There have been plenty of bad Super Bowls. Remember the 1990s? They were full of drab, lopsided affairs. Like calling a toll-free number to get movie times, it was just the way things worked back then. There have been more recent examples: Just two years ago, some team called “the New England Patriots” beat the Los Angeles Rams by a final score of 13–3. But Sunday’s game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs wasn’t supposed to be like those. This was Tom Brady vs. Patrick Mahomes, for crying out loud. And yet, here I am, midway through the fourth quarter, sitting far away from my television so I can write about how the Buccaneers cruised to a victory. Hold on, let me go and check the final score. Yep, 31–9. A blowout.
Compelling or not, Super Bowl LV will be remembered for the vampiric achievements of Tom Brady. The 43-year-old quarterback managed to claim his seventh championship ring, and he did it in his very first season away from New England. Brady spent Sunday doing Classic Brady Things, like throwing touchdowns to Rob Gronkowski (two in this game) and moving the ball over 70 yards in a minute to score right before halftime. Were it not for the pirate regalia, you’d think you were watching the Patriots. (The multiple flags that the refs threw against the Chiefs on that drive were touching tributes to those New England glory days.)
Brady’s final stat line was a slice of streamlined excellence: 201 yards, three touchdowns, zero interceptions. He did his part, but in order for this to have been a blowout, Mahomes had to have the worst game of his professional career. And, thanks to multiple factors, the Kansas City superduperstar did just that.
Note that the above tweet was sent before the final whistle, so it’s actually short an interception—feel free to add Devin White’s late red-zone pick, a play that Jim Nantz dubbed “one last indignity.”
The horror, the horror.
We’ve seen Mahomes come back from double-digit deficits so often that it’s almost become passé. Watching him struggle against Tampa Bay was a completely novel experience. How did the most exciting player in football come up short?
1. The Chiefs’ offensive line was patched together with cheap gum and recycled fishing line. Kansas City’s ability to protect Mahomes was a concern going into Super Bowl LV. They lost Pro Bowl left tackle Eric Fisher to an Achilles injury in the AFC championship game and were already playing without all-universe right tackle Mitchell Schwartz and left guard Kelechi Osemele. As a result, Mahomes spent much of the evening sprinting away from Tampa Bay defenders like he was a Beatle in A Hard Day’s Night and they were his screaming fans.
It turns out that blocking is important. The things you learn watching the Super Bowl.
2. Kansas City’s receivers weren’t in the mood to help.
Even though he was running for his life, Mahomes still managed to make some incredible throws. If you were to compile a highlight reel of the best incompletions in Super Bowl history, there would be at least three gems from Sunday that would have to be included. One bomb hit the Chiefs’ star wideout Tyreek Hill in the helmet, and another careened off Byron Pringle’s hand and into the pylon in the back corner of the end zone. I mean, just look at this madness.
The very next play might have been the greatest incompletion of them all, however: a John Woo–style diving heave on fourth down that hit the receiver straight in the nose.
Is it too much to ask Mahomes to throw so hard that the ball wedges itself in his receivers’ face masks, thus making his passes impossible to drop? No. He definitely should have done that.
3. Tampa Bay’s defense was really, really, really, really, really good.
Before Sunday, I would have argued that Patrick Mahomes could win a game if he played with 10 of the COVID cardboard cutouts the NFL used to fill vacant seats at Raymond James Stadium. That still might be true against some teams—but he didn’t stand a chance with this Bucs defense. They made his life hell.
Tampa Bay’s offense got most of the attention during the season—that tends to happen when the greatest quarterback of all time joins your team in the summer—but they didn’t need to win a shootout on Sunday. No: That would have been entertaining. Instead, we got a decidedly ’90s-esque blowout, and you have Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, linebackers Shaq Barrett and Devin White, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, safety Antoine Winfield Jr., and the rest of Tampa Bay’s defensive unit to thank—or blame—for that.