ATLANTA — The teams were tied at 3, locked in a slog with all the excitement of boxers hugging each other round after round, when Patriots receiver Julian Edelman asked something of tight end Rob Gronkowski during a huddle in the fourth quarter Sunday.
‘‘He looked at me and said: ‘We need another play out of you, bro. We need a huge play,’ ’’ Gronkowski said of the Super Bowl LIII most valuable player. ‘‘He’s been making them all game. I had to step up.’’
He did. Gronkowski helped the Patriots defeat the Rams 13-3 — and win their sixth Super Bowl championship — on what might have been the final catch of his career.
Gronkowski had popped open two plays earlier, so the Patriots called the same play. They stayed in a personnel grouping they had stumbled upon for that drive, with two tight ends in a spread formation. On second-and-three from the Rams’ 31 with 7:43 left, Gronkowski lined up in the left slot and beat Rams linebacker Cory Littleton down the seam.
Quarterback Tom Brady dropped the pass amid three defenders, and Gronkowski came down with the ball at the 2.
‘‘It was crunch time,’’ Gronkowski said. ‘‘I knew it was going to come to me. I had a feeling.’’
It was the only time either team reached the red zone all night. On the next play, rookie running back Sony Michel scored the only touchdown of the game.
‘‘Incredible catch,’’ Brady said. ‘‘He’s an awesome player, great teammate, friend. And just so proud of everything he’s done for our team.’’
Brady’s sixth Super Bowl title in nine tries was his ugliest. He was 21-for-35 for 262 yards with an interception for a 71.4 passer rating. He leaned on his running game and defense.
‘‘I just felt like we needed to grind it out all night,’’ Brady said. ‘‘We couldn’t take our foot off the gas pedal. . . . The defense played so well, and we finally helped them out by getting a touchdown there.’’
Gronkowski didn’t want to talk about whether he would retire, saying it was a time to celebrate with his teammates. He said he’ll make a decision in the next week or two. But for a player whose body increasingly has betrayed him — he had trouble walking after hurting his quad Sunday — it would mark a spectacular ending to his career.
There was precious little other offensive beauty in the game.
The NFL’s seasonlong scoring revolution never found its way to Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Instead, fans suffered through the lowest-scoring Super Bowl in history. The game was to football what Patriots coach Bill Belichick is to fashion — or what Maroon 5 was to halftime shows.
The Patriots led 10-3 with 4:24 left when cornerback Stephon Gilmore intercepted Rams quarterback Jared Goff at the Patriots’ 4. The Patriots blitzed, and Goff threw off his back foot, leaving the ball short.
The Rams would have had a touchdown one play earlier, but receiver Brandin Cooks dropped the ball when safety Duron Harmon hammered it loose in the end zone.
The Patriots turned the interception into Stephen Gostkowski’s second field goal of the game with 1:12 left to seal the victory.
Goff quarterbacked one of the worst Super Bowls in recent memory, completing 19 of 38 passes for 229 yards — with 55 coming on a garbage-time final drive. He was sacked four times, threw an interception and had a passer rating of 57.9.
The Rams punted nine times and scored their only points on a 53-yard field goal by Greg Zuerlein with about two minutes left in the third quarter. They were shut out in the first half for the first time in coach Sean McVay’s career.
Running back Todd Gurley, who McVay swore was healthy, carried 10 times for only 35 yards.
‘‘It hurts me so much just knowing how well our defense played against that team and against Tom,’’ Goff said. ‘‘To play that well defensively and us not hold up our end of the bargain. It’s our job to score points, and we didn’t do that tonight.’’
With two weeks to prepare for the Rams, Belichick and departing defensive coordinator Brian Flores drew up a beauty.
Rams offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said the Patriots played more zone defense than they had shown on tape all season. He said they used the same game plan the Bears did when they held the Rams to six points in December, playing zone in the secondary and having pass rushers run stunts up front.
Playing zone kept the Patriots from getting tired while chasing the Rams’ play-action and post and over routes.
‘‘I got outcoached,’’ McVay said. ‘‘I didn’t do nearly good enough for our football team.’’
The Patriots ground down the Rams.
‘‘We went through life this year,’’ Gronkowski said. ‘‘We figured it out. We found out identity: Keep on grinding. That was our identity: Wear the other team out.
‘‘We weren’t making big, flashy plays all the time. . . . But we stuck together, grinded, ran the ball. Now we’re Super Bowl champions.’’