Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback ever. If there was any doubt left in any corner of the land, Brady dispelled it by leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a dominating 31-9 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV. It’s just the second championship in franchise history for the Bucs, and Brady has now won an incredible seven rings in his career and five Super Bowl MVP awards, records that seem likely to stand for generations.
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But despite Brady’s MVP play — going 21 for 29 and throwing for 201 yards and three TDs with 0 interceptions — the story of the game was the Tampa Bay defense, and the ineptitude of the Kansas City offense. Much was made of the injuries along the Chief’s offensive line coming into the game, but losing starting left tackle Eric Fisher seemed to have a greater impact than many expected.1 Patrick Mahomes was pressured on 57 percent of his dropbacks in the first half and 52 percent for the game — the most in Super Bowl history, according to ESPN’s Stats & Information Group. And perhaps more importantly, the Bucs’ secondary matched the play of their front seven, using two deep safeties on 72 percent of their snaps in the first half and intercepting Mahomes twice over the course of the game.
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Mahomes was on the run all night. ESPN’s Seth Walder reported that he ran for a total of 497 yards prior to throwing the ball, the most by any QB this season.
Mahomes was forced to hold the ball 3.47 seconds on average before throwing, well over his seasonlong norm of 2.86 seconds. The futility was historic: It was the worst game of Mahomes’s career. Mahomes accounted for -11.4 expected points added, or -0.19 EPA per play over his 61 dropbacks. Put another way, Mahomes’s play cost the Chiefs nearly two touchdowns versus what we would expect. It was so bad for the offense that a streaker wearing a fuschia Borat onesie made it closer to the end zone than the Chiefs did on Sunday night.
Yet it wasn’t all Mahomes’s fault. His receivers slipped on a number of occasions. More than once, they dropped heroic, impossible passes that literally hit them in the face. The defense racked up penalty after penalty, extending the Buc’s pivotal touchdown scoring drive at the end of the first half. The Chiefs looked lost, unprepared and unready for the biggest game of the year.
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And perhaps that’s to be expected. News broke on Thursday that coach Andy Reid’s son was involved in a three-car accident in Kansas City that left a 5-year-old girl in critical condition. Britt Reid, a linebackers coach on the Chiefs since 2012, reportedly told authorities that he had been drinking the night of the crash.
A tragedy like that transcends football, and in a sport built on emotion as much as talent and scheme, it’s not much of a stretch to attribute at least some of the Chiefs’ play to the horror and loss of the past week.
Even if the Chiefs had played their best game, the other new additions to the Bucs this year would have still made winning difficult for Kansas City. Rob Gronkowski had one of his best games of the season, catching six of seven targets for 67 yards and two touchdowns, while Leonard Fournette added 46 receiving yards on four catches and 89 rushing yards on 16 carries, including a 27-yard touchdown off the right end that helped put the game out of reach.
Bucs coach Bruce Arians called a smart, aggressive game, including a fourth-and-1 at the goal line early in the second quarter with the 7-3 game very much in doubt. The play ultimately failed, but the Chiefs managed only one first down on the ensuing series, and Tommy Townsend shanked the punt for just 29 yards. Tampa Bay scored a touchdown on the next series.
The Super Bowl had been hyped as one for the ages, a showdown between two star QBs. In the end, instead of a duel, we got a dud. But credit the entire Tampa Bay team for its play that smothered a powerful offense and neutralized a previously effective defense. Brady ended up cementing his place at the top, but he didn’t do it alone.