When the Rams defeated the Saints on Sunday, they knew the location, date, and time of their next game for Super Bowl LIII. But they didn't know their opponent.
That was decided a couple hours later, as the team sat on the plane en route back from New Orleans to Los Angeles, as the Patriots defeated the Chiefs in overtime, 37-31.
So the Rams and Patriots will square off in the Super Bowl once again. Of course, New England was the franchise's previous Super Bowl opponent — that was for Super Bowl XXXVI in the 2001 season. You likely know that game's result.
And while so much has changed for the Rams since then, there are two constants still leading the Patriots: head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady.
"A lot of respect for them. They've been doing it as consistently as any organization in the history of this league," McVay said.
The Rams are just starting to dive deep into developing their gameplan for Super Bowl LIII, but given how long Belichick, Brady, and even offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels have been around that team, New England has significant long-range continuity.
"I've gotten a chance to get to know coach Belichick a little bit — had a relationship with Josh McDaniels," McVay said. "Really, we practiced against those guys when I was in Washington early on, and kind of have kept in contact with them. And they're a team that you're always watching the way they do things. And you just have so much respect for the way that they've operated over the last handful of years."
With Brady specifically, McVay likened the challenge of defending him to how difficult it is to contain New Orleans' Drew Brees.
"You're talking about guys that have been doing it as consistent as anybody," McVay said. "I mean, you just look at the amount of Super Bowl appearances that he's had, and just the way that he competes, his understanding, the way that he plays the quarterback position the right way. When you're teaching that position, or coaching that position — whether it's Drew or Tom — these are guys [that you say] this is what it's supposed to look like when you're playing that position at a high level, with the decision-making, the timing, the rhythm, the accuracy, the ownership of what they're trying to get done."
"I have so much respect for him. And he's an elite competitor that's going to be a great challenge — just like Drew Brees was for us last week."
While McVay may not be too far into his gameplanning for the Patriots, he seems to be pretty familiar with how they've fared in the postseason. Defensively, he noted how New England was able to slow down an explosive Chargers offense in the Divisional round. And he was particularly complimentary of the Patriots' performance in the AFC Championship game.
"I know that they do an excellent job specific to gameplanning, where they've got the ability to understand from a defensive standpoint, alright, how can we manipulate your protections, how can we play a variety of coverage principles that take away what that team does best," McVay said. "They're going to identify a couple things that they say, alright — coach Belichick's the best at this — 'What do the Rams do best? And how are we gonna say, we're not coming out of this game letting them beat us doing this?' That's why we've got to be aware of what are those things."
Given that this is McVay's first time coaching in a Super Bowl, the head coach said he's planning to lean on the coaches around him who have prepared for the final football game of the season. For L.A., that's going to mean treating this week more like a game week with the installation process. And then given all the different responsibilities next week — between the different media events and requests — McVay said the week of the matchup with the Patriots will be more about making tweaks and tightening things up.
For now, the Rams will continue preparations at their Thousand Oaks, Calif. facility before departing the Golden State for Atlanta on Sunday.
"It's going to be fun," McVay said, "but it's going to be a great challenge for us — without a doubt."