ATLANTA — There’s something surgical about the New England Patriots’ dynasty that has made the NFL reel for nearly two decades.

They are 6-3 in Super Bowls with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. Yet the overall points for those games, dating to 2002, stand at 215 for New England, 201 for the opposition.

No blowouts.

They began this unprecedented run using a bruising defense that turned the Rams’ Greatest Show on Turf into a tentative outfit that at times looked intimidated 17 years ago. On Sunday night, they brought it full circle with a masterful defensive performance that humbled the Rams once more, even more so.

The Patriots take down opponents in the most painful ways, whether in shootouts against Carolina and Atlanta, or in comebacks – Atlanta again, and Seattle. While it’s always foolish to get into a tit-for-tat scoring binge with Brady, the 13-3 win over Los Angeles proved the Pats can do the dirty work, win in the trenches and still survive.

It’s maddening for the rest of the NFL. It’s maddening for so much of America that wants to see someone – anyone – shut down this show. It leads to Patriots haters noting that one of the worst officiating errors in NFL history cost the rightful NFC champions, the Saints, a shot at New England. Or that coin tosses have handed the Patriots the ball in a Super Bowl and a conference title game overtime.

No matter where fans outside the New England base turn, the finish often hurts.


Receiver Chris Hogan, who has been to Super Bowls in his three seasons in New England, said it well.

“We have been in these situations so many times before in big games and we don’t really blink,” Hogan said. “We practice these situations, we run these situations, we know how to execute in these situations – that’s what it comes down to. Four-minute drives and trying to end a football game, take care of the ball, run blocking and doing all the fundamentals when it really counts. We’ve been in this situation and it helps.”

The Patriots have been in every position, so when they need to light up the scoreboard, they can. If the game calls for grinding, they can.

One thing they never do is back off. In Super Bowl losses to the Giants and Eagles, the Patriots remained aggressive. But New York and Philadelphia simply made more key plays.

When the Seahawks and Falcons eased up or made unwise moves, New England swooped in.

The decisive drive in the fourth quarter Sunday night was typical. Sloppy, particularly on third downs, and even a tad frustrated by the 3-3 score, they put together a classic drive: five plays, four of them passes, for 69 yards, capped by Sony Michel’s 2-yard TD run.

Brady went to his meal tickets and they ate up a defense that had been relatively staunch. An 18-yard pass to Rob Gronkowski, followed by 13 yards to Julian Edelman.

Then a 7-yarder to Rex Burkhead led to a play that causes every defensive coordinator to lose sleep: Gronk going deep and overpowering as well as outreaching defenders – in this case double coverage – for 29 yards to the 2.

Once Michel scored, it seemed inevitable the Rams would find nothing but disappointment.

Leave it to Gronkowski to sum up what at some points looked like a so-so season for the Pats. Yet there they were, at the summit again.

“I’ll tell you this, it was the most satisfying year I’ve ever been a part of,” said the star tight end who just might have played his last game; he’s contemplating retirement, as he did last year before returning. “How we came together, the obstacles we had to overcome, the grind from the beginning of training camp to now. That was our identity; wear the other team out.

“We weren’t making big, flashy plays all the time … but we stuck together, we grinded, ran the ball.

“Now we’re Super Bowl champions, we’re world champions.”

And the rest of the NFL writhes in pain.