The storyline is getting old. So is Tom Brady. Yet the legendary quarterback continues to find his way back to the Super Bowl. This time around, he was up against Mahomes and the well-oiled machine that is the Kansas City Chiefs. A +3.5 point underdog going into the game, Brady turned in yet another vintage performance to upset the Chiefs and win his seventh ring.
As usual from the biggest game of the season, there is a lot to unpack. However, it was the matchups and little details from both teams that affected the game the most. Here is a look at some of the biggest takeaways following Super Bowl 55.
Penalties Prove Costly for the Chiefs
It is impossible to start without addressing the elephant in the room in a game full of storylines. The Chiefs committed a lot of penalties. On the night, they committed 11 penalties that resulted in 120 free yards for the Buccaneers. Against any other team, 120 penalty yards is costly. Against Tom Brady, it is fatal.
The two most consequential penalties came on the same drive. The most significant controversy was a nullified interception due to a pass interference penalty committed by Chiefs defensive back Charvarius Ward. Buccaneers receiver Mike Evans was matched up against Ward when Evans ran a 10-yard comeback route. As Evans was breaking at the top of the route, the referees declared that Ward held Evans from making his break back towards the ball. While Ward was definitely making noticeable contact with Evans, it appears there was also a significant amount of contact from Evans towards Ward.
On that same drive, the Chiefs made the grave error of giving Brady and Co. a second chance. After holding the Chiefs on third down, the Buccaneers sent out the field goal unit. However, on the ensuing attempt, Chiefs receiver Mecole Hardman lined up offsides, giving the Buccaneers a fresh set of downs on the Kansas City 17 yard line. Tampa Bay capitalized quickly, with Brady throwing a touchdown pass to tight end Rob Gronkowski on the following play.
While those were the two most notable penalties, there were still nine other unmentioned fouls by Kansas City. No matter the team, it is challenging to win a football game when continuously giving the other team yards that they don’t deserve.
Buccaneers Defensive Line Was the Real MVP
With Brady and the star-studded offense of Tampa Bay constantly dominating the headlines, the Buccaneers defense never really got the credit they deserved. Finally, after the biggest game of the season, it is impossible to recap this game without acknowledging the play of the defense, specifically the defensive line.
Putting stats aside for a second, it was clear that the defensive line was working wonders for the Buccaneers just from watching the game. On nearly every play, Mahomes seemed to be running for his life. His constant scrambling and spinning away from defenders was not how the Chiefs had envisioned using Mahomes for this big game.
The connection of Mahomes to Tyreek Hill was a huge part of the Kansas City offense this season. Hill’s blazing speed plus Mahomes’ cannon of an arm resulted in some of the season’s longest plays. With the immense pressure from the Buccaneers’ defensive line, the Chiefs could not run these longer developing plays to use Hill’s speed to exploit the defense. Hill’s longest completion on the night was 23 yards. Buccaneer’s defensive coordinator Todd Bowles deserves a pay raise after the performance of his defense last night.
Offensive Line Matters
After seeing Mahomes run for his life last night, hopefully, the importance of a solid offensive line becomes more apparent to the casual NFL fan.
Before the Super Bowl, the Kansas City Chiefs ruled out tackle Eric Fisher, citing an Achilles injury. To the average fan, that’s not a huge loss. Especially with the offensive line, people assume it is a “next man up” sort of system. That reality could not be further from the truth, and it was evident last night.
Replacing Fisher at left tackle for the Chiefs’ biggest game of the season was guard Andrew Wylie. After starting 14 games at guard for the Chiefs during the regular season, Wylie was suddenly asked to protect the blindside of the franchise quarterback. He did about as well as one would expect out of an undrafted guard.
Wylie allowed pressure after pressure and was continually missing his jabs on rushers. This resulted in easy pressure on Mahomes or more costly penalties. It is hard to blame Wylie, as he was thrown to the wolves without any real help. Hopefully, after seeing this performance, teams will be more inclined to construct a solid offensive line in front of their franchise quarterback (looking at you, Seahawks and Texans).
Lavonte David Locked Up Travis Kelec
At first glance, it does not look like Kelce was “locked up.” He was the Chiefs leading receiver and finished with ten receptions for 133 yards. However, the film tells a different story and one that speaks to Lavonte David’s coverage skills.
David, the Buccaneers inside linebacker, has been one of the best backers in the league for a few seasons now. A tackling machine, he also has excellent fluidity in his hips that allows him to drop into coverage. He also plays physical, making him the perfect matchup for Kelce.
While Kelce finished with 133 yards, the yards were hard to come by when guarded by David. Only five of Kelce’s ten completions were within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. This is roughly the area where David would be expected to cover Kelce. Kelce’s two most significant gains on the night, for 33 and 16 yards, were when the Tampa Bay defensive backs were shadowing him.
David made it very difficult for Mahomes to find his favorite target and, while the stats may not reflect it, it was a defensive masterpiece by David.
What Comes Next For the Buccaneers
The Buccaneers will undergo a significant makeover in the offseason. The good news is Brady is here to stay. He is under contract for the next season at roughly 28 million dollars. The entire offensive line remains under contract through next season as well. This is huge, as keeping Brady off the turf was critical to the Buccaneers’ success this season.
Now for the not-so-good news. The Buccaneers have many key players to resign and, potentially, not enough money to do it. On offense, running back Leonard Fournette (who played very well in the Super Bowl), receiver Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown are just a few of the unrestricted free agents going into the offseason. Defensively, tackle Ndamukong Suh, David, and edge rusher Shaquil Barrett will hit the open market. All six of the players listed played considerable roles in the Super Bowl run. While the Buccaneers would like to retain all six, it is not financially plausible.
After receiving the franchise tag last year, Shaq Barrett will likely be looking for a long term deal. After proving he is one of the best edge rushers in the game, a deal that pays 18-20 million dollars annually is not out of the question. Godwin and David will also command significant amounts of money if they are to resign with the Buccaneers. David is rumored to be looking for a deal that would make him the highest-paid linebacker in the league. With just over 38 million in cap space, Tampa Bay will have some tough decisions to make in the offseason.
What Comes Next For the Chiefs
The Chiefs are in a better spot than the Buccaneers going into the offseason. The most notable names out of a contract are running back Le’Veon Bell and receiver Sammy Watkins. Bell was injured for the Super Bowl and will likely not be retained for next season. With all of the receivers that Kansas City already has, it will be interesting to see if the Chiefs choose to bring back Watkins.
While they are not the most well-known players, the Chiefs will have some decisions to make in their secondary. Out of the five defensive backs who started in the Super Bowl, just two are under contract going into next season (Tyrann Mathieu and L’Jarius Sneed). Bashuad Breeland, Charvarius Ward, and Daniel Sorensen all are up for a contract renewal.
It will be interesting to see who the Chiefs decide to retain. They will have defensive back, Juan Thornhill, returning from injury next season. Thornhill is still on his rookie-scale deal, making him the more attractive option financially. If the Chiefs think that Thornhill can play at a high level, one of the three free agents may be looking for a new home next season.