The second-lowest-scoring first half in Super Bowl history has been the story of Super Bowl LIII so far, as two wily elder statesmen of defense – New England’s Bill Belichick and Los Angeles’s Wade Phillips – have managed to impose their will on the game. The result was a narrow 3-0 lead for the New England Patriots at the break.
The low-scoring game was unexpected. CBS analyst Tony Romo, who has made a name for himself as an expert predictor, had touted a higher-scoring outcome in the pre-game, guessing a 28-24 final. But the experience of Rams coordinator Phillips and New England’s Belichick has thrown that notion out the window.
The first quarter was something of a feeling-out defensive struggle. Although New England moved the ball, Rams defensive coordinator Phillips seemed to befuddle Brady with his scheme in key spots. Even though the Patriots took the ball inside the Rams 35 on the first two trips, they came up scoreless.
For his part, New England coach Bill Belichick kept the Rams guessing, mixing his defensive coverages and showing multiple looks to young Rams quarterback Jared Goff, who was under a strong Patriots rush for most of the half. The Rams had only 57 total yards in the first half, with six punts, with Goff looking uncomfortable. The failure to score marked the first time the Rams were held scoreless in the first half under 33-year-old coach Sean McVay.
Running back Todd Gurley, one of the key offensive players for the Rams during the year, continued to be under-utilized, as he was in the NFC championship. Gurley, who many believe is injured, had only a handful of ineffective carries and was a non-factor in the half.
New England’s Tom Brady was intercepted on his first pass, the first time that’s happened in his career, and New England kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed a 46-yard-field goal wide left. He has missed four kicks in the last three Super Bowls.
Gostkowski had another opportunity in the second quarter and redeemed himself, connecting for a 42-yard field goal just inside the left post.
Some bad news for Rams fans: New England has always been known as a strong second-half team in the Super Bowl. The Rams will get the ball to start the second half, and likely will take a few shots down the field to loosen up New England.