Every moment of the 2020-21 NFL season culminated into a Super Bowl matchup that football fans across the nation were eager to see unfold. The consistently successful Tom Brady, in his first season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was taking on the next great, generational quarterback in Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. The Bucs were playing in their home stadium, something a Super Bowl team had never done prior to this season. The Chiefs were three point favorites when the game kicked off, but while plenty of people still expected the Buccaneers to win, no one anticipated the game to unravel the way it did. When the final seconds ticked off the clock, Tampa Bay had secured a 31-9 victory, giving Brady his seventh ring in dominant fashion.
I have a lot of things I want to discuss about this game; opinions that are apparently rather unpopular in the mainstream sports media. I will begin by saying that aside from my bets placed on Kansas City and obligatory allegiance to Patrick Mahomes for fantasy football reasons (I drafted him prior to his breakout season and have been rooting for him since he delivered me a title that year), I didn't have a dog in the fight for this year's Super Bowl. My thoughts on certain events and storylines from last night's game, while different from the main talking heads on ESPN and other sports shows, seem like they should be objective truths for anyone who actually watched the game in its entirety. I'll start by explaining how the game unfolded into the blowout we all witnessed.
How It Happened
First and foremost, Tampa's defensive line dominated the game pretty much from the beginning. The MVP trophy should have been split among the Bucs' defensive linemen if you ask me. The Chiefs were without starting left tackle Eric Fisher and guard Andrew Wylie for the team's biggest game of the year, and those two players were missed tremendously. The Bucs pressured Patrick Mahomes 38(!) times compared to just five hurries against Tom Brady. It felt like Mahomes was running for his life on nearly every play. In fact, he ran nearly 500 yards behind the line of scrimmage trying to escape Tampa Bay's pass rush, often consisting of just four guys.
The overwhelming pressure on Mahomes, who was limping in between every play due to a toe injury sustained earlier in the postseason, prevented the Chiefs from being able to connect on any big plays down the field to their speed demons at wideout. After they got down a couple scores, there was almost no chance of them mounting a significant comeback with only runs and quick passes. Tampa's defensive line and pass rushers deserve a ton of credit for their performances, but they would've at least had a harder time getting to Mahomes if Kansas City's offensive line was at full strength.
A strong pass rush is the first recipe to defeating the Chiefs, and last night it was bolstered by the effectiveness of Tampa Bay's secondary. While Mahomes was under duress all night, he was still phenomenal at extending plays with his legs and giving his receivers chances to work their way open. However, not even the Chiefs' big play weapons could break free from the Buccaneer defensive backs. The prominence of Tampa's front four allowed for double teams in the secondary on their down field threats. Several of Kansas City's pass plays seemingly lasted for 15 seconds, and the whole time I watched Mahomes scramble for his life, I almost always expected to see him launch the ball down field to a wide open Hill or Mecole Hardman. That's what KC's offense does. No defense is supposed to be able to stay with those guys for more than about five seconds, by which time they've sprinted behind the safeties or into a wide open gap in a zone. But that never happened last night.
Tampa's defense played almost flawlessly from start to finish. I mean, holding the Patrick Mahomes-led Chiefs team to no touchdowns and only nine total points is a remarkable achievement. The defensive line caused havoc in the backfield, and the corners and safeties stayed glued to their assignments all night long, preventing the big plays and keeping everything in front of them. I also don't recall a single missed tackle on the night, other than an occasional Tyreek Hill shimmy and sprint for an extra five yards or so.
Kansas City's receivers couldn't create any separation on the night, but that didn't keep Patrick Mahomes from hitting them in the hands (or facemasks) consistently throughout the game. There were at least three or four times that Mahomes evaded a slew of defenders before slinging the ball into a tiny window, only for it to be dropped or mishandled by his pass catchers. There was the iconic play in the third quarter that should have resulted in a touchdown when Mahomes let go of the ball while literally parallel to the ground. Unfortunately, it bounced off a receiver's face and fell incomplete. To be fair, some of the catches the guys were forced to try to make were tough catch attempts in traffic, but they were balls that NFL-caliber players in the Super Bowl absolutely have to make if their team is to have a chance at winning.
