Sean McVay's career as an NFL head coach has gone pretty smoothly. Since being hired as the Rams' coach, McVay, who was 30 years old when he accepted the job, has led the Rams to a 43-21 record. During that span, the Rams have won two division titles and one NFC title. Currently, McVay's team is 8-4 and in position to win their third NFC West title since 2017.
While he is focused on the present, McVay was asked several times this week to revisit the biggest speed bump to what has been a pretty smooth start to his head coaching career. With his team set to host the Patriots on Thursday night, McVay was asked to recall what happened the last time the Rams played the Patriots. That was back on Feb. 3, 2019, when New England recorded a 13-3 win over Los Angeles to win its sixth Super Bowl since 2001.
"Yeah, it's definitely something that is a big memory," McVay said of his first Super Bowl appearance. "You try to be able to move on. It was a very humbling night for myself, but you can't dwell on it. It's about how you move forward, how you transition. But that's the biggest game I've ever been a part of as a coach. I didn't think that I did nearly a good enough job for our football team to give us a chance to be crowned world champs, but that really doesn't have anything to do with how you move forward into the next season or now, two years removed from that."
After scoring the second-most points in the NFL during the regular season, McVay's team tied the 1971 Dolphins for the fewest points ever scored in the Super Bowl. With All-Pro running back Todd Gurley less than 100%, the Patriots' defense dialed in on stopping Jared Goff and the Rams' passing attack. The Patriots' plan worked, as Goff completed just half of his 38 attempts for 229 yards. Goff, who was sacked four times, threw a costly fourth quarter interception that set up the Patriots' game-clinching field goal.
"It was something that didn't go according to plan," McVay said. "A lot of things that I know that I've tried to use to be able to learn and move forward from. But what I think the most important thing you can apply is that there is a lot of continuity on their coaching staff. Same thing with ours, and you'll always look at that, because that was the last time that we played them."
Instead of lamenting on the loss, McVay and the Rams have made the necessary adjustments over the past 22 months. While many of the players from their 2018 team remain in tact (including three-time Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald), the Rams did part with Gurley this past offseason. They've also added some key pieces, including cornerback Jalen Ramsey and linebacker Leonard Floyd. The Rams changed defensive coordinators this past season, as Brandon Staley has helped Los Angeles go from 17th to 5th in the NFL in points allowed.
The Rams have also seen consistent growth from Goff, who threw for 351 yards while completing over 78% of his passes in Sunday's 38-28 win over the Cardinals. McVay said that consistency is the main thing he's hoping to see out of his quarterback during the final quarter of the regular season.
"There's a lot of things too that don't show up on the stats for him that I think are a real reflection of playing well, and that's managing the run game," McVay said of Goff. "Some of the things where we were able to get some clean looks were a reflection of his command at the line of scrimmage and [are] a lot of the things that we're looking for."
As it relates to the quarterback his team will face on Thursday, McVay lauded the job the Patriots have done integrating Cam Newton's skillset into the Patriots' offensive system. While he has thrown just five touchdown passes, Newton has rushed for 11 touchdowns and has completed nearly 67% of his passes for the Patriots, who are 6-6 after winning their last two games.
"He's a guy that can beat you in a variety of ways," McVay said of Newton. "He's such a physical presence. I think Coach [Josh] McDaniels and Coach [Jedd] Fisch have done an excellent job of being able to accommodate his skillset and make their offense mold to what he does best. That changes by the week based on how they feel like it's the best way to attack that opponent. Certainly, that will present a great challenge for our defense, but looking forward to seeing how these guys answer the bell."
On Thursday night, the 34-year-old McVay will again coach against Bill Belichick, who won his record sixth Super Bowl at McVay's expense. While there is a 34-year gap between the two coaches, McVay said that he does have a personal relationship with Belichick, who won his first Super Bowl when McVay was in high school.
"We stay in touch," McVay said of Belichick, who is 49 wins away from Don Shual's all-time record. "I've got a relationship with a couple of coaches on their staff. What I think has been really cool about Coach Belichick is his willingness to share. You can just see the respect for the game and the history for the game that he has."
McVay said that their relationship is the byproduct of Belichick's respect for McVay's grandfather, John McVay, who was the 49ers' director of football operations when San Francisco won five Super Bowls from 1981-94. Belichick, as the Giants' defensive coordinator, defeated the 49ers in the 1986 and 1990 postseasons in route to wins in Super Bowls XXI and XXV.
"He's a class act," McVay said. "He's been nothing but great to me. I'm very appreciative of that. I have tremendous respect for everything that he's accomplished as a coach. I have respect for this coaching profession, and he's done it as well as anybody, and really, their coaching staff as a whole."
While some of the pregame focus will surely be on McVay and Belichick, the Rams' coach is focused on seeing how he can competes with Belichick's on a short week.
"I'm looking forward to seeing how the Rams play the Patriots," McVay said. "That's the most important thing."