent of Brady’s total. Most of them created great separation, as Edelman (3.89 yards), Gronkowski (2.84 yards) and Patterson (6.96 yards) each gave Brady better than the league average of 2.82 yards of separation. The only main receiver who didn’t was Chris Hogan (who played college lacrosse if you didn’t know), and his zero receptions on six targets reflects that.

You know Edelman’s 141-yard MVP performance? Well, there is a reason he won the MVP, because he did all the work (I’d still give it to Allen but enough about that). All but two of Edelman’s 10 receptions were caught more than 10 yards in front of the line of scrimmage, and the only two that were past he had already worked his way wide open and often had to wait for the ball to reach him before he could get back to work. How that man is so shifty I will never know, but what I do know is that my grandmother could have made most of those throws.

The main point is big, flashy plays are exciting and fun to watch, and in this game, they were few and far between. Nobody wants to watch check-down after check-down after check-down, but that is exactly what it was. It was check-down central, though looking back on it, I don’t know what else I should have expected in a game featuring the Patriots.

So yes, the Patriots may have won the field position battle, but when was the last time the “field position battle” was actually a main topic of discussion in a good or entertaining game? Give me the safeties, the pick-sixes, and the kickoff returns over the 14 punts any day of the week, even if it has to be a blowout.


Sean Janos is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at sean.janos@uconn.edu.

Jorge Eckardt is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at jorge.eckardt@uconn.edu.

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