After this year’s Super Bowl there were 3 storylines that got some push in the media. One was that it was a boring Super Bowl. Another was that someone on defense for the Patriots should have won the MVP. The third was that Julian Edelman might have cemented Hall of Fame status with this game. I disagree with all three of those storylines. Let’s look at them in order.
The Super Bowl wasn’t boring.
This was a tremendous defensive struggle. The Patriots were able to move the ball consistently against the Rams but couldn’t score points. The Rams had some opportunities for spectacular plays, but different Patriots players seemed to rise up at key moments to stop them. As a whole, the Patriots defense dominated the game. The Patriots held the #3 scoring offense of the year, an offense that scored over 500 points during the regular season, to 3 points. Holding a team to 3 points is something that had previously only been accomplished in Super Bowl history by the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl VI versus the Miami Dolphins. The 1985 Chicago Bears team didn’t do it. The defensive minded Baltimore Ravens didn’t do it. If you appreciate a great game with great defense, then this was a fun Super Bowl for you.
Aside from the joy of watching a great defensive game in a year when offense performances reached ridiculous heights (Rams 54/Chiefs 51 being the poster child), this game was in doubt well into the 4th quarter. This was no more than a 1 score game until after the 2-minute warning in the 4th quarter when Stephen Gostkowski hit a field goal to put the Patriots up by 2 scores. I was on the edge of my seat when he kicked because his first kick of the night was a miss & his second kick just barely made it inside the uprights. There was every reason to think that he might miss the kick & set up the Rams with great field position to tie the game. Even then, the Rams managed to quickly get into field goal position & set the stage for a miracle finish. Anyone who watched the Dolphins beat the Patriots this year knew that it wasn’t over until Greg Zuerlein missed that field goal attempt. Having a Super Bowl come down to the last couple of minutes is impressive. We might be getting spoiled because we have had so many close games recently. From 1980-1999, only 4 of 20 Super Bowls were 1 score games. Most of them were effectively over by half time. I will happily take a 13-3 game rather than something like Super Bowl XLVIII where the Seahawks beat the Broncos 43-8 in a game that wasn’t even as close as that lopsided score.
So, the defense was amazing? Doesn’t that mean that the MVP should have been someone from the defense? I think that would be the case if one player had made more highlight plays. The truth is that the Patriots defense performed like a machine with every player working with every other player to dominate the Rams. Duron Harmon had a couple of stand out plays. He jarred the ball loose from Brandin Cooks on what looked like a touchdown catch. He also effectively blitzed Jared Goff on the play where Goff was intercepted by Stephon Gilmore. That pressure forced Goff to throw without a follow through & contributed to him hanging the ball up for grabs. Jason McCourty made arguably the play of the game when he ran seemingly across half the field in the time it took for Goff’s pass to travel to an uncovered Brandin Cooks just in time to knock the ball loose. Stephon Gilmore probably had the best case for a defensive MVP. He forced a fumble, intercepted that wounded duck pass, broke up 3 other pass attempts, & made 5 tackles. If he had won the MVP, I wouldn’t have griped.
Julian Edelman was the MVP though. It wasn’t just his stats that tell the story, although his 10 catches, 141 yards are impressive. That ranks just outside the top 10 for receiving yards in a Super Bowl. What seals it for me was how valuable Edelman was across the board. He was clutch. Just like in Super Bowl LVI & in the AFC Championship game 2 weeks earlier, Edelman didn’t make every possible catch, but he made the ones that they had to have. Edelman made contributions in the running game as well. Edelman made several key blocks on players who outweighed him by 50 pounds or more. He & Gronkowski blocked in a way that most offensive weapons aren’t even asked to do. Edelman was also a leader on the field. If you have watched the “Mic’d up” special for Super Bowl LVI or LVIII, you can see how vocal he is in boosting the offense. I also liked how he reminded the running backs before the final run of the night to wipe their arms dry so that they wouldn’t fumble. His intense competitive drive combined with Tom Brady’s helps lift the team to its best possible performance. The Patriots demonstrated that they could replace a key defensive player when Patrick Chung (who was having a great game) broke his forearm & was replaced by Duron Harmon. There would have been no effective replacement for Edelman for this game & I think that’s why he deserved the MVP award.So since Edelman was a key component in 3 Super Bowl victories & won the MVP, isn’t he a lock for the Hall of Fame? If we were talking about the Patriots Hall of Fame. I would say he is a lock. For the NFL Hall of Fame. I think he is still a long shot. The good news is that he still has time to improve his case. Right now the argument for him is that he has won 3 Super Bowl rings, been the MVP of a Super Bowl, & has the second most receiving yards in NFL playoff history behind Jerry Rice.
Edelman has 499 career catches for 5,390 yards, & 30 touchdowns. That compares favorably to Lynn Swann who may have gotten into the Hall of Fame based on an incredible Super Bowl performance, but the numbers aren’t as good as former Patriot Troy Brown, who managed 557 catches, 6,366 yards, & 31 touchdowns. Former Patriot Deion Branch caught 518 passes for 6,644 yards and 39 touchdowns & an MVP of his own in Super Bowl XXXIX. Even on the current team, tight end Rob Gronkowski is a more prolific receiver. Gronkowski has amassed 521 catches for 7,861 yards, & 79 touchdowns in what should be a first ballot Hall of Fame career.
I think we are seeing an overcorrection. For years Edelman has been one of the most consistent receivers in the NFL. He has come up big at key moments in a way that very few players have on the national stage. He hasn’t put up huge statistics though & has had only 2 seasons with over 1,000 yards. Edelman hasn’t generally been mentioned in the top receivers in the league & he has never received a Pro Bowl invitation, which would be a crime if he weren’t usually busy getting ready for the Super Bowl at that time of year anyway. I think that after this Super Bowl, people are rushing to make up for years of over looking him. I think that they will probably settle into acknowledging that he is one of the better wide receivers in the NFL but not Hall of Fame quality yet.
Yet is the key word here. Jerry Rice has said that if Edelman starts knocking on the door of his records for most receptions & most yards in the playoffs that he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame & I agree. I also think that Edelman has time to add to his numbers. At 32 years old, he could absolutely add another 3,000-5,000 yards to his total. Edelman didn’t become a featured receiver in the office until 2013 when he replaced Wes Welker’s role in the slot. That year he jumped from 21 receptions to 105. He only had 714 yards receiving in his first 4 years. In his career he really has 4 years as a role player who even played some defense, & then 5 years as a key receiving target. He might have more tread left on his tires than your average 32-year-old receiver. If he can stay healthy, he could play for several more years. I think that if he can reach 10,000 yards (which would be tough) that he would be a lock for the Hall with his playoff heroics.
Either way, Edelman has had a phenomenal career for a 7th round pick who was selected despite not having a natural position.
The history of the NFL is full of college quarterbacks who couldn’t play quarterback in the NFL & couldn’t successfully transition to another position. Edelman has made it look easy & whether he make the Hall of Fame or not, he has carved out an incredible career. As he said many times during Super Bowl LVI when he was pumping up the team for a historic comeback, “It’s going to be one hell of a story.”