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Bill Belichick-Brian Flores defense the difference . . . with help from Tom Brady

Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots celebrates

Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots celebrates after his team won Super Bowl LIII against the Los Angeles Rams at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia, on February 3, 2019. Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images/TIMOTHY A. CLARY

ATLANTA

he Patriots’ run of brilliance has taken many forms over the years, from shootout wins to heart-stopping last-minute victories to transcendent performances — and some crushing disappointments, too.

This time offered yet another unique twist to their championship repertoire. A defensive gem by Bill Belichick and Brian Flores, the performance of a lifetime by Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman and yet another clutch performance by Tom Brady produced the latest incarnation of the greatest and longest-lasting dynasty in NFL history.

On a night when the Los Angeles defense mostly foiled Brady’s offense, the Belichick-Flores defense stymied the Rams as the Patriots earned a record sixth title with a 13-3 win in Super Bowl LIII — the lowest-scoring game in Super Bowl history.

In the end, Brady came through again when the Patriots needed him the most. Another clutch showing resulted in another chance to hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy amid confetti falling from the rafters — this time at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Brady’s sixth Super Bowl ring breaks a tie with former 49ers and Cowboys defensive end Charles Haley for the most by a single player in NFL history. And that’s also six championships for Belichick, whose mastery is unrivaled in the modern era.

Belichick and Brady always seem to find a way, no matter the circumstances, and this was no exception. They avenged the crushing disappointment of last year’s Super Bowl loss to the Eagles by winning their second Super Bowl title in the last three years, their third in the last five seasons and their sixth (in nine appearances) in 18 seasons.

Brady, 41, tamped down any notions that this might be his final NFL game after a brilliant 19-year run, saying earlier in the week that there is no chance he’ll retire. And why should he?

Brady already has put together the most decorated career in NFL history. He wants to play into his mid-40s and thinks he can keep winning championships until then.

There’s nothing to suggest that’s not possible. Not with him continuing to come up with big plays the way he did Sunday night, even if this wasn’t his most awe-inspiring performance.

“It was an unbelievable year,” said Brady, who was 21-for-35 for 262 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. “We fought through it more than anything. It’s unbelievable to win this game. The Rams’ defense, they played their butts off. They made it tough on every play. We just kept fighting. Finally got a touchdown. The defense played their best game of the year.”

He was delighted at the outcome, especially after losing to the Eagles in last year’s Super Bowl. “We’ve been this far and lost, which is very tough,” he said. “We had a lot of resolve the last couple of weeks. I wish we played a little better on offense, but we won. Super Bowl champs.”

Brady was asked if he might change his plans now that he has won for a sixth time. “Doesn’t change anything,” he said. “It’s just been a great year. So happy for my teammates. This is a dream come true.”

With the Rams relentlessly confounding him and limiting his options through most of the game, Brady’s clutch gene kicked in on the Patriots’ touchdown drive, which didn’t come until the fourth quarter. Two passes to Rob Gronkowski, the second a 29-yarder to the Rams’ 2 that set up Sony Michel’s rushing TD, proved to be the difference.

Brady then led a nine-play, 72-yard drive capped by Stephen Gostkowski’s 41-yard field goal with 1:12 to play, which produced a 13-3 lead and all but ended it.

“We grinded it out,” Brady said. “[The Rams] made every play tough. I give them a lot of credit. We put a couple [of drives] together and we were just chipping away.”

This certainly was not the game anyone had expected from a matchup featuring two of the NFL’s most vibrant offenses.

The Patriots were coming off a 37-31 overtime win over the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game. The Rams got past the Saints, 26-23, in overtime in the NFC Championship Game.

But Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and the Patriots’ Belichick-Flores tandem took center stage, calling an absolutely brilliant game.

Phillips mixed up his man-to-man and zone coverages to fool Brady. His only reliable target was Edelman, who finished with 10 catches for 141 yards.

Brady was 15-for-25 for 160 yards, no touchdowns and an interception as the Patriots were held to one field goal in the second-lowest-scoring first half in Super Bowl history. You had to go back to the Steelers-Vikings matchup in Super Bowl IX, when Pittsburgh had a 2-0 lead over Minnesota, to find a lower-scoring Super Bowl.

Phillips did a masterful job in getting the Patriots out of their preferred style of play, which features a more balanced attack with a heavier dose of the run.

The Patriots’ defense was equally brilliant against the Rams as Flores, who will become the Dolphins’ head coach on Monday, pitched a first-half shutout. Including the first drive of the third quarter, Rams quarterback Jared Goff was 0-for-6 on third-down attempts.

Goff wound up throwing a killer fourth-quarter interception, giving Brady the chance to salt away yet another title and add to the incredible legacy — a legacy we may never see again.

Quarterbacks with most Super Bowl wins:

Tom Brady 6-3

Terry Bradshaw 4-0

Joe Montana 4-0

Troy Aikman 3-0

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