When the Patriots ran:
There have been several occasions this season when LeGarrette Blount's numbers were bolstered by a late run after the game had been decided. Sunday was the exact opposite. His numbers were once again the product of one big run, but this one came early and set the tone for the entire day. Blount's 43-yard touchdown on fourth-and-one on the game-opening drive immediately put his team in control and New England was never in trouble. So even though the Rams then completely eliminated the Patriots top rusher, limiting him to 45 yards on his remaining 17 carries (2.6-yard average), Blount's burst was key and his 18 carries for 88 yards (4.9-yard average) was enough to get the edge. James White and Dion Lewis chipped with eight carries for 44 yards between them, but neither ripped off any big plays out of the spread formations they generally were used in. After the early start it looked like it would be a dominant day on the ground, and even though that didn't materialize the effort was good enough.
When the Patriots passed:
This, too, wasn't the type of dominant effort we've come to expect. Tom Brady was efficient if unspectacular in picking up his record-setting 201st career victory, but the fact that the Patriots were forced to kick four field goals despite constantly being set up well by the defense was a postgame topic of concern. Brady completed 33 of 46 passes for 269 yards and a touchdown and once again wasn't sacked. The Rams did cause some problems with blitzes, however, and Brady was forced to throw the ball away on a few occasions. Los Angeles also wrecked the Patriots repeated attempts to get the screen game going by beating blocks and tackling well in space. The lack of production from White (four catches, 18 yards) and Lewis (four catches, 11 yards) illustrates the Rams success in that regard. Julian Edelman led the way with eight catches for 101 yards, 32 of those coming on an ill-advised throw across the field that should have been intercepted. Malcolm Mitchell continues to impress with eight catches for 82 yards while Chris Hogan was quiet (four catches, 23 yards) other than a brilliantly-executed back shoulder 15-yard touchdown. It wasn't the high-flying Patriots but there were no mistakes either.
When the Rams ran:
Los Angeles' talented second0year back Todd Gurley has been completely shut down all season long and that was the case in Foxborough as well. Alan Branch, fresh off the news that his four-game suspension had been rescinded, was stout up front alongside Malcom Brown and the rest of the front seven. Gurley was stymied throughout, finishing with 11 carries for 38 yards (3.5-yard average) as the Rams never had a chance to take any pressure off rookie quarterback Jared Goff. Shea McClellin once again started next to Dont'a Hightower at linebacker on running downs and he was active, finishing with six tackles. Patrick Chung also had his usual presence around the line of scrimmage and helped fill some holes on Gurley. Overall the Patriots dominated the overmatched Rams offensive line and never allowed Los Angeles to maintain any semblance of balance on offense.
When the Rams passed:
Thanks to the work against the run, Goff never had a chance. The Rams offensive line may have been even worse in pass protection than it was opening up holes for Gurley. Despite struggling most of the season when it comes to applying pressure on the quarterback, the Patriots were in the backfield all afternoon long and sacked Goff four times. They also forces several quick throws, one such occasion coming when Jabaal Sheard affected Goff's underthrown ball that was picked off by Kyle Van Noy. Van Noy has been the linebacker with Hightower in sub situations and he's been active the last three weeks as well. Malcolm Butler also had an interception, his coming when tight end Lance Kendricks dropped a pass cutting across the field, leaving the corner with a diving pick off the deflection. Goff struggled with his accuracy and was victimized by several drops. He completed just 14 of 32 passes for 161 yards and a touchdown to go with the two picks. Those dismal numbers were a lot worse before he hit Kenny Britt for 66 yards on fourth-and-11 on the Rams final drive to set up the touchdown. Otherwise this was like Alabama against its homecoming opponent.
Bill Belichick gushed about Rams punter Johnny Hekker all week long and the Rams punter showed why. He was outstanding, averaging 53.8 yards on his eight punts with a 52.9-yard net. Three of his kicks wound up inside the 20 including a 76-yarder that sailed over the head of Cyrus Jones. But punters don't win many football games and predictably Hekker's brilliance was irrelevant. The key for the Patriots was the bounce-back effort of kicker Stephen Gostkowski. Coming into the game with seven missed kicks, Gostkowski connected on all six of his attempts including four field goals. Three of the four came from 45 yards or longer, perhaps giving the embattled kicker a badly needed boost of confidence. Neither side did anything in the return game, and Jones muffed his first attempt on a punt return and was bailed out when Chung recovered. Danny Amendola replaced him before leaving with an ankle injury that forced Jones back into action. The ball security issues may force Edelman back into the role if Amendola is out long term.