The now seven-time Super Bowl champion completed 21-of-29 passes for 209 yards and three touchdowns, finishing the game with his third-highest quarterback rating of the season. But Brady’s brilliance pales in comparison to that of a Todd Bowles-led Buccaneers defense.
Tampa Bay’s defensive unit swarmed Kansas City with consistent pressure and never once let Tyreek Hill get into the game. The Chiefs rarely got chunk yardage, and were consistently thwarted when they got closer to the red zone.
Sunday’s Super Bowl marked the first time a Mahomes-led offense failed to score a touchdown, a ridiculous distinction given the explosiveness of that unit and the roll the Chiefs had been on in the playoffs.
It was not as if a couple sacks or turnovers turned the tide of the game for the Bucs, as was the case in the NFC Championship Game. No, this was total domination at every level.
Brady will go down in the history books as the MVP of Super Bowl LV, but Bowles and the defense deserve most of the praise.
The absurdity of Tampa’s defensive dominance starts at the line of scrimmage.
The Buccaneers exploited the fact the Chiefs had to start two backup offensive tackles, with Pro Bowl left tackle Eric Fisher’s absence looming especially large.
Shaquil Barrett had a sack and four quarterback hits on Mahomes, but was in his face on nearly every play and forcing the Chiefs star to test out his turf toe. Barrett’s ability to consistently win one-on-ones and set the edge collapsed the pocket and consistently forced Mahomes out. He ran almost 500 yards in avoidance of pressure, the most by any quarterback all season.
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) February 8, 2021
But Barrett was hardly alone in his steady pursuit.
Jason Pierre-Paul also got good pressure off the other edge. Ndamukong Suh disrupted things in the middle, leading Tampa Bay with 1.5 sacks on the night.
The Bucs’ front four was always going to have to get after Mahomes to give Tampa Bay a chance to win. But they also had more opportunities to get after him in part because of the Bucs’ talent at the second level.
Devin White and Lavonte David
We need to break down just how exceptional Devin White and Lavonte David were in this game.
White hunted the ball on every single play and shadowed Tyreek Hill all over the field when “Cheetah” would go in motion, consistently barking out orders to his defensive backs. He was rarely fooled by Kansas City’s attempts at throwbacks and dump-off passes in the flats, finishing the contest with a game-high 12 combined tackles, including two for a loss.
David was every bit as exceptional as one of the primary cover guys on Travis Kelce. A mere look at the box score might suggest Kelce had his way with the Bucs. He finished the game with 10 catches for 133 yards.
But David shackled the All-Pro tight end for most of the game. He had a pair of vital deflections and forced a few more incompletions when Mahomes targeted Kelce, rarely allowing him to make explosive plays in the seams.
The Buccaneers’ pass rush sets the tone for that defense. But White and David used their athleticism to cover, and White was a legitimate run-stuffer when he played up in the box. Having a pair of linebackers with such diverse attributes is unbelievably valuable, especially when the Chiefs so often rely on guys like Kelce to win one-on-ones with opposing linebackers.
Simple is good
Bowles did not have to do anything extravagant in terms of play-calling, but the simplicity of the scheme was brilliant enough.
The Bucs consistently played a two-deep structure with a pair of high safeties, preventing the Chiefs from taking downfield shots to Hill. This seems like a fairly straightforward formula considering what Hill did to Tampa Bay in Week 12, but it is incredibly reliant on generating pressure up front and making plays in the open field.
Of course, the Bucs did both those things with ease. Mahomes’ longest pass play was 33 yards, but that was not until the fourth quarter, on a catch-and-run by Kelce. He found Hill for a couple of big gains, but one of those came on a 3rd-and-33 from midfield.
Bowles made it very simple: Tampa would not get beat deep, and they felt comfortable forcing everything underneath. The Chiefs did not seem to make necessary adjustments early. All of a sudden, they were chasing the game, and had no choice but to go for big plays.
Give Bowles credit. He trusted in his personnel, and the players executed to perfection. It was a dominant performance the likes of which has not been seen in years, one that makes Tampa’s “D” the true MVP of Super Bowl LV.