ATLANTA • The New England Patriots wrecked this Super Bowl, and that is meant as a compliment. They smashed and generally made an unsightly mess of the Los Angeles Rams, and they were not very pretty themselves, with the exception of one breathtaking play from Tom Brady to Rob Gronkowski.
They won it, 13-3, last Sunday, in the same way they have done things all year, so strangely un-great and then suddenly great, and better than anyone gave them credit for.
"I'll take that ugly win over a pretty loss any day," said Julian Edelman, the game's Most Valuable Player.
They made fistfuls of history with their sixth Super Bowl title in a historically lousy offensive title game, the lowest-scoring one ever, a stymieing, grinding, bone-shattering game.
Nothing ever flowed - until those final 10 minutes of the fourth quarter, when 41-year-old Brady somehow prised two scoring drives worth 10 points out of the Patriots offence. "We were just chipping away," he said.
A light and elegant Rams offence accustomed to having its way all season could not get a single thing it wanted against the Patriots.
"We got completely outplayed," 24-year-old Rams quarterback Jared Goff said afterwards.
• Sony Michel's six rushing touchdowns is a new single-season play-off record.
• 3-3 - Fewest combined points over three quarters in a Super Bowl.
Pressure played its part. To a certain extent, the Rams may have suffered from some stage fright. There was nothing that could prepare them for the sheer scale of the Super Bowl in the exaggerated immensity of the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, as futuristic and technologically marvellous as Starkiller Base.
"It's a bigger game than you realise," warned the Rams' defensive coordinator, Wade Phillips, 71, who was coaching in his third Super Bowl, earlier in the week.
It was too big for Rams head coach Sean McVay, at 33 the youngest coach ever to reach this game, and at times for Goff, so baby-faced that he looked as if he was on spring break from prep school, and who seemed almost tremulous during the anthem, his hand-over-heart fluttering against his chest.
"There's no other way to say it," McVay said.
"I got out-coached tonight."
He was still a high school quarterback when Brady and Bill Belichick won their first Super Bowl in the 2001 season. Goff was seven.
They were up against a Patriots outfit with 36 Super Bowl veterans on their roster, some of whom had been together for 10 years or more, such as the 41-year-old Brady and 32-year-old Edelman.
Belichick, 66, who has taken the Patriots to nine Super Bowls, and who began coaching in the 1970s, now has eight Super Bowl rings, after winning two with the New York Giants as an assistant.
It was far from guaranteed, however, that time and experience would actually work in the Patriots' favour. All year they had heard that they were ageing, slowing.
When they started the season with a 1-2 record, and then lost an uncharacteristic five regular-season games, all they heard was that the dynasty was finally eroding.
It all played straight into their hands.
What better way to take the pressure off a trophy-surfeited team with chronically exaggerated expectations, who struggle to maintain their grind and motivation, than to put them in the underdogs role?
The outside scepticism helped build a fierce bond among the Patriots and they developed an implacable belief in themselves.
"Too old, too slow, no skill!" they screamed at one another, repeating the criticisms of the experts.
They went to work every day like they were hauling heavy loads. "It's a lot like climbing a mountain," Brady said before the game.
"You got to kind of figure out your way to the top."
They did not have as much youth or speed or dazzle as the Rams, no, but they had inner fortitude and the know-how of all their years of winning.
"Maybe there are things you can't necessarily measure," Brady had suggested before the game. "But in the end, maybe they're more important than anything you can measure."
WASHINGTON POST, NYTIMES