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Super Bowl 55 aftermath: Thoughts on Chiefs-Bucs, awards, more

Nick Falato reviews the 2021 Super Bowl

Super Bowl LV Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

In the words of Pete Eckhart, Super Bowl LV has been decided. Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers prevailed over the beat-up Kansas City Chiefs to secure the 31-9 victory. Less than one year ago, Brady departed New England and chose Tampa Bay as his new home. The Buccaneers were a team with a good foundation; they went 7-9 in the previous year with a quarterback who threw 30 interceptions.

Fast forward a bit and Brady earned his seventh Super Bowl title, and first without the great Bill Belichick. Brady was 21 for 29 with 3 touchdown passes and 201 yards passing. He found his former Patriots teammates on all three touchdown passes - two to tight end Rob Gronkowski and one to the mercurial Antonio Brown.

The running back formally known as “Playoff Lenny” who is now being referred to as “Super Bowl Lenny” had 135 yards from scrimmage and a 27-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. Of course, I’m referring to Leonard Fournette, a former Jacksonville Jaguars’ top five selection who was released just before this seasons’ commencement.

The Brady effect breeds a winning culture, and a byproduct of that culture are players like Gronkowski, Brown, and Fournette, who are all vastly different players who possess talent. Head coach Bruce Arians and his staff, specifically offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich and defensive coordinator Todd Bowels, must be heavily credited as well.

Back in Week 12, Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill had over 200 receiving yards in the first quarter against the Buccaneers secondary. Bowels made significant adjustments, stopped playing middle of the field closed cover one against Hill, and the Buccaneers almost came back to win the game. Bowels learned valuable lessons from that week 12 loss.

Leftwich wasn’t forcing the ball to star wide receivers, Mike Evans and Chris Godwin - he was taking what the defense was giving to him. Gronkowski was an afterthought as a receiving weapon, but Leftwich designed plays specifically for him in the red zone and on the 25-yard pop pass that fooled the Chiefs and left the middle of the field wide open. The rushing game on early downs also helped Tampa Bay slow the game down and allowed their offensive line to impose their will on the Chiefs. Both Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones had very good games for Tampa Bay.

The game seemed to have a possible significant momentum change when Buccaneers’ running back Ronald Jones was stuffed at the goal line by the Chiefs defense to keep the score 7-3 Tampa Bay. However, the Chiefs couldn’t do anything on offense. The loss of both tackles, Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz was just too much for the team to handle.

The lack of adjustment from The Chiefs offensive coaching staff was somewhat alarming as well. Their protection problems were exacerbated due to their game plan. The Chiefs utilized a five-man protection package (with two backup tackles) on 92 percent of their dropbacks - that’s poor. On some of those plays, there were running back and tight end chips to be fair, but that’s just not enough and it led to Mahomes being pressured on 52 percent of his throws, Brady was pressured on 13 percent.

Patrick Mahomes was only sacked three times, but it could, or should, have been at least six. Mahomes was making miraculous throws off-platform and with defenders draped all over him. The Chiefs protection allowed 37 pressures, and 31 of them were hurries, according to Pro Football Focus.

Kansas City put a ton on Mahomes shoulder and attempted to rely on the back-yard version of his game, but it was too much to overcome. Especially with the speed of Tampa Bay’s second-level defenders. Linebackers Lavante David and Devin White and safeties Jordan Whitehead and Antione Winfeild Jr. were phenomenal against the Chiefs.

Buccaneer pass rushers Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul combined for 16 pressures with Barrett receiving 10 of them. Ndamukong Suh also had 7 pressures and Vita Vea had 5. Some of this was a product of the Chiefs being in catch-up mode at the end of the game; Mahomes threw the ball 49 times, but this Buccaneers team dominated on both sides of the ball.

If the game happened to be competitive in the second half, there may have been some controversy. Brady threw an interception to Tyrann Mathieu on a 3rd & 4 at the Chiefs 32-yard line. The score was only 7-3 at this point, but the interception was negated by a pretty weak defensive holding penalty against Charvarius Ward, who wasn’t guarding the intended receiver.

Not only did the Chiefs fail to get the ball, but the Buccaneers drive was then extended and Brady found Gronkowski on a 17-yard touchdown pass, making the score 17-3. The penalty was, for lack of a better term, meh. However, that penalty wasn’t nearly as suspect as the pass interference on the goal line against Mathieu.

Mathieu was matched up against Mike Evans, the king of push-offs, and the referee flagged Mathieu on the defensive pass interference. The ball wasn’t catchable and the contact was pretty minimal. This penalty resulted in the ball being placed at the one-yard line and the next play was a short touchdown pass to Brown.

The penalties were very dubious, but it didn’t matter in the end because the Chiefs seemed lifeless, had little to no answer for the Buccaneers offense, and just kept getting pressure on Mahomes. Kansas City also dropped a bunch of big passes, two would-be touchdowns off of facemasks, and they turned the football over twice. The Buccaneers outplayed them and earned the victory.

Tensions were high throughout the game as well. Tom Brady and Tyrann Mathieu got into a verbal joust and rookie Antione Winfeild Jr. threw the deuces up to Tyreek Hill. In week 12, Hill torched the Buccaneers defense and gave Winfeild Jr the “peace” sign in a disparaging and deriding fashion. Late in the fourth quarter, when the game was in hand and after Hill couldn’t secure a pass, Winfeild Jr. gave him the same sign and held it right in his face prompting a taunting call. It was a high-level troll job, full of spice, and worth it.

The legacy of Tom Brady continues to ascend and grow, and he’s not done yet. He’s now the first quarterback to start, and win, a Super Bowl while representing both conferences. He joins Peyton Manning as a quarterback who has won a Super Bowl for two separate teams. He’ll be back with the Buccaneers in the NFC next season. This Brady success certainly makes Eli Manning’s already strong Hall of Fame legacy that much sweeter.

Awards

The Saturday before the Super Bowl is the annual awards ceremony. Aaron Rodgers secured his third MVP (2011 & 2014), Aaron Donald his third defensive player of the year award (2017 & 2018), and Derrick Henry earned his first offensive player of the year award. Russell Wilson earned the Walter Payton Man of the year award as well.

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert won Offensive Rookie of the Year and Washington pass rusher Chase Young won the Defensive Rookie of the Year award. The Comeback Player of the Year inevitably went to Alex Smith of Washington, and Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski won Coach of the Year (in his first season). The Assistant Coach of the Year award went to Bills’ offensive coordinator Brian Daboll.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2021 went to longtime Raiders coach Tom Flores, star offensive guard Alan Faneca, wide receiver Calvin Johnson, safety John Lynch, scout Bill Nunn, wide receiver Drew Pearson, defensive back Charles Woodson, and, of course, quarterback Peyton Manning.

Final thoughts

The end of the Super Bowl just about marks the end of the NFL’s calendar year. The new league year begins on March 17th when free agency starts. There should still be a lot of moving parts this offseason, and there are rumors that Eagles’ quarterback Carson Wentz may be on the move this week. 2021 should be an interesting year, and we’ll be right here on Big Blue View ready to break it all down. The Chiefs will be hungry, Tom Brady is never satiated, and let’s see if the Giants can mount a winning season in the second year of the Joe Judge era.