INGLEWOOD, Calif. — Less than two years ago, Sean McVay became the youngest head coach to lead his team to the Super Bowl. The big game was played in his hometown, and the Los Angeles Rams’ opponents were led by one of his coaching idols.
Everything was set up for the best day in an up-and-coming football coach’s life. It turned into the absolute worst, thanks to Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots.
“It was a very humbling night for myself,” McVay said this week. “I didn’t think that I did nearly a good enough job for our football team to give us a chance to be crowned world champs.”
McVay, Aaron Donald, Jared Goff and the many remaining Rams (8-4) get their first chance at a measure of atonement when they host Belichick’s Patriots (6-6) on Thursday night in an important game for both teams’ playoff hopes.
Los Angeles is tied for first place in the tough NFC West, while New England has clawed into the AFC hunt with four wins in five games after its worst start to a season since 2000.
But while the Patriots’ ugly victory in February 2019 was just one of six championships for Belichick, the 13-3 loss was an embarrassment for Los Angeles and its wunderkind coach, who believes he overprepared for the game. The size of the Rams’ failure when they reached the sport’s biggest stage hasn’t been forgotten by the rest of the NFL — and certainly not by fans of the Rams’ opponents.
“That’s just a loss,” Donald said. “I try to not think about the loss. But you know, this (Thursday) is definitely a game that’s going to give you a little bit more push just for a little payback.”
Los Angeles became the first team in 53 years to fail to score a touchdown in a Super Bowl thanks to Belichick’s thorough outcoaching of McVay. New England amplified strategies used by Chicago earlier in the season to utterly shut down Goff and the Rams’ offense, holding it to just 260 yards.
Los Angeles still sees versions of those strategies two seasons later. McVay’s offense, while still quite competent, has yet to recapture consistently the high-scoring, innovative form it had throughout his first two seasons.
The most interesting portion of the rematch should be what Belichick does this time against McVay’s schemes, which feature many of the same skill-position players. The Patriots still have six defensive starters from that Super Bowl, along with two more who opted out of the season.
“First of all, you take away how good Coach Belichick is,” Goff said of his memories of the Super Bowl, in which he went 19 of 38 with an interception by Stephon Gilmore. “It’s not a night that you’re particularly happy with, but an experience that you’re able to hopefully draw from as time goes on throughout my career.”