Zac Taylor’s road to Super Bowl LVI

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CINCINNATI — Dark. Nearly pitch black. At 5:20 a.m., last Tuesday, I inched my rental car onto Bengals coach Zac Taylor’s street on the east side of town, and a deer stood in the middle of his street. The deer wouldn’t move. Must be a city deer. I drove maybe 3 mph around it, till I was clear. It still hadn’t moved as I parked, then walked the last 40 yards to Taylor’s driveway. Two rabbits sprinted out of the last yard next to his house as I walked by.

Not the normal feel of a place 13 minutes from an NFL stadium.

“This used to be a forest,” the Cincinnati coach said as he pulled his White Tahoe out of the silent development, “so we get our share of wildlife here.”

Now the wildlife is the shocked Cincinnati populace. Wouldn’t you be shocked if your team, 4-11-1 last year, was headed for the Super Bowl for the first time since Zac Taylor was 5? Wouldn’t you be shocked if phenom QB and Bengals historian Joe Burrow (more about that soon), in the span of eight days, sent home top-seeded Tennessee and heavy favorite two-seed Kansas City, less than four years after Burrow was sent into out-of-state exile by Ohio State coach Urban Meyer?

It’s all crazy. When I asked Burrow’s dad Jimmy, by text, if this season ever feels like a dream, he texted back, “Every day.”

Bengals coach Zac Taylor drives into work one morning last week. (NBC Sports)

Taylor understands why the world is shocked. He’s not. He seems … grateful. The first thing we talked about: the game balls he and some players were spreading on surprise visits throughout the region—five per playoff victory, over the Ohio River at Walt’s Hitching Post in Fort Wright, Ky., up north in Mason at 16 Lots Brewing, on the west side at Maloney’s Pub West in Delhi, in a city neighborhood at Gametime, downtown on the river at the Holy Grail, and closer to Taylor’s hood at Zip’s Café in Delwood and Mount Lookout Tavern in Mount Lookout.

Where’d that game-ball idea originate?

“You’ll drive through, late on a Thursday night, Friday night, or coming home on a Sunday night from a road game or home game,” Taylor said, motioning to Delwood as he drove past. “Just packed. That’s not something we really get to experience during the season, people celebrating games. I always kind of dreamed of big moments and being able to go in there and share that with the people. They’ve been through a lot here. Some really fun moments that I got to enjoy with a lot of really cool people.”

A lot of people who, judging by the weepy videos of Bengaldom all over YouTube, are a lot more shocked than the flat-line Taylor. At 38, Taylor got his first NFL job coaching quarterbacks at Miami 10 years ago, then got here by being a branch on the red-hot Sean McVay coaching tree in 2019. Taylor didn’t know, obviously, after starting 6-25-1 in his first two years, that he’d be in the Super Bowl in year three. But year three brought beautiful play from Burrow, who has ascended to the lofty peak of Mahomesville in a flash, and better defense than anyone thought was possible, and a rookie kicker, Evan McPherson, who’s been hotter than any rookie kicker in the 102-year history of the NFL.

“I think it was impossible to know in training camp,” Taylor said. “We knew we had the right character and we had enough talent. But how was it gonna jell together? As you get really to the midway point in the season, you know what this league is about. It’s about getting hot in December. We started playing really good football after the [Nov. 14] bye. We felt like if we could just learn from some of these mistakes we made early in the season, anything is possible. That’s really how it’s played out for us. We’re winning these playoff games because we’re winning these close games. Our players have been situational masters.”

Four or five times in our 35 minutes together, Taylor talked about how smart his team is. Lots of coaches say that. But what does it mean?

Taylor thought of Burrow, and the play that put the Bengals into field-goal position to win in overtime. That’s how far ahead Burrow thinks. Early in the fourth quarter, against a certain KC coverage, Burrow told Taylor he wanted to run a 2-by-2 formation similar to a play they ran earlier when Ja’Marr Chase drew a pass-interference flag. Burrow wanted Higgins wide left, Chase wide right, and two receivers inside them, and he wanted Chase to run a shallow flat route to draw coverage, and Higgins ran a slant from left to right, about eight yards downfield.

Taylor said: “Joe said, this is how I want it called, this is where I want everyone at. I think Tee’s gonna get the ball.”

