By Nathan Tucker
It’s taken nearly five months, countless COVID-19 positives and a bit of schedule shuffling, but the Super Bowl matchup is finally set. An NFL season unlike any other has reached a familiar point: two teams remaining with all to play for and a quarterback battle to decide who lifts the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
In such an unpredictable season, two teams that were picked by many to make the Super Bowl did just that. Tom Brady silenced the doubters, the haters, the losers, the scorned New England fans and large chunks of sports media who never thought he and Bruce Arians could take the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to another Super Bowl.
If you think about where the Bucs were at the start of November, losing 38-3 against the New Orleans Saints, Tom Brady’s comeback looked just about done and dusted. Bruce Arians and Tom Brady’s seemingly brilliant offensive minds combined for a field goal in a home game.
The Tampa Bay goose seemed cooked. While still on track for the playoffs, it became a popular opinion that this team just couldn’t hang with their playoff counterparts. They took one more loss in November, but since, have won seven straight games.
Most impressive in their win streak was their NFC Championship victory over the Green Bay Packers, with a shorthanded defensive unit. The game was a shootout, but the Buccaneers D came up with crucial pressure on Aaron Rodgers that forced stops, and kept a powerful Packers offense at bay just long enough to escape Lambeau with the George Halas trophy as NFC Champions.
Oh, and that last loss for Tampa Bay in November? A comeback that fell short against the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Kansas City Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes were basically a given to be in the Super Bowl all season. It’s not too often that a team that is predicted to be the best does just that, and in impressive fashion as well. For more than half the season, the Chiefs were winning football games without ever stepping out of second gear.
Just over a week ago, when Patrick Mahomes got up woozy and needed to be carried over to the sideline following a strange reaction to a tackle, Kansas City’s future seemed unclear. Mahomes couldn’t come back in the game, and the Chiefs had given the keys to their backup, Chad Henne.
Henne looked, well, a lot like you’d generally expect a guy who hasn’t started a meaningful game of football in years. Sure, he started Week 17 representing the Chiefs’ backup brigade, but to call that game meaningful would be foolish at best.
For about 20 minutes of football action last week, with Pat Mahomes’ future in doubt, Kansas City’s Super Bowl chances were on the ropes. Luckily, the Chiefs defense answered the call, and won a football game in a way that the defending champions weren’t used to.
A sloppy performance from a Cleveland Browns offense helped a bit. Baker Mayfield wasn’t quite electric or even simply good. Their rushing attack, normally a beast with two backs, was a more conventional and boring running back by committee performance, with Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb combining for 101 yards and zero touchdowns.
For the first time in NFL history, a team in the Super Bowl will actually host the game. Tampa Bay’s Raymond James Stadium, complete with a large Buccaneer logo-adorned pirate ship, hosts the big game. With an expected 30,000 fans in attendance for the Super Bowl, there’s also the rare chance this NFL season for home field advantage, and in the biggest game of them all.
Next week we’ll break down the matchup a bit more in depth, comparing the arms, and most importantly, the offensive minds at work that have pushed both Kansas City and Tampa Bay to the biggest game of them all, in football’s strangest season ever.