Back when Super Bowl 55 actually felt like a winnable game for the Kansas City Chiefs, a pair of drops from their two best pass-catchers combined to prevent their team from getting an honest-to-goodness lead in the first half, and in turn allowed Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the opening they needed to rev up their offense.
Honestly, how dare they? The Super Bowl is supposed to be the two best teams duking it out for that big shiny football on a stick, but the Chiefs looked clumsy and awkward as they tried and failed to handle what felt like a never-ending power play from the Buccaneers on both sides of the ball. On defense, Kansas City was overpowered by the ground game. On offense, Patrick Mahomes was constantly running for his life from the pass rush.
Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce didn’t make it any easier on their poor sweet quarterback with their mistakes at early crucial moments. For Hill, who caught two passes for 18 yards in the first half, his big chance to score the first points of the game arrived with about five minutes to play in the opening quarter. It had not yet become an exhaustingly familiar sight to see Mahomes desperately trying to escape an unblocked defender, but he did so here on a rare Bucs blitz, then moved to his left and threw a bomb down to the end zone with some unconventional technique. It went through Hill’s hands and bonked him on the frickin’ facemask.
Take a look at that again:
Even if, in my memory, that critical drop marked the conclusion of the Chiefs as a going concern, they did still have a couple of second-quarter opportunities to take the lead. They managed just one first down on both of those drives combined, but again, it wasn’t for lack of trying by Mahomes. On this third-down play with the score 7-3, the QB again scrambled to try and alleviate the pressure and then fired a would-be chain-mover to Travis Kelce, only for the tight end to transform into a tackling dummy.
After Sunday’s 31-9 loss, Kansas City’s offensive stars had plenty of praise for Tampa’s scheme, which clearly deserved a lot of credit for making KC look so uncomfortable, and for forcing Mahomes to live through the worst game of his life.
“They made us dink and dunk, take what was there, and they put a cap over the top and didn’t let us get behind the defense, knowing how much speed we have,” Kelce said in the postgame. “It was frustrating. It was one of those days where it just felt like anything you did they had an answer for.”
Mahomes, in addition to congratulating his opponents, also criticized his unit’s performance, though with a kind of subdued calm that one would not necessarily expect from a guy who had to run 497 yards on his dropbacks before throwing or being sacked.
“I didn’t play the way I wanted to play,” the QB said. “We weren’t on the same page as an offense in general. I wasn’t getting the ball out on time, the receivers were running routes not exactly where I thought they were going to be at, and sometimes the (offensive line) let guys through.”
In a game of this magnitude, with no other football available for months, it’s impossible not to think about how things could have gone if the Chiefs managed even one early touchdown. It’s also an ideal time to point the finger at guys like Kelce or Hill, who underachieved or screwed up at the worst possible time. But any one play going in Kansas City’s favor still wouldn’t have been enough. The Bucs didn’t leave any hypotheticals on the field. They played a nearly flawless game on offense and defense, continually squeezing the Chiefs until they were no longer a threat. For Kansas City, it’s no single player’s fault. Tampa was just better.