Super Bowl LIII was not a battle between young offensive guru Sean McVay and grizzled football mastermind Bill Belichick, or between California quarterbacks Tom Brady and Jared Goff, but rather a rematch of the 2008 competition between two Oregon State walk-on punters. Eleven years after Johnny Hekker and Ryan Allen were both trying to win OSU’s punting job, they were two of only three exciting players in the Super Bowl.
Even for those who self-identify as defense enthusiasts, this game was tough to watch. New England’s 13-3 win was the lowest-scoring Super Bowl ever and brought to mind an era before the Patriots dynasty, when the Super Bowl was one of the least entertaining games of the year. The Patriots suffocated the Rams’ elite offense, holding it to just 260 total yards and 14 first downs. Los Angeles became the second team to fail to score a touchdown in the championship game along with the Dolphins in Super Bowl VI, who also put up three points in a loss. At halftime, eventual game MVP Julian Edelman had more yards than the Rams offense, Hekker had more punts than Goff had completions, and the Rams had twice as many three-and-outs as first downs. Considering the Rams had the fewest three-and-outs and punts per drive in the league this year, it was nothing short of stunning—and disappointing.
The Rams are the 2nd team in #SuperBowl history to fail to score a touchdown (1971 Dolphins in Super Bowl VI).
27 of the their 60 plays tonight went for 0 or negative yards (45%). pic.twitter.com/XPuMQKFvZx
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 4, 2019
The Rams defense kept L.A. in the game, but Hekker was the defense’s (and the viewers’) best friend throughout the contest. He finished with a whopping nine punts for 417 yards, tied for the third-most punts in a Super Bowl.
Hekker stifled the Pats’ attempt to score at the end of the first half by pinning New England at the 2-yard line with less than 30 seconds left.
Then Hekker outdid himself in the third quarter by recording the longest punt in Super Bowl history, which doubled as the most exciting play of the first 55 minutes of the contest.
Yes, a punt was the most exciting play to that point. Yet Hekker could not out-punt Allen, who had the last laugh on Sunday (what an incredible revenge on his college foil). Allen punted five times for 215 yards just a year after he didn’t punt at all in Super Bowl LII against Philadelphia. Allen pinned the Rams inside their 7-yard line three times.
Allen all but ended a few Rams drives before they began. If not for Edelman’s huge day, Allen may have had a serious chance at Super Bowl MVP.
Both defenses deserve credit—the hyped McVay vs. Belichick matchup turned out to be a mask for the true matchup of Belichick vs. Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. The Rams defense, which had been slightly disappointing in the regular season, put up its best performance of the year in the Super Bowl, forcing Brady to throw outside the numbers, picking off the QB once, and holding the Pats to 3-of-12 on third down and 13 points—the fewest the Patriots have ever scored in the Super Bowl. (Ironically, this was the Patriots’ largest margin of victory in a Super Bowl.) But the Pats outschemed and outexecuted the Rams and consistently confused Goff while also allowing just two rushing first downs and dominating the Rams offensive line.
This NFL season featured the second-most points per game since the merger, the second-most yards per game, and the most first downs per game, and was dominated by stunning offensive performances by MVP Patrick Mahomes II, Offensive Rookie of the Year Saquon Barkley, and a ludicrous touchdown pace by Todd Gurley. Then the Super Bowl was dominated by two punters who settled a beef from college.