There was much made of quarterback Tom Brady potentially "passing the torch" to young star Patrick Mahomes as the two faced off in Super Bowl LV. But after earning his fifth Super Bowl MVP award and executing a near flawless game, the only torch passing came from the Kansas City Chiefs as they relinquished their 'defending Super Bowl champions' title to the Buccaneers, who became the first team in NFL history to win a Lombardi Trophy in their own stadium.
It was storybook ending for a season that was anything but a fairytale. All 32 teams had to overcome some very unorthodox circumstances and incredibly unforeseen obstacles. But at the end of it all, it was the Buccaneers that were left standing.
Here's what stood out.
1. The Buccaneer defense came ready to play… and pressure …and cover.
Yes, Tom Brady was deservedly your Super Bowl MVP, but if the award could go to coaches, Brady should maybe have been a little worried. In our Super Bowl LV Game Ball article, I actually threw Scott Smith for a loop by awarding it to Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles for the absolute thrashing he unleashed on what looked like a very unsuspecting Kansas City team. The Chiefs came into Raymond James Stadium with a top-ranked offense and an elusive young star at quarterback, famous for making something out of nothing at-will. They were averaging over 30 points a game. They had punted just once in the postseason prior to Sunday.
But they should have known better than to give Todd Bowles two weeks to figure out how stop them. And with a defense led by guys like Lavonte David, Devin White, Ndamukong Suh and a hungry young secondary, at that. As Bowles put it earlier in the week, "They smell blood and they go after it."
That's exactly what they did despite the fact Mahomes can maneuver his way out of and around pressure with the best of them. They hunted, anyway. The Bucs managed 3.0 sacks on Mahomes who had only been sacked 24.0 times all season, thanks both to his offensive line and his own evasiveness. Tampa Bay also hit him eight times, knocked him down six and hurried him 11 times.
And here's the kicker: they only used four guys to do it most of the time. In Week 12, in the first meeting between these two teams this season, the Bucs blitzed Mahomes on just 17% of dropbacks. That was the lowest blitz rate in any game under Todd Bowles for the Tampa Bay defense. That was the right idea so Bowles again incorporated it this time around and went even further: the Bucs blitzed Mahomes on just 11.5% of dropbacks in the Super Bowl. But that doesn't mean it was the same four guys or in the same manner each time. I don't think the guessing game of who was actually coming was very much fun for the Chiefs' patchwork offensive line and/or Mahomes. Nose tackle Vita Vea was doing his job gobbling up blockers alongside Ndamukong Suh, who pushed the pocket on several occasions and tallied 1.5 sacks of Mahomes himself. Guys came from all levels though, including back-to-back corner rushes from Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean at one point in the first quarter.
Those cornerbacks were also good in coverage, as was the entire Bucs' secondary with the addition of inside linebackers Lavonte David and Devin White, who spent most of their night patrolling the underneath routes. White even managed the game-clinching interception as he tipped Mahomes' pass to tight end Travis Kelce to himself in the end zone with just over a minute and a half left in the game. It was the second interception of the night for the Buccaneer defense. Rookie safety Antoine Winfield Jr. got his on a deflection from fellow safety Mike Edwards halfway through the third quarter and led to the Bucs' final score of the night. In 2020, the Buccaneers finished with the most interceptions of any team including postseason with 22 total, capped off by the aforementioned two.
Mahomes and the high-octane Chiefs offense was held to nine points on the night without a single touchdown to speak of. They had come into the night averaging nearly 30 points a game. Kansas City was held to 350 net yards total, which is much less than the 415.8 they had been averaging all season. They had a third-down conversion rate of just 23% third-down conversion rate, having success on just three of 13 attempts in the game. They had been averaging a 49% conversion rate, the third-best mark in the league in the regular season, and a top-ranked 40% on third and long.
2. The offense hummed along without a hitch thanks to some incredible efficiency.
While the Chiefs' offense was sputtering, the Bucs' offense very much was not. Brady was a technician as he connected with an old friend multiple times to put up some points early. After an initial drive that was stopped after three downs and another that also resulted in a punt in the first quarter, the Bucs wouldn't punt again until the fourth. Brady also broke his first-quarter Super Bowl curse by scoring the first touchdown of the day with about 45 seconds left in the period. That was a screen to the aforementioned old friend in tight end Rob Gronkowski. Watching the third drive of the game seemed… familiar. And for good reason. Brady connected with Gronk in the end zone at a Super Bowl for the 14th time – which is the most in NFL postseason history. He'd do it one more time to give Gronk his 100th career touchdown including the postseason. Gronkowski is now just the second player in NFL history to have multiple, multi-touchdown performances in the Super Bowl. The other one? Jerry Rice. Gronk also ranks second behind only Rice in both postseason touchdown receptions and Super Bowl touchdown receptions all-time.
Gronkowski ended up as the Bucs' leading receiver with six catches on seven targets for 67 yards and those two scores. The passing offense didn't have explosive numbers, but it was efficient as hell. Brady was 21 of 29 for 201 yards, three touchdowns against no interceptions and the highest passer rating of his Super Bowl career with 125.8. He was productive and the Bucs' offense was balanced behind an offensive line that not only won the battle at the line of scrimmage, but made it look easy. Brady was never sacked and he was only hit twice. The line also took pressure off Brady by paving the way for the Bucs to rack up 145 yards on the ground. Like the Divisional Round against the Saints, the Bucs' offense was balanced and actually favored the run. The Bucs ran the ball 33 times while attempting 29 passes. Leonard Fournette, wait no Playoff Lenny, wait no Super Bowl Lenny, there we go, led the way for Bucs' backs with 16 rushes for 89 yards and scored himself a 27-yard touchdown, continuing his postseason dominance. Ronald Jones wasn't too far behind him in yards, taking 12 carries for 61 yards himself.
It was a testament to the gameplan itself, the execution of that game plan by Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich and the quarterback in charge of it. The Bucs offense had evolved all season under its new signal caller and like Brady said after the NFC Championship game in a mic'd up moment with Devin White, "We still haven't played our best yet."
This past Sunday might have been it. Or at least their best yet.
3. Your Buccaneers are world champions.
That's it. That's the main takeaway from all of this.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are Super Bowl LV Champions. Enjoy it, Bucs fans.
View some of the most crucial moments from the Chiefs-Buccaneers Super Bowl matchup in picture form.