Tomase: Patriots have appeared in 10 Super Bowls, and LIII is going to look like one of them

John Tomase
February 01, 2019 - 11:15 am

The beauty of playing in 10 Super Bowls is there's a game for everything.

You want blowouts? We've got the mother of all of them, back in Super Bowl XX, when the Bears buried the Patriots in one of the sport's most vicious beatdowns.

You want drama? Where to start. The Patriots have supplied loads of it, starting with their first title in 2001, but in virtually every Super Bowl since, up to and including last year's loss to the Eagles.

You want good but not good enough? Try the 1996 team's loss to the Packers, or the 2004 team's easier-than-the-final-score takedown of the Eagles.

As the Patriots prepare for their 11th Super Bowl on Sunday against the Rams, it's fair to wonder which of New England's previous 10 title appearances Super Bowl LIII will most closely resemble.

I have some theories. Let's take them in order, and rank them on a scale of 1-to-10 as to the likelihood that they'll provide a template for Sunday.

1985: Bears 46, Patriots 10

I suppose there's an outside chance the Rams could play the role of overwhelmed pretenders, but today's parity-driven NFL isn't really built for big-stage blowouts. The 1985 Patriots traveled an improbable road to New Orleans, becoming the first team in history to reach the Super Bowl after three road playoff wins. They even took an immediate 3-0 lead before wilting under the assault of Chicago's famed 46 Defense. In the unlikely event that Sunday's game turns into a rout, we should at least feel confident in who'll be doing the routing. Similarity score: 3

1996: Packers 35, Patriots 21

This makes more sense. The '96 Patriots rode Drew Bledsoe's cannon arm and Bill Parcells' battle-tested knowhow to the franchise's second Super Bowl, this time again Brett Favre's heavily favored Packers. The 14-point underdogs made it a game when Curtis Martin burst up the middle for the score that made it 27-21 in the third quarter before Desmond Howard took the ensuing kickoff 99 backbreaking yards. If the Patriots win big, this seems like the most likely scenario: Jared Goff and Co. keep things competitive until midway through the second half, at which point, Tom Brady's experience and New England's toughness slam the door. Similarity score: 9

2001: Patriots 20, Rams 17

There would be something poetic in a flipping of the script. Back then, Brady was the young QB taking his first steps on the biggest stage. Now it's Goff. Those Patriots shocked the Greatest Show on Turf by pummeling St. Louis's stars at the line of scrimmage. Neither of today's teams boasts the kind of firepower represented by Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, and Isaac Bruce, but the Patriots are considered nearly as unbeatable, at least if the pundits (overwhelmingly picking New England) and gamblers (overwhelmingly betting on New England) are to be believed. If the Rams win, Super Bowl XXXVI will be the obvious parallel. And in Greg Zuerlein, the Rams boast a kicker capable of duplicating Adam Vinatieri's heroics. Similarity score: 5

2003: Patriots 32, Panthers 29

Now we're on to something. Believe it or not, the narrative leading into this game was a battle of top-10 defenses, and for nearly two quarters, the game played out that way. The game actually remained scoreless into the closing minutes of the first half before the dam burst. It took a Vinatieri field goal again to win it, but not until Jake Delhomme -- perhaps the closest thing to Goff in these playoffs -- threw three TDs to lead the Panthers back from a 21-10 deficit. The Panthers led with three minutes left and tied it with a minute left before Vinatieri again played the hero, the Patriots just a little better with the game on the line. Delhomme only completed 16 of 33 passes, but two of them were touchdowns of 39 and 85 yards. He was also sacked four times and lost a fumble. Goff has been a sub-60 percent passer and a fumbling machine for two months now, but he can hit home runs, as the Saints learned in the NFC title game. This feels like the most logical script: Patriots lead, Rams rally, Patriots hold on because it's what they do. Similarity score: 10

2004: Patriots 24, Eagles 21

Here's another contender. The Patriots were clearly the superior team, and they controlled the game from start to finish, even though the Eagles technically had a chance before Rodney Harrison's interception sealed it. The week even featured a performance similar to that of backtracking trash talker Nickell Robey-Coleman, with Eagles receiver Freddie Mitchell dissing the Patriots secondary before being held to one catch for 11 yards. The Patriots could easily do unto the Rams as they did to the Eagles. Similarity score: 7

2007: Giants 17, Patriots 14

One of the great upsets in NFL history, it's hard to see this game applying, unless Aaron Donald is able to channel Justin Tuck, with Dexter Fowler Jr. playing Michael Strahan. The Giants were tougher than the Patriots up front. This Pats offensive line has yet to allow an opponent to lay a finger on Brady in 90 postseason throws. Those Patriots were overwhelming favorites. These Patriots are everyone's pick in what is nonetheless expected to be a close game. There's no comparison. Similarity score: 1

2011: Giants 21, Patriots 17

Ibid. Similarity score: 1

2014: Patriots 28, Seahawks 24

Once again, a team defined by its defense -- in this case the Legion of Boom -- had the Patriots on the ropes before Brady overcame a bad interception to drive New England to the go-ahead score. All hope appeared lost at the goal line before Malcolm Butler said hello. I'm not sure who on this Patriots defense makes a similar play. J.C. Jackson? In any event, the Seahawks needed to win that game with defense. The Rams will have to win it with offense. Hard to imagine the game script unfurling comparably. Similarity score: 4

2016: Patriots 34, Falcons 28

As astounding as the comeback was from 28-3, it required some complicity, and Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan obliged with a second-half game plan that left his defense on the field for over 100 snaps. Could Rams coach Sean McVay, also a highly touted young gun, wilt on the big stage, too? Maybe. But one gets the sense that if Los Angeles somehow builds a massive lead, McVay won't get in his own way. On the flip side, if the Patriots go up 25, the Rams are cooked. Similarity score: 2

2017: Eagles 41, Patriots 33

This classic back-and-forth game wasn't decided until Philly's defense forced New England's lone turnover. It's hard to imagine Goff keeping pace with Brady without making a mistake should another free-for-all break out. Similarity score: 3