Super Bowl LIII Features Youth vs. Experience


Super Bowl LIII Features Youth vs. Experience
Feb 2, 2019

ATLANTA — When Tom Brady and Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots took on the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002, it was the Patriots who were inexperienced, 14-point underdogs to their seasoned opponents who were looking to win their second championship in three years.

You know what happened next, and over the 16 years between that game and Sunday’s rematch in Super Bowl LIII against the Rams, now hailing from Los Angeles.

The result is an overwhelming disparity in experience between the two teams, this time with Brady’s nine super bowl appearances outnumbering the entire Rams roster, which is built on young players and led by young head coach Sean McVay, whose offensive prowess has taken on a near-mythical reputation during the course of his two years leading the Rams.

For the most part, both teams did their best to downplay the importance of having reached this stage before, but they can’t ignore what that experience means and how it changes the stakes. The Patriots’ unprecedented run of success has rightfully earned Brady the crown of best quarterback of all time, while the Rams are just the newest challenger with the hopes of, just maybe, kickstarting their own dynasty by knocking off the greatest there ever was.

“They have that inventory that they have to draw on is so broad because of that experience,” Rams head coach Sean McVay said. “I can’t imagine that there’s really a scheme that [Patriots head coach Bill Belichick] hasn’t seen or hasn’t had to defend, because really, all the stuff that we’re running is some form of another play that we had already seen.”

This year’s version of the Rams’ offense isn’t quite the Greatest Show on Turf that the Patriots took down 17 years ago, but it was still the second-ranked attack in the NFL this season, the only team to rank in the top-five of both passing and rushing offense.

The unit is led by third-year quarterback Jared Goff, who completed 65 percent of his passes in his second full year as a starter and, combined with the efforts of running back Todd Gurley, helped the team to a 13-3 record.

“They can score points against everybody. They can run it, they can throw it. They can throw it deep, they can catch-and-run,” Belichick said. “Coach McVay has a great system and he communicates it well with the quarterback and the quarterback makes good decisions. When you put all those things in place, it’s easy to see why they’ve scored as much as they have.”

The Patriots, however, reached their ninth Super Bowl in the past 18 years by knocking off the only offense that gained more yards than the Rams. In the first possession of overtime, Brady led the Patriots on a 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to beat the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC championship, another young challenger vanquished.

This year wasn’t the smooth sailing of some of the Patriots’ Super Bowl runs, however. New England opened the season 1-2 and had another two-game losing streak in December, suppressing their regular-season record to 11-5, a relatively down year by the lofty standards set this century.

Those slight stumbles have given the Patriots enough reason to play up an unlikely underdog story, with Brady and the team adopting the motto, “We’re still here.”

Indeed, 17 years after his first Super Bowl, Brady’s Patriots are still the league’s golden standard, entering their third consecutive Super Bowl and fourth in five years. At 41, he’s chasing his sixth ring against a head coach eight years his junior.

Brady’s age was the only source of near-drama after championship weekend, with cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman saying “age has definitely taken a toll” on Brady. But Robey-Coleman quickly walked that back, and the Patriots are never wont to publicly acknowledge such trivial matters — at least not before the game.

In that way, the Rams successfully navigated what the teams agreed was one of the biggest advantages of previous Super Bowl experience: the media circus during the week. Otherwise, the experience didn’t seem to have either team overly concerned or overconfident.

“Experience is great,” Rams nose tackle Ndamukong Suh said. “But none of us have played in Super Bowl 53.”

James Crabtree-Hannigan is a senior in the Philip Merrill College of Journalism, covering the Super Bowl for the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism.

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