ATLANTA — At the end of the regular season, eight NFL teams were looking to hire new head coaches.
To a team, they all were seeking a clone of Sean McVay, the Rams’ 33-year-old whiz kid full of energy and imagination. McVay has been the flavor of the month in the NFL.
McVay, two seasons into his tenure, had the Rams in the Super Bowl and he’d transformed the franchise’s No. 1 draft pick quarterback Jared Goff, who initially looked like a bust, into one of the best in the league.
Then McVay ran into Bill Belichick in Super Bowl LIII on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, lost 13-3 and got schooled along the way.
As it turned out, the league has been seeking to clone the wrong head coach.
Belichick has been — and still is — the best head coach alive, surly attitude, ugly hoodie and all.
He put on a coaching clinic Sunday night against the Rams, showing them looks on both offense and defense it was clear McVay and his staff did not expect, and it was the difference in a scrappy, non-artistic game that was tight until late in the fourth quarter.
“Definitely, I got outcoached,’’ McVay said after the game. “Coach Belichick did an outstanding job. There is really no other way to put it. I’m pretty numb right now. I didn’t do nearly good enough for our football team.
“This one is going to stick with you and it just stings in your gut. I have so much love for these players and coaches and that’s where it really eats at you, because you feel like you didn’t do your part to help them achieve success.’’
He confounded the Rams by playing a lot of zone defense after the Patriots had been primarily a man-defense team all year. Goff never looked right all night, was never able to solve the Belichick puzzle.
“Bill’s the best to ever do it,’’ Patriots cornerbacks coach Josh Boyer said. “Bill’s as good as there is doing it. It’s a pleasure for me to be in those game-plan meetings. We’re constantly changing. It never stays the same. It’s always, ‘OK, we can make this a little bit better.’ ’’
Asked if, as an offensive player, he marvels at the game plans Belichick devises, Patriots fullback James Develin said, “Doesn’t everybody? I mean the guy has just proven it time in and time out that he’s the greatest to ever do it.’’
Patriots running back Cordarrelle Patterson said, “Nobody can do it better than Bill. Nobody. Bill is one of a kind. It’s a pleasure playing for him. It’s a blessing.’’
Asked if he could ever imagine coaching against Belichick, Patterson said, “Hell no. I’d never want to coach against him.’’
After Sunday night, McVay might not want to either. On both sides of the ball, the Rams were outcoached. As much as the Patriots were confusing the Rams defensively, the New England offense made a crucial in-game adjustment that hurt the Rams, going to a more heavy running scheme that actually opened up some passing lanes for Tom Brady.
“[Offensive coordinator Josh] McDaniels made a great adjustment,’’ Belichick said. “We went to a two tight-end offense, but we spread them out, and we were able to complete some passes to Julian [Edelman] and Rob [Gronkowski].’’
The Rams stubbornly refused to double the uncoverable Edelman, who caught 10 passes for 141 yards and was named the MVP, and they got torched. Apparently the Rams skipped the tape of the Patriots’ playoff wins over the Chargers and Chiefs, both of whom played zone and paid dearly for it.
The disguises on defense, though, were exquisite.
“They mixed it up,’’ McVay said. “They played almost exclusively man- coverage principles and ended up playing zone. They definitely changed up what they had done over the past couple of weeks, especially when you look at some of the things that enabled them to have success against the Chargers and Chiefs. Their coverage principles were definitely mixed compared to what they put on tape. That’s one of the things that makes them great.’’
It’s what has made Belichick great since his days as an assistant coach.
“This is a humbling game,’’ McVay said. “At the end of the day you can always learn.’’
On this night, the whiz kid learned from the best. And the flavor of the month for the NFL has changed.