I don't like placing blame on referees, and I'm putting this part last in my analysis of the game for that fact. But I can't let some of the penalties called in the first half of this game slide, as they all favored one team and resulted in huge swings in the contest. The referees got involved early, calling holds on the Chiefs defensive backs seemingly every time Tom Brady dropped back to throw. The most notable of these holding calls came on a play where Tyrann Mathieu picked Brady off in Chief territory, which extended Tampa Bay's drive and set up a field goal. Even NFL rules expert Terry McAulay tweeted during the game that KC's defensive holding calls "did not come close to the standard we saw entire season... and certainly not what we saw in TB/GB." Then, a curious offside penalty called on that field goal attempt (which we never got a good look at to verify) resulted in another extension of the drive and put the Bucs up 14-3. The two other primary egregious calls were defensive pass interferences on the Chiefs on Tampa's final drive of the first half. Both were on throws that appeared uncatchable, and the penalties gave the Buccaneers 40 free yards and stopped clocks as time was winding down.
The foul calls were less common in the second half, and ultimately, the Chiefs finished with 11 penalties for 120 yards versus four penalties for 39 yards for the Bucs. I'm not saying that the Chiefs lost because of the refs, but this certainly played a factor in the margin of victory for the Buccaneers. It's not a crazy conspiracy to point out that officiating has seemed to favor Tom Brady's teams on a consistent basis. It may be more than a coincidence that referee Sarah Thomas has a son named Brady.
The Buccaneers played just about a perfect game and absolutely deserved to win last night. I don't want to take anything away from them. Their defensive showing has to go down as at least one of the best performances in Super Bowl history when factoring in the offense they were going up against. But this brings me to the point I wanted to talk about the most.
Tom Brady is being universally lauded as not only the greatest quarterback of all time, but as the greatest team sport athlete of all time. This is preposterous in my opinion. Yes, he's been a part of more championships than any other player in football, but he played in a perfect system for 20 years on a team that always had an elite defense, a great offensive line, and a good run game. Everyone is obsessed with the fact that he took a new team to a Super Bowl title in his first year out of New England, yet no one has mentioned that this Buccaneer team was absolutely loaded with weapons on the offensive side and stout defensively. One can certainly argue this was Brady's best team of his career.
Now, people like Stephen A. Smith are trying to say that Patrick Mahomes can never possibly surpass Brady due to his Super Bowl loss this year head-to-head. I guess we can just forget about the game in the regular season when the Chiefs were at full strength and led by 17 points after three quarters before coasting to a victory. Anyone with working eyes and a brain that watched last night's game should have been able to tell that Mahomes was the more impressive quarterback on the field, and it wasn't even close. Yes, Mahomes is almost 20 years younger and is in the prime of his career. And yes, we saw evidence to back that up last night. If you want to take age out of the question, just imagine how a 25-year old Tom Brady would have faired against that Buccaneer defense. He certainly wouldn't have run for 500 yards behind the line of scrimmage and delivered dot after dot from all kinds of body positions and arm angles.
If you look at the stats only from this game, it's obvious that Brady had the better stat line. But if you watched the game, it's obvious that Mahomes was, is, and always will be a better quarterback. In terms of accuracy, arm strength, mobility, and simply wow-ability (I think I just made that word up), Mahomes has the potential to be the best quarterback we've ever seen. So can we please stop with the Tom Brady "GOAT" nonsense? I'd bet there are at least 15 QBs in the league who would have won a Super Bowl with this year's Tampa Bay team. Brady is the greatest average quarterback to ever play, I'll give him that.
I guess I, along with most sports fans, are just somewhat disappointed that we didn't get as good of a matchup as we were expecting. It was kind of disheartening to see a game that was pretty much over by the end of the third quarter. Worst of all, it's the final football game we'll get until next fall. The 2020-21 season was an unprecedented one, and now NFL fans will turn their attention to the draft and follow the number of offseason moves that are sure to occur.
Written by Nick Swatson
Expert Nick Swatson discusses all the news, predictions, and outcomes surrounding the NFL.