I feel bad, getting so far down in the story without paying tribute to, arguably, the man of the evening. But when a 43-year-old quarterback wins his seventh Super Bowl and his fifth Super Bowl MVP, well, Todd Bowles will just have to accept my apology.
Bowles’ defensive game plan was smart, surprising and magnificent. It was the game plan of Bowles’ life, in the last game of his eighth season as coordinator or head coach. After getting taken to the woodshed by the speed and tenacity and the KC offense in Week 12 and by the never-ending will and skill of Mahomes, Bowles adjusted in four ways:
• Went totally away from the blitz and blitz concepts, sending an extra rusher on only about five snaps. “If you blitz, he’ll find a receiver short or intermediate, and often times that guy can run past you,” Bowles said. He did create some looks on third downs, or long passing downs, that appeared to be Tampa bringing pressure, but when the ball was snapped, the Bucs dropped the pressure-lure guy back in coverage.
• Trusted the line, particularly with KC’s very shaky backup tackles, to hem in Mahomes. The Buc defensive front had three sacks and Shaq Barrett missed two more because an acrobatic Mahomes twice got rid of the ball two millimeters from hitting the earth in Barrett’s grasp.
• Didn’t care if Mahomes ran all day, knowing he probably didn’t want to. Though Mahomes made some plays on the run (33 yards), none of his scampers were damaging.
• Made sure his DBs continually changed up looks on Tyreek Hill. “He had designs on him everywhere he was,” Bowles said.
There’s a fifth thing.
“My guys were pissed off,” Bowles told me an hour after the game.
“The biggest thing they do is read and they got TV all the time. Nobody picked us and gave us a chance to win. They were really pissed off about that. Combine that with the things we missed the first game against them, they really wanted to prove something tonight on the biggest stage against the best team. They played Drew Brees with [Michael] Thomas and [Alvin] Kamara. They played Aaron Rodgers with [Aaron] Jones and [Davante] Adams. Now they faced Mahomes with Kelce and Tyreek. You know, we earned it. We beat three of the best, the top five in the league.”
Said linebacker Devin White: “It was crazy to us that we were still underdogs. We defeated Drew Brees, we defeated Aaron Rodgers and then, like, he was the MVP and we still was underdogs. We were just out there like finish them, finish them, finish them. We didn’t want them to score.”
A few interesting points on defense: Could this be the last game for Ndamukong Suh, 34? If so, he went out strong, with 1.5 sacks and controlling the middle of the offensive line like he’d done so often in his 11-year career . . . Will the young and soon-to-be-rich Shaq Barrett (the NFL sack champ last year and playoff pass-rush star this year) leave in free agency or be franchised or sign long-term with the Bucs? . . . The inside-linebacker duo of White and Lavonte David finished the season playing on the highest level they could play . . . It’s amazing that all six of their young DBs were drafted in the last three years. “[GM] Jason Licht deserves so much credit for this team, and he’d better get some,” Arians said. “What a team he’s built.” Licht has come a very long way from Roberto Aguayo, and the Bucs, by being patient with Licht, now have an excellent GM and staff in-house to build.
Bowles is what keeps the D together. What a performance by his group (even with the KC line in tatters) in holding Reid/Mahomes without a touchdown. Who does that? Tampa’s fortunate that the stupid hiring practices of the NFL, with 20 consecutive head coaches having been hired without waiting for the outcome of the Super Bowl, mean Bowles’ superb job Sunday night will get him zero looks for a head-coaching gig for at least the next 11 months.
So the Bucs win the Super Bowl with the oldest quarterback ever to win one, and the oldest coach ever (68) to win one. “I ain’t that old, dude!” Arians said as we wound up our talk. “That pisses me off! I feel great. I sure as hell am back next year.”
As for Brady, well, he’s sure as hell back next year too. And who knows how many years after that? Did you notice Peyton Manning, five years after playing his last football game, was on the field in the first half Sunday night, being introduced in the Class of 2021 for the Pro Football Hall of Fame? Manning and Brady were once the two best passers the league had to offer, and the best rivals in the game. Forty-one seconds before Manning waved to the crowd, Brady threw a TD pass. Nine minutes after Manning waved to the crowd, Brady threw another one.
Risky business putting an expiration date on Tom Brady.