Super Bowl LV
Kansas City Chiefs – 9
Tampa Bay Buccaneers -31
We predicted that Tampa Bay would win this game, but narrowly. We were wrong. But we were wrong for all the right reasons. The Tampa Bay defense held the line, prevented the run, and minimized Tyreek Hill. Travis Kelce got his yardage but couldn’t find the end zone. Absent a strong rushing attack, and missing two starters along the offensive line, the Chiefs allowed an unprecedented amount of pressure from Shaq Barrett, Vita Vea, Ndamukong Suh and Jason Pierre-Paul, not to mention the Bucs best defensive duo, linebackers Devin White and Lavonte David. Sure, Patrick Mahomes was able to escape a few times, extending drives with thirty-three yards on five scrambles, but he did it on an injured toe that clearly caused him more problems every time he had to run away. And he was running away a lot. I’ve never seen a quarterback run straight backwards at a full sprint between the hash marks in any game. Ever. Mahomes did that a half dozen times in the Super Bowl. Maybe more. I might have lost count.
All that pressure led to a lot of highlight reel throwaways from Mahomes, but not much progress. The Chiefs piled up stalled drives as quickly as the Buccaneers piled up points. KC was a dreadful 3-of-13 on third down, and 1-of-3 on desperation fourth downs. Mahomes posted the worst game of his career by many metrics, but the one that stands out to me is the completion percentage. Mahomes only completed 53% of his passes and threw two picks. This from a guy who averages over 66% completion rate, who a lot of NFL writers would call the GOAT in waiting. He’s going to need to wait a lot longer after this one. An argument could be made, easily in fact, that the two worst games of Patrick Mahomes career are the two Super Bowls he’s played in. That’s not GOAT material. You could also make the argument that Brady is living rent free in Mahomes’ head, given that Brady is the only opposing quarterback to beat him in the playoffs.
It’s clear that the Chiefs defense wasn’t up to snuff, but we knew that was going to be the case. We just didn’t know how efficiently Brady and the Bucs would be able to eviscerate them. Gronk has been relatively quiet this year, but we predicted a big game for him. Why? Because big 87 is a nightmare in the red zone against elite red zone defenses, forcing triple teams and creating mismatches elsewhere. Kansas City came into the Super Bowl as the worst red zone defense in the NFL. I’m not sure how you get to the championship game allowing 75% of red zone trips into the end zone, but that’s another question entirely. The Chiefs just…didn’t consider that Gronk could be the blunt instrument of their destruction. They didn’t even really double him all that frequently. I’m not sure why KC’s defense would ignore a clear and present danger, but it resulted in a six catch, two touchdown day for the big man. He also plowed down the Chiefs linebackers at will in the run game, giving Leonard Fournette all the room that he needed to wear down the overmatched KC defense as the game wore on.
Kansas City fans might want to scream at the refs for a laundry-filled first half, but after breaking down the game a bit, it became very, very clear what was happening. The Kansas City defenders were repeatedly finding themselves out of position against the Tampa Bay pass catchers and grasping to stay in contact. Or, as NFL referees like to, and do call it, defensive holding. KC fans shouldn’t be mad either. Those holds prevented some very big plays by Brady and the Bucs. If you still feel like KC got a raw deal from the zebras, consider this: Tampa Bay was the fourth-least penalized team in the NFL this season, while Kansas City drew the fourth-most. That’s not because Brady is older than a good chunk of NFL referees. It’s because of unsound positional coaching and lack of in game adjustments by Chiefs HC Andy Reid and his team. And yeah, for the record, Carl Cheffers’ crew, including Sarah Thomas, the first woman to ever officiate a Super Bowl, called more penalties than almost any other crew this season. The second most, in fact. So, no. The NFL didn’t just rob Mahomes and the Chiefs of a repeat by handing Brady and the Buccaneers a twenty-two-point win in the Super Bowl.
The Chiefs were good this year, if unbalanced, but last year in the playoffs, and again this season, they had the look, feel and energy of a team that simply assumed Mahomes would bail them out. It’s great to have faith in your quarterback, but another thing entirely to just assume you’re going to be carried to victory by someone else. I suspect that the Chiefs started to believe in their own dynasty before they built it. That’s the difference between a scintillating young quarterback and the GOAT. The old timer knows how to remain focused and elevate everyone around him. Coaches, defense, special teams. Doesn’t matter. Rumors are swirling about the pregame speech that Brady made in the locker room before the game, and word is that it was beyond epic. The kind of thing that shocked and inspired a room full of men who collect a paycheck to play a game on Sundays. Let’s hope that someone recorded that thing, and that it gets leaked. We could all use a little extra inspiration nowadays.
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Image Source: USA Today