$.01--Congratulations to the New England Patriots for winning Super Bowl LIII! The Patriots smothered the Rams, 13-3, in a close and low-scoring battle.

The first half was not good football. There was some good defense, to be sure, but the offenses failed to exploit the mistakes from the defenses too. Jared Goff looked overwhelmed. Tom Brady looked erratic and a half-count slow except when he was throwing to Julian Edelman, who earned his game MVP honors with 10 catches for 141 yards, most of which came in the first half. Meanwhile the Rams went 3-and-out four times, more than they did in any game all year.

It hit eight punts in as many possessions before the Rams finally got on the board with a Greg Zuerlein 54-yard knuckleball to knot the score at 3. Goff was late to find Brandin Cooks completely uncovered in the back of the end zone, enough that Jason McCourty sprinted in from far away to break up what should have been an easy TD. On the next Rams drive, he ignored two wide open targets deep over the middle to launch an off-target bomb to the outside. 

Even when the Rams offense had opportunities, Goff could not deliver.

Fortunately for Los Angeles, its own defense and special teams were outstanding. That was enough to keep the Patriots from sustaining drives or capitalizing on limited successes throughout. Limited success is better than none, however.

Brady hit Gronk with a couple of gorgeous touch passes to set up a Sony Michel TD plunge halfway through the 4th quarter, and that was effectively game over. Goff threw a panicked INT on the ensuing drive after the Rams finally had something brewing, and the Patriots iced it with a Stephen Gostkowski field goal.


$.02--It seems most of America didn’t want a game dominated by defense and special teams. That type of game goes against the prevailing wisdom of where the game is headed and what the NFL wants. A 13-3 final in the marquee game that will be the most-watched television show of the year?

Yes, please.

This is what the magnificence of Bill Belichick has always been about. When everyone else zigs, he zags. Everyone is chasing after “the next Sean McVay”, trying to ride the lightning of an innovative, young, offensive-minded hotshot. Belichick proved once again that defense can prevail. Give him time and the master will school anyone.

For much of the NFL, the proof that defensive-oriented teams still stand a chance to win championships is either refreshing or horrifying. The perspective depends on their coaching situation. For teams like the Bengals, who are hiring Rams QB coach Zac Taylor as Marvin Lewis’ successor before you read this, it’s a big lump in the throat to gulp down. For those like the Detroit Lions, who Belichick acknowledged in providing the defensive blueprint for how to beat the Rams (and who did beat the Patriots in 2018), it’s a broadening of the glimmer of hope that a team led by a defensive guru can succeed. 

Obviously that doesn’t take into account the obvious presence of Tom Brady, now inarguably the best winner in Super Bowl history. Brady’s play in the Super Bowl is also reflective of the greatness of both he and Belichick. The 40-year-old QB struggled for much of the game, but he adapted. He wasn’t just reacting to the Rams defense. He was learning, like the velociraptors figuring out how to beat fences and open doors in Jurassic Park.

Nobody has ever done it better than Belichick and Brady, not in the Super Bowl era. I know it’s unfashionable to show appreciation for an organization many love to hate, but at least try and respect how consistently and thoroughly they defy the conventional NFL logic and conquer The Next Great Thing. We will likely never see anything like it again.

$.03--Halftime show

Frequent readers know I’m a music aficionado and go to concerts more than most folks go to movies, but Maroon 5 is not exactly my bag. But neither is Bruno Mars or Katy Perry, and I genuinely enjoyed their recent turns as featured Super Bowl halftime entertainment, so I went into this with an open mind.

It closed quickly.

First off, Maroon 5 is allegedly a full band. Yet there wasn’t more than 3 seconds of screen time to anyone but frontman Adam Levine. I know, I know, nobody really gives a crap about Maroon 5’s bass player or drummer; at least acknowledge there are in fact other members. Then again, they clearly were not playing live, so maybe not seeing them go thru the motions is acceptable.

Levine has a distinct voice, and it was quite distinct when he was accompanying his backing tracks and when he was singing live. He should not have sung live, period. It appears much of his appeal is being really good looking and charismatic more than any musical wonderment. He’s the MILF-rock version of Vince Neil.

The guests were not special. I still don’t know what Spongebob was doing or the rapper he introduced. I’m just thankful that said rapper cursed enough to earn a few fleeting seconds of blissful beeped silence on the screen. He was followed by Big Boi from Outkast, who mumbled through a rushed verse of an old classic before being ushered away so Levine could take off almost all his clothes and allow everyone to focus on his scores of tattoos and not his thin voice.

