In one of the most surprising Super Bowl results ever, the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs were embarrassed and outclassed by Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In a dominating 31-9 victory, Kansas City’s bid for a second straight Super Bowl title was completely thwarted on both sides of the ball. Tampa Bay reversed the week 12 result between them and Kansas City as the NFL’s most unstoppable offense of the last three seasons didn’t reach the end zone once and a usual rock steady defense was befuddled and undisciplined all game. So what changed with Kansas City after they defeated these same Buccaneers just ten weeks ago? The answer to that is pretty simple: Everything.
The biggest change from Kansas City’s week 12 27-24 win over Tampa Bay was the ineffectiveness of the offense. Back in November, the Chiefs defeated Tampa on the road due to a jaw-dropping performance by speedy receiver Tyreek Hill, who totaled 13 catches for three touchdowns and 269 yards. In that game, Hill ran circles around Bucs corner Carlton Davis III as he couldn’t keep up with the Cheetah at all.
This time though, Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowles made a point to keep #10 guessing on who would be guarding him and emphasized two deep safety coverages, to keep the Chiefs from their signature big plays. With Sammy Watkins inactive, the Chiefs best pass catching threats were down to Hill and star tight end Travis Kelce. Rather than letting Hill go 1 on 1 with one guy all game, Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamal Dean joined Davis in rotating the coverage on him, keeping him from getting behind the defense quickly like he did in week 12.
By utilizing these assignment changes as well as the aforementioned coverages, Hill was virtually eliminated as a deep threat and his longest catch of the game went for just 23 yards. While Hill did total 7 catches for 73 yards, Patrick Mahomes didn’t have the time to wait for him to get open downfield and the one time that he did, Hill dropped a touchdown that went straight through his hands. In fact, Chiefs receivers had trouble making plays all night as Darrell Williams and Demarcus Robinson also dropped catchable balls in the end zone, one of which coming off a ridiculous sidearm throw in which Mahomes was parallel to the ground and still launched the ball 20 plus yards.
Kelce on the other hand played like his usual self with 10 catches for 133 yards, although he did have a very uncharacteristic drop with nine minutes left in the first half. Most of his damage was done after Tampa went up by two scores, marking little impact on the game from the All Pro tight end. The reason for the pass game being so out of it though, was because it never had the time to get going.
The most fatal flaws by the Chiefs in this game came with the horrible protection by the offensive line. In week 12 against this same Tampa team, Patrick Mahomes was able to complete 4 passes that went for 20+ air yards, going for 163 in total. Last night, he went 0-5 on those. Tampa Bay’s front seven took full advantage of a Kansas City team that was missing two starters on the line in tackles Mitchell Schwartz and Eric Fisher. Without their most effective blockers up front, Patrick Mahomes was never able to step up in the pocket and fire his trademark rockets down field as Jason Pierre-Paul, Vita Vea, Shaquill Barrett and Ndamukong Suh were swarming the former MVP all night.
While Tampa Bay only rushed four most of the night, Mahomes was still flushed out of the pocket and forced to make plays by himself numerous times as can be seen by an absurd 497 total yards ran trying to avoid Tampa Bay’s pass rush, the most by a QB in a single game this season. The swashbuckling pass rush didn’t even need to blitz to dominate the game as they collected three sacks in total but even more impressively pressured Mahomes a Super Bowl record 29 times. The Super Bowl 54 MVP was rushed to make plays and that caused mistakes as Kansas City converted just 3 of 13 third down attempts and Mahomes was picked off twice in the game, both in fourth quarter garbage time.
In terms of the run game, Kansas City had to eliminate it from the playbook by mid third quarter as trailing by three scores, they needed to get down the field quickly. Clyde Edwards-Helaire did look good in the 9 chances he got though, compiling 64 total yards while Mahomes gained 33 on 5 attempts as well.
On the defensive side, the Chiefs looked like a high school team with how undisciplined they were. Kansas City’s defense/special teams was flagged 11 times for a total of 120 yards, with 9 for 98 coming in the first half alone. The second quarter was especially tough for KC’s defenders, starting with an unnecessary roughness on star pass rusher Chris Jones at the beginning of the quarter. Soon after, a holding call on a 56 yard punt forced a replay of the down in which Tommy Townsend’s second kick went barely half that distance, setting up Tampa at the KC 38.
On the ensuing drive, a defensive holding on Charvarious Ward took away a Tyrann Mathieu interception while Tampa Bay was in field goal range midway through the quarter. A minute and a half later, an offsides call on the Chiefs while the Bucs lined up for a field goal gave Tampa a first down in which Brady would find Rob Gronkowski in the end zone on the very next play. On just one drive, three Chiefs penalties directly lead to a touchdown while taking away a turnover and an outstanding punt.
After Kansas City kicked a field goal to trim the deficit to 14-6 with a minute left in the half, they got very unlucky with the officials. With 24 seconds left in the second quarter, Brashaud Breeland was flagged for a very questionable 32 yard pass interference on Mike Evans in which the trailing corner tripped and slid his hands off of Evans leg. Evans proceeded to sell the call by hitting the ground as the ball sailed a couple yards over his head, prompting a flag from the sideline official who was in front of the play and couldn’t totally see where and how significant Breeland made contact with Evans. One play later, with 13 seconds to go until halftime, Mathieu was charged with a horrible pass interference on Evans in the end zone where he did make contact with him, but Brady’s pass was way over the receiver’s head and should not have been deemed catchable. This put Tampa at the one yard line with ten seconds left, where Brady would find Antonio Brown in the end zone to take a 21-6 lead into the locker room. While the Chiefs defense played better in the second half, it wasn’t enough to change the game.
When they weren’t committing penalties, Tom Brady did his classic dissection of the defense in front of him as the 43 year old completed 21-29 passes for 201 yards and three touchdowns, two going to his favorite target Rob Gronkowski. “Gronk” was the main receiving threat throughout this game for Tampa as he compiled 6 catches for 67 yards on the befuddled Chiefs defense. In the second half, the Bucs run game got going as Ronald Jones totaled 61 yards on the ground and “Playoff Lenny” Leonard Fournette pounded the rock for 89 yards, including the final touchdown of the game in a 27 yard house call halfway through the third quarter. To their credit though, the secondary did hold Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown mostly in check as the trio combined for just 62 total yards and one Brown touchdown at the end of the first half.
All in all, Super Bowl 55 was the worst game the Chiefs have played in the Patrick Mahomes era. For the first time since he took over in 2018, Kansas City suffered a double digit loss while also failing to reach the end zone. The offense couldn’t get anything going and the defense was plagued by penalties and overall poor play. While this is a tough loss to take, it was a necessary reality check for Kansas City. The Chiefs will be back here for years to come but getting blown out in the Super Bowl shows this team isn’t perfect and adjustments need to be made if they are going to fend off several rising contenders from both conferences.
Image: USA Today