Super Bowl LV was billed as the greatest player of all-time, Tom Brady, against the greatest player of all-time in-waiting, Patrick Mahomes, writes Matthew Carolan.
If you said that with another sport, then it might be easier to say player 'X' beat player 'Y'. Like if the Brazilian Ronaldo played against an up-and-coming Cristiano Ronaldo. Even then, it’s unlikely they’d be marking each other in the game.
Regardless, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Kansas City Chiefs, so Tom Brady beat Patrick Mahomes, in spite of never being on the field at the same time (bar shaking hands afterwards). The real reason Patrick Mahomes lost was the Tampa Bay defense.
Tampa Bay’s defense dominates
The Buccaneers’ defense ranked number one against the run, but as we saw in the playoffs, they improved against the passing game too. They became a very well balanced defense.
To that point, there were two games that sprung to mind in the aftermath of Sunday night’s game. The first game was the Bucs’ win against the Packers in Week Six. Tampa won 38-10 then, and it felt like one of their best regular-season performances. It showed what that team could be. Efficient offensively with players capable of big plays, and defensively aggressive with a young core hungry to prove themselves.
The second game that came to mind was their Week 12 loss to Kansas City. Sure, Kansas City exploded early on to take a commanding lead, but the Bucs’ defense did show their ability to shut teams down later in the game. As Romo said on the day, he “saw some adjustments” and was fully expecting this team to make it to the Super Bowl.
And make it to the Super Bowl they did. The Bucs won comfortably on Sunday, and a large portion of the credit should be given to a defense that made Patrick Mahomes look so very average. Not just that, but they made sure Tyreek Hill did not repeat his Week 12 performance, holding him to 73 yards.
Mahomes was pressured on 29 of 56 dropbacks - more than any quarterback in Super Bowl history. Brady, in contrast, was pressured on four of 30.
Tom Brady won MVP, but it was Devin White, Shaq Barrett and company who really made the difference.
Kansas City penalties
Where credit is due to Tampa Bay’s defense, the opposite can be said of Kansas City’s. And in particular, because of the penalties they gave up.
One of the things that makes Tom Brady the greatest ever is his ability to pick apart defenses, not just physically with his arm, but mentally too. He led the Bucs to find weaknesses in the Chiefs’ defense and capitalised on them repeatedly.
The Chiefs gave up 105 penalties for 919 yards in the 2020 season. Only five other teams gave up more penalty yards, a fact in which Brady was well aware. He preyed on the abrasive nature of the Chiefs' defense to his advantage, and in the end, that amounted to 120 yards. An unforgivable amount of mistakes to make in any game, let alone the biggest game of their season.
Even when Tyrann Mathieu got into it with Brady, it was the Chiefs’ safety who got penalised. Brady got inside his head, targeted him, and even threw a touchdown to the man he was marking - Antonio Brown - too.
Kansas City receiving failures
Tampa Bay picked the best possible day to have their best possible game. Kansas City picked the worst possible day to have their worst possible game.
Did Mahomes have a poor day at the office? For sure. He was missing two of his usually stellar offensive line. But outside of that, he did not get much help from his receivers. Tyreek Hill was double marked for much of the game, so that option was hard to find. Kelce managed to amass 133 yards but, watching the game, he rarely felt like a threat. Basically, the Bucs defense said, “take your short passes, but you are not throwing deep on us”.
Mahomes had to scramble endlessly to create enough time for a receiver to get open deep. And when he did find them, he hit them in the face.
The worst of those instances came in the fourth quarter. With the Chiefs trailing 31-9 on fourth down, Mahomes evaded pressure and threw it in mid-air after being tripped. It was a remarkable throw destined for Darrel Williams, but instead of catching it and potentially sparking a comeback (albeit unlikely), it hit him in his face. That summed up the Chiefs night, really.
You cannot make continuous errors in the Super Bowl. You cannot miss those catches. You cannot give up 120 penalty yards. Pair all that with a few dubious refereeing calls, and it is not that shocking that Tampa Bay won with ease.
Brady finds a way to win
In spite of the fact that Tampa Bay’s defense deserves the bulk of the accolades for winning the Super Bowl itself, there is no escaping the fact that they are a championship team because of Tom Brady’s arrival.
The Buccaneers have not played in a Super Bowl in 18 years, and there is a reason they have not been there. They are a team of perennial mediocrity. A franchise with little history of success outside of the now two Super Bowl wins. They did not have a winning culture, but they do now. That is what Brady brings to the table.
For years, we read about the ‘Patriot way’, which signified the sustained success of the New England Patriots under Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. The two were inseparable in that regard, and Brady’s move to Tampa Bay manifested out of his desire to prove that he can win without his former coach. For some, Brady winning a Super Bowl with Tampa Bay might suggest that it should be the ‘Brady way’ and not the ‘Patriot way’.
Brady winning outside of New England does not mean Bill Belichick was a fraud, but it does show just how impressive Brady’s influence is. One man does not win a championship. It takes a full team, but there should be no denying Brady was imperative to the cause.
Written by Matthew Carolan.