I wondered if I was judging too harshly, so I turned to my wife and 10-year-old daughter. My wife is Maroon 5’s ideal demographic, a middle-aged, white sports mom who still listens to over-the-air radio. She hated it, probably more strongly than I did. My daughter takes after my musical tastes so it definitely was not her bag either. She wondered why the game had to be delayed so long by a halftime concert. Good question.

Given all the issues the NFL had in finding any act that would take the gig, maybe they should bag the extravagant concert next year. Go with the normal halftime show of analysis and perhaps a fun skit, or a ceremony honoring significant anniversaries or players who retired or something. It can’t be any worse. 

$.04--The ads

Not only is the Super Bowl the biggest event on the sports calendar, but it’s also the marquee affair for the television advertising world. Nearly every spot is sold for millions per minute, and most of the ads have never been seen before.

Ads I really liked:

- The NFL and it’s #NFL100 ad loaded with football stars past and present. I dare say it’s the best Super Bowl ad I’ve ever seen, in part because it actually pertains to football.

- Michael Buble and Bubly, a product I’ve never seen nor heard of but already like.

- The Hyundai spot with Jason Bateman as a snarky elevator operator was brilliant. Now build a car that a 6-foot-5 person can get into, Hyundai...

- Wal-Mart pickup featuring all the famous vehicles. I still won’t ever go to Wal-Mart, but the ad was great. 

- Chargers coach Anthony Lynn greeting the first responders who saved his life. Thanks for that, Verizon.

- The T-Mobile erasing the text bit with Taco Bell is a winner. All of the T-Mobile spots made me at least chuckle.

- Bud Light/Game of Thrones crossover was unexpected. If it’s the end of Dilly Dilly, it’s my favorite of the entire night.

Ads that missed for me:

- I love Serena Williams, but her ad for Bumble gave zero explanation for what the heck the product actually is. And because it’s targeted only at women, I really don’t care. Fail, but not Serena’s fault.

- Bud Light and their odd obsession with corn syrup. Who knew corn syrup made beer taste better? Maybe Anheuser-Busch should use it instead of rice…

- Google’s effort at uplifting. Good ads, bad venue to roll them out.

$.05--The Pro Football Hall of Fame class for 2019 was announced Saturday night. This class is one of the more eclectic and interesting induction groups.

First, the list:

Champ Bailey

Tony Gonzalez

Ty Law

Kevin Mawae

Ed Reed

Pat Bowlen

Gil Brandt

Johnny Robinson

Bailey, Gonzalez and Reed are all in on their first ballot. There is no question all three belong. Gonzalez is the most prolific pass-catching TE in NFL history. Heck, only Jerry Rice caught more balls than Gonzalez did in his 17 seasons with the Chiefs and Falcons. He’s the in the top 10 in both receiving yards and TDs, too. No brainer.

Reed was arguably the best big-play safety of the 21st century. His 64 INTs from 2002-2013 are the most of any player and 7th in NFL history. He often pulled them down in key moments and with incredible flair, too. He played a year too long (ask Texans fans) but his greatness was a huge part of why the Ravens were perennial contenders for over a decade.

Bailey is one of those players who fellow players always looked up to and respected more than the fans did. That’s not to say Bailey didn’t have his fans, but his peers always held him in higher regard than the general NFL watcher. His peak years, his final year in Washington through his first 3-4 in Denver, is as good of cornerback play as anyone has performed in the last 25 years.

Law and Mawae are both pleasant surprises and testaments to having sustained careers of playing at a high level, though as far as elite talents they didn’t have as high of peaks as others. They are both interesting choices at positions where it seemed other finalists--notably Alan Faneca and Steve Hutchinson instead of Mawae as interior offensive linemen--earned more accolades and had higher ceilings as performers. It shouldn’t be lost that both played on prominent teams for the bulk of their careers. 

I love that Brandt made it. He’s the Godfather of the NFL Draft for good reason. The architect of the Dallas Cowboys great teams of the 1970s has since become the scouting touchstone for college prospects. His wealth of knowledge and still-sharp mind well into his 80s makes Brandt a fantastic football ambassador, and his spots on Sirius XM NFL Radio are must-listens.

Bowlen made his name as the owner of the Denver Broncos, buying a franchise in despair and molding them into a perennial contender. Robinson predates my football watching, but anyone earning six straight first-team All-Pro nods did something right.

Congrats to the inductees! I’ll be in Canton for the enshrinement in August.