Patriots’ defense has MVP night

New England Patriots' Stephon Gilmore, right, intercepts a pass intended for Los Angeles Rams' Brandin Cooks (12) during Super Bowl 53 on Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Can an entire 11-man unit stand at the podium this morning with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to accept a Super Bowl MVP trophy?

Evidently not, because New England Patriots receiver Julian Edelman was the one accepting the MVP honors.

But really, the Patriots defense collectively should be on that stage after dominating the Los Angeles Rams in a 13-3 Super Bowl win at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Sure, Edelman was his usual fantastic self with a 10-catch, 141-yard performance. Outgoing defensive coordinator Brian Flores, who will be on another stage soon in Miami accepting the Dolphins head coaching job, and his unit were the real MVPs.

How ironic. It’s a defense that didn’t give the explosive L.A. offense and overmatched quarterback Jared Goff a single inch. If it bent, it held strong and eventually broke the Rams with a big play.

The Patriots shot themselves in the foot a few times, but this just was a dominating performance in so many ways by the Patriot defense. And it was a defense that lost a key player early in the third quarter when safety Patrick Chung suffered what appeared to be a broken arm trying to tackle Todd Gurley.

But the Gurley-Man wasn’t much of an offensive threat (10 carries, 35 yards) and neither was Goff.

“Just got to give credit to the Patriots man,” Gurley said. “They’ve been here three years in a row for a reason. We couldn’t get anything going.”

When Goff had Brandin Cooks wide open in the back of the end zone on what was the first drive the Rams didn’t have to end with a punt, Jason McCourty came over and helped disrupt the play. Goff took too long.

“He’s been the Patriot guy,” McCourty’s brother, Devin McCourty said. “He’s been the Swiss army knife. This group’s been unbelievable all year. We knew from a defensive standpoint we were good enough to do multiple things.”

Evidently enough to keep the league’s second-most productive offense out of the end zone.

“They were doing a good job defensively mixing it up on us,” Goff said. “We had a hard time moving the ball. One play, just one play, we couldn’t get just one play, and they did. … For an offense what we’re capable of being, and them doing what they did to us, that’s impressive.”

And then he tried to force a pass into the end zone with 4:17 left and there was Stephon Gilmore to make the interception at the 3 yard line.

Who expected a defensive struggle? Anyone? Anyone? Buehler? The game, 3-3 after three quarters, was the lowest scoring Super Bowl after 45 minutes since Super Bowl 9 on Jan. 9, 1975, when Pittsburgh led Minnesota 9-0 after three.

“We just played fast,” said Gilmore, who had a huge fourth quarter interception. “We knew it wasn’t going to be perfect. We believe in each other and we stuck with each other. We’ve been doing that all year.”

Meanwhile, yes, give Edelman credit. Defensively, the Rams had no answer for him. But they also had no answer for the New England defense. Incredible.

“It’s disappointing, all the work you do during the year to get here and you don’t capitalize,” said Rams receiver Brandin Cooks, who had eight catches for 120 yards. “They’ve been playing great throughout the postseason. You look at that on film and you can tell they’re a great defense.”

And for the Patriots, it’s redemption from last year when it appeared the defense let them down.

It feels a lot better than last year when we did get some points on the board,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said. “I just felt like we needed to grind it out all night.

“Our defense, that was incredible. It’s a team game, man, the defense played so well,” Brady added. “We finally helped them out by getting a touchdown.”

“In the biggest moment, when they had to compete the hardest, they did it,” Belichick said.