Super Bowl LV (Kansas City, 16-2, versus Tampa Bay, 14-5) is compelling for so many reasons. Let’s start with five tributaries from the two title games, including KC’s 38-24 win over Buffalo in the AFC title nightcap:
• Brady-Mahomes V. The Super Bowl duel between Brady, 43, and Mahomes, 25, will break a 2-2 tie between the greatest of all time and the greatest perhaps of future times. Brady won the first two meetings, both in 2018, and Mahomes beat Brady the Patriot last year and Brady the Buc in Week 12 this year. Just how close has it been in the four meetings? Mahomes 121, Brady 120. Bookies everywhere are virtually high-fiving.
• A Super Bowl home game. The Bucs could walk the half-mile from their practice facility to Raymond James Stadium; they see the stadium clearly from their practice field. In the ’84 season, the Niners got to play at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, about 25 miles from their old homefield, Candlestick Park. But this will be the first home game for a Super Bowl team. The Bucs are exulting over it, of course, but they’ve also won three straight playoff games on the road and coach Bruce Arians told me: “We’re playing so good on the road I almost wish the next one was on the road too.” Almost.
• A Reid-Peat? No team has won consecutive Super Bowls since New England in 2003 and 2004—Brady’s second and third of six New England titles. Kansas City will have that chance. In the ’04 repeat, the Patriots won 24-21 over Philadelphia . . . and head coach Andy Reid.
• If Mahomes is hurt, he’s disguising it well. A masterful performance by Mahomes in the shredding of Buffalo, shrugging off the effects of a turf toe and exiting the concussion protocol with one of the best playoff performances of his young career. The hype can’t be big enough for Mahomes-Brady in 13 days.
• The Green Bay hangover. Before Sunday, it’d have been hard to imagine, win or lose, the Packers going into the offseason with a cloud over the franchise. And as time passes, the Packers may realize that two straight trips to the conference championship game is not such a bad consolation prize—and twin 14-4 records in coach Matt LaFleur’s first two seasons is not bad either. But LaFleur made an eminently second-guessable decision to go for a field goal down eight with 2:05 left. And Aaron Rodgers, one of the best quarterbacks ever, is stuck on one championship after coming up empty again in his 13th starting season. As good as Rodgers is, it’s got to sting him that Brady walked into Lambeau with his Florida team on a frigid day and beat the Packers. Brady now has nine more trips to the Super Bowl than Rodgers.
Think of that. Isn’t Rodgers too good, and weren’t the 2020 Packers too formidable, to lose to any team in the NFC this year? Entering Sunday, Green Bay was 7-0 since Thanksgiving. But the Buc pass-rush sacked Rodgers five times and pressured him consistently, and the rush got to him. And in the big moments Sunday, Arians and Brady came up bigger than LaFleur and Rodgers. Big moments like the end of the first half and beginning of the second, when Green Bay had some stunning lapses.