Taylor called it eight pass plays later, a full quarter later.

Higgins did get the ball. Gain of eight. Ball at the KC 32, and in field-goal range for McPherson.

“Joe is so prepared,” Taylor said. “That’s where the confidence comes from. I don’t see one ounce of false confidence with him. Everybody in our building sees how prepared he is on a Wednesday. We see it in the Saturday meetings when we’re doing our final quarterback meetings, and we’re playing Jeopardy.”

Jeopardy? Do tell.

“Pretty sure [former Bengals assistant] Alex Van Pelt started it with Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay,” said assistant receivers coach Brad Kragthorpe, who’s the host of “Quarterback Jeopardy” the night before every game. “Alex was here a couple years. He’s in Cleveland now, but we’re still doing it.”

Who wins most often?

“I think it’s fair to say Joe wins more than his share,” Kragthorpe said.

The rules to Quarterback Jeopardy:

Six contestants, with turns taken in order by age, youngest to oldest. Burrow (25), number three QB Jake Browning (25), backup QB Brandon Allen (29), QB coach Dan Pitcher (34), offensive coordinator Brian Callahan (37), Taylor (38). This is not your father’s NFL: Oldest man in the room is 38.

Five categories, five questions in each. Twenty-five questions total, ranging from 100 to 500 points (just like the real game). If someone gets a question wrong, the next player can answer, then double-dip by answering his regularly scheduled question next.

Each player gets four questions. Kragthorpe keeps score, and he’s the arbiter in case of disputes.

There is a Final Jeopardy. At the end of the regular round, each player can wager any amount of his total for Final Jeopardy. Kragthorpe invents a Bengals history question, or some other wild card question. Each player writes the answer down, then Kragthorpe goes player-by-player to determine who gets the question correct.

Before the AFC Championship Game, the host and six players gathered before the evening team meeting in a meeting room at the Loews Kansas City to play. Game on.

Burrow went first.

“Chiefs Defense for 300,” Burrow said.

List all of the starters in the Chiefs’ sub package at linebacker and defensive back, the position they play, the key backups, and a strength and a weakness for each one.

Burrow started the answer, naming two linebackers (Willie GayAnthony Hitchens), and saying Nick Bolton comes in at times. He named five DBs: left corner Charvarius Ward, right corner L’Jarius Sneed, nickel Mike Hughes—“Rashad Fenton subs in,” Burrow said—with Tyrann Mathieu and Juan Thornhill starting at safety “and Daniel Sorensen plays” in various packages, he said. [I could not learn the strengths/weaknesses.]

Nine players. Burrow went nine for nine.

Final Jeopardy: In the two previous times the Bengals won the AFC Championship, who did the Bengals play, and who was our starting quarterback?

Burrow: Cincinnati over San Diego, 1981, with Ken Anderson at QB. Cincinnati over Buffalo, 1988, with Boomer Esiason at QB.

Bright guy. Studies defenses and the media guide.

The night before Burrow led the Bengals back from a 21-3 deficit to win the franchise’s first AFC title in 33 years, he won Quarterback Jeopardy. Was there ever a doubt?

Taylor was pulling into his parking space underneath Paul Brown Stadium now. The subject turned to the Super Bowl.

“Joe’s built for these stages,” Taylor said. “I think he’s played in state championship games in high school. He’s played in national championship games in college. He always knew he was gonna be on this stage in the NFL. It’s something he’s envisioned and worked towards and expected it to happen. I’m very confident that he’ll walk onto that field a very confident quarterback.”

Taylor on an early-morning coffee run last week in Cincinnati. (NBC Sports)

Who knows what the big day brings for the emotions of Taylor? For now, he’s not gee-whiz about it. He grew up in football-mad Norman, Okla., son of a coach and eventually became the son-in-law of one. His wife Sarah is the daughter of former Packers coach Mike Sherman. Taylor is one of the Sean McVay tree branches. He was on McVay’s first Rams staff in 2017 as a receivers coach, and graduated to QB coach in 2018, the year the Rams got to the Super Bowl against New England. That catapulted Taylor onto the Bengals’ radar after they fired Marvin Lewis.So, yes, Taylor will coach against one of his former bosses, McVay. He’s grateful for what he learned from McVay—“Everybody feels like they’re a part of what we were doing”—and he said he loved walking