If the panicky desperation of Patrick Mahomes Sunday didn’t remind you of Russell Wilson in recent years barely running ahead of the bulls of the NFL, you may have just moved to the area in the past month.
But the biggest local takeaway in Tampa Bay’s surprising 31-9 evisceration of Kansas City (box) in Super Bowl LV was the echo from 2014 and Super Bowl XLVIII: In pinnacle NFL games, a great defense pops off rivets of a good offense.
Hardly a revelation, but easily lost hereabouts after the shock surrounding the second-half decay of Seattle’s offense.
The playoff loss to the Rams was so inept that the offensive coordinator was fired, and exposed a polite public disagreement between Wilson and coach Pete Carroll about the reasons for failure in a season for which the club pushed many chips in the pot.
It has always been Carroll’s vision to have a strong defense to permit on offense a run-pass balance that avoids turnovers to keep games close, then out-last opponents in the late going with a few explosive plays.
He didn’t invent the plan. But he mastered it sufficiently to get to two Super Bowls and win one. The same plan was indirectly complimented Sunday when when Bucs coach Bruce Arians ripped it off.
The Bucs made no turnovers, QB Tom Brady went short and intermediate for 195 yards on 21 of 29 (longest completion 31 yards) and three TDs for a passer rating of 125.2, and controlled the clock with 145 yards rushing on 33 carries.
— NFL (@NFL) February 8, 2021
The defense shredded the Chiefs by using two-high safeties to thwart WR Tyreek Hill, who had 200 yards receiving in the first quarter of the teams’ regular-season meeting — the same tactic defenses used to slow down Wilson and WR DK Metcalf after the Seahawks’ 5-0 start. Hill had seven catches on 10 targets for 73 yards, the longest 23 yards.
Since the Chiefs, due to injuries, had backups at both tackle spots, Bucs coordinator Todd Bowles figured his four-man front, which included former Washington Huskies all-conference tackle Vita Vea, could pressure Mahomes on its own. He was right.
Playing on an injured big toe that will need surgery, Mahomes was sacked three times, hit eight times, pressured 29 times and threw two interceptions. He was 26 for 49 for 270 yards and a passer rating of 52.3.
“It’s the worst I’ve been beaten in a long time,” he said.
Much in the way that the Seahawks manhandled Peyton Manning in the Super Bowl — the Broncos entered the game with the highest-scoring offense in NFL history — the Bucs rarely let Mahomes set his feet. In almost perpetual backup, he and the Chiefs offense failed to score a touchdown for the first time since Mahomes became a starter. It was his biggest defeat since 2016 at Texas A&M.
— NFL (@NFL) February 8, 2021
The KC collapse, which also included 11 penalties for 120 yards and numerous dropped passes, also has to be seen through a pall of tragedy.
Thursday in Kansas City, Chiefs outside linebackers coach Britt Reid, Andy’s 35-year-old son, was involved in a three-car accident in which a five-year-old girl was critically injured. The police report stated Reid, whose truck struck two cars stopped on a freeway on-ramp, admitted to having two or three drinks, and using Adderall.
“My heart goes out to all those that were involved in the accident, in particular the family with the little girl who is fighting for her life,” Reid said post-game in his first remarks about the accident. “From a human standpoint, my heart bleeds for everybody involved.”
Neither Reid nor his players are likely to say, or even know, how the tragedy impacted performance, but common sense says the distraction was significant. The mistake-pickled game looked nothing like the high efficiency of a typical KC game.
On the other side, the transplanting of the winningest quarterback of all time into the NFL’s losingest franchise seems have been an unqualified success. Brady, named the most valuable player although the entire defense deserved it, won at 43 his seventh Super Bowl in an incredible 10 appearances over his 21-year career.
Arians, in his second year in Tampa and at 68 the oldest coach to win a Super Bowl, described Brady’s impact using terms often heard about Wilson.
“His confidence rubs off on everyone, including the defense,” he said. “His leadership is off the charts. He brought a winning mentality to a team that didn’t know how.”
The winning mentality permeates the town. The Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup in September. The Tampa Bay Rays in October won the American League title and met, and lost to, the Los Angeles Dodgers in November in the World Series played in Texas.
Now, the Bucs won their second NFL championship and the first one by a host city’s team. In a year in which the pandemic struck Florida in a scandalously hard way, folks there are getting to have nearly all the sports fun.
In a time rich in analytics that say passing early and often is the better way, the Bucs also offered a solid for another group — a day of validation for old style, old quarterbacks and old coaches.