original article published at https://losangeles.cbslocal.com/2021/02/07/super-bowl-lv-preview-chiefs-buccaneers-patrick-mahomes-tom-brady/
(CBS Detroit) — The Kansas City Chiefs, behind Patrick Mahomes, are looking for their second Super Bowl title in as many years. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ last and only title happened 18 years ago. But Tom Brady has six Super Bowl wins in his nine appearances, with most recent coming just two years ago. Mahomes is probably the best quarterback of his generation. Brady is pretty clearly the greatest of all time. They’ll match up in Super Bowl LV, where history is guaranteed to be made.
“This is the type of matchup that you don’t get every day in the ultimate game,” says NFL On CBS analyst Charles Davis. “You’ll get two of the best, at the top of their games. One of them may be 43, but has he played extremely well for the last six weeks? The answer is yes. The other one’s the kid, who may be one of the most precocious players we’ve ever seen in the NFL. He fears nothing. And by the way, signed for nearly $500 million last year, with zero drop off in play.”
The Chiefs and Buccaneers are evenly matched, with a three-point spread just days before the game. A convincing case can be made for either team winning. Kansas City rolls in with a 14-2 regular-season record and solid wins over the Cleveland Browns and Buffalo Bills in the playoffs. Mahomes has piled up receptions and yards throwing to Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill in a passing game that seemingly can’t be stopped. Tampa Bay will be playing at home behind the quarterback with the most Super Bowl titles in NFL history. Brady has the League’s best wide receiver trio to throw to in Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Antonio Brown and one of its best defenses to put the ball back in his hands.
The Chiefs held on to beat the Bucs back in late November. Mahomes put up an absurd stat line, completing 37-49 passes for 462 yards and three touchdowns. Hill was the biggest beneficiary, with 12 catches for 269 yards and three touchdowns on his own. Much of that came in the first quarter. But the Chiefs defense almost let it slip away. Brady’s third touchdown pass, his second of the game to Mike Evans, pulled the Bucs within a field goal with just over four minutes left. Still, the Chiefs were able to run out the clock.
Brady went a respectable 27-41 against Kansas City, with 345 yards and three touchdowns. He was picked off twice in what was the team’s third consecutive home loss. The Bucs have since won seven straight games, and an offense that then seemed a little out of step has found its groove. They’ve averaged over 34 points per game over that span, and Brady has averaged over 313 yards passing per game. He’s also had 19 touchdown passes.
The Bucs boast one of the NFL’s most explosive passing games. Evans, Godwin and Brown are all legitimate downfield threats. Tight end Rob Gronkowski’s best days are behind him, but he remains productive, even in this stacked offense. Ronald Jones, the team’s leading rusher this season, suffered a quad injury in the warmups before their Wild Card matchup. Leonard Fournette put up 93 yards on 19 carries in relief. While the two split carries in the last two games, Fournette has been more productive.
The Chiefs defense is better against the pass than the run, but not especially impressive against either. They held Josh Allen to 293 yards on 28-48 through the air in the Championship, though he picked up another 88 yards on the ground. The Kansas City defense had better success against the Browns, though Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt each averaged over five yards per carry. Ultimately, they’re not expected to win games, so much as not lose them. And that’s what they’ve done for much of the season, with eight wins by less than a touchdown.
The Chiefs defense tends to show up when the stakes are higher. “They played their best defense when it mattered most,” says NFL On CBS play-by-play man Ian Eagle. “And I think there’s something to that, with what they’ve been able to do defensively. Last year’s postseason, so far this year’s postseason. I worked the Kansas City-Buffalo AFC Championship game on the radio. What Steve Spagnuolo has done, how he gave Josh Allen and that offense fits. What they did to take Stefon Diggs out of that game. That’s not by happenstance. That’s a coordinator who really believes in his pieces and believes in his system.”
Unsurprisingly, the key to Chiefs offense is Mahomes. The team suffered a bit of a scare during their first playoff game, when their $500 million man came up woozy after what appeared to be a typical tackle. He left the field and entered concussion protocol. A Mahomes-less offense could have spelled disaster for a Chiefs Super Bowl repeat. But the quarterback sailed through protocol and appeared to be full strength in the Bills game.
The Kansas City offense led the NFL in passing during the regular season, with Mahomes putting up 4,740 yards, about 100 more than Brady. His two favorite targets were — and are — the speedy Hill and the reliable Kelce. Hill finished the season with 87 catches for 1,276 yards and 15 TDs; Kelce had 105 catches for 1,416 yards and 11 TDs. The pair has continued their dominance into the playoffs, with four 100-yard games among them. Kelce also has three touchdowns in the postseason.
The Chiefs offensive line will be without starting left tackle, Eric Fisher, who tore his Achilles in the AFC Championship. Starting right tackle, Mitchell Schwartz, has been out with a back injury since Week 6. And the list doesn’t end there. Starting right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif opted out of the season due to COVID concerns, and starting left guard Kelechi Osemele has been sidelined with a knee injury. But this unit has found success in multiple configurations for much of the season. They will need another strong showing against the Bucs fearsome front four.
Tampa Bay loves to blitz. Their pass rush logged 48 sacks in the regular season, and five more against the Green Bay Packers in the Championship. They also picked off opposing quarterbacks 15 times. Both totals put them near the top of the league. But the Bucs also gave up substantial yardage and plenty of TDs through the air. Mahomes is adept at handling the blitz, which suggests he could have a field day if he can stay upright.
“Defensively the Buccaneers have taken a huge step forward,” says Eagle. “And the trust that Bruce Arians has in Todd Bowles, not just here but back in the Arizona days as well. He understands that Todd Bowles is the head coach of that defense. The emergence of Devin White in his second year. This guy is a bigtime player. So yes, we’re going to get caught up in the Brady-Mahomes narrative. The defenses could end up playing a much bigger role in determining the outcome of this game.”
Neither defense will likely shut down the offense on the other side of the ball. But, according to Davis, “it doesn’t necessarily have to be one defense shutting down another offense. I think what we’re talking about is one of these defenses making a critical play when it’s necessary and needed, because both of these offenses will be hard to shut down. So can you get a key stop on a third down? Can you take the ball away and take a possession away from one of those high-powered offenses and turn it into points?”