Danny Shelton and Jason McCourty, who played for the Browns during their 0-16 season, make key plays to keep the Patriots afloat while figuring out how to pull out a victory over the Rams in Super Bowl 53. Former Kent State quarterback Julian Edelman is the game MVP.
ATLANTA You look at Bill Belichick's latest roster and wonder where on earth he would find a Super Bowl win.
But then you weigh Belichick's career log and remind yourself he finds it somewhere, more than any other coach ever did. And so he did again in improving his Super Bowl record to 6-3 with Sunday night's 13-3 conquest of the Rams.
Of course, Belichick has found priceless contributions countless times from ageless quarterback Tom Brady. But Brady wasn't his old self (unless one construes that to say he is 41), and help had to come from elsewhere.
It came from a 5-foot-10 wideout who is going on 33 and missed the 2017 season after blowing out a knee. Julian Edelman, a former Kent State quarterback, was named game MVP after catching 10 passes for 141 yards.
"I'm pretty ecstatic," Edelman said amid a confetti shower in Mercedes Benz Stadium. "I'm pretty pooped right now, mentally and physically, but I'm pretty ecstatic."
It came from cornerback Jason McCourty, who in 2017 started for an 0-16 Browns team. Late in the third quarter, the 31-year-old cornerback broke up a would-be touchdown pass to Brandin Cooks. The Rams were forced to settle for a field goal that tied the game 3-3.
"God is good," McCourty said afterward. "I could never have imagined this feeling."
It came from from ex-Brown and forgotten man Danny Shelton. As recently as mid-December, Shelton did not play at Pittsburgh, making it three games in a row he sat out. The former Cleveland first-round pick started only one game for Belichick all year, and he rode the pine for the entire AFC title game at Kansas City.
In Super Bowl 53, Shelton became a cog in a defense that held the vaunted Rams' offense to 57 yards and no points in the first half.
Los Angeles had just made one of its two first-half first downs when Shelton smashed through the line and dropped running back C.J. Anderson for a 3-yard loss.
"So many guys made plays," said Rob Gronkowski, whose late catch set up the decisive touchdown. "This is the biggest team win I've ever had in my life."
The Patriots weren't scoring, but they were getting an epic performance from Edelman, who ranks second all-time in postseason catches and receiving yards. He produced from the start.
The diminutive craftsman would dart out of the slot to an open spot, catch a well timed pass from Brady, and take off for extra yards. By halftime, he had seven catches for 93 yards, nearly half of his team's 195 yards.
He was a big reason the Patriots ran 40 plays in the first half to the Rams' 22. In the third quarter, Edelman got loose again, making a 25-yard catch and run. While New England had to punt, the play set up a punt that left the Rams starting at their own 3, still down 3-0.
Shelton was on the field while the Rams got stuffed and punted. It seemed odd that what amounted to "the day he became a Patriot" was in a Super Bowl that might have represented his last game as a Patriot. Shelton can be an unrestricted free agent.
Rams head coach Sean McVay, 33, was fortunate 71-year-old defensive coordinator Wade Phillips had his back. The Rams defense was the reason Los Angeles was able to tie it 3-3 on Greg Zuerlein's 53-yard field goal with 4:22 left in the third quarter.
The Patriots got the play of the game from a familiar source. Gronkowski delivered a diving 29-yard catch to the 2 midway through the fourth quarter. Sony Michel scored to make it 10-3 with 7:00 left.
"It was a matter of Coach (Josh) McDaniels calling the plays, and us believing in them," Michel said of his offensive coordinator from Canton McKinley High School, who was in his ninth Super Bowl.
Stephen Gostkowski's 41-yard field goal with 1:12 left made it 13-3.
In his 19th Patriots season, a veteran of nine Super Bowls, Brady can't last forever.
The Denver Broncos won Super Bowl 50 despite Peyton Manning, not because of him. Manning, who was going on 40 then, conceded he no longer had it and retired.
Brady made an old-man underthrow that ended his first series with an interception by linebacker Cory Littleton.
Another Patriots veteran helped the Rams on New England's next series. Gostkowski, a 13th-year pro, pulled a 46-yard field goal try wide left to keep the game scoreless.
In 27 postseason games, Gostkowski had been 27-of-31 on field goal attempts. Gostkowski later gave the Patriots a 3-0 lead with a 42-yard field goal.
Brady's next glitch, a fumble recovered by a teammate, wasn't necessarily an erosion thing. From 2001-04, a period that included Brady's first three Super Bowls, he fumbled away the ball to opponents 18 times.
Such minutiae pales in comparison to Brady's pattern of making the plays that matter. In the end, he did that, with a little help from Belichick's latest batch of unexpected friends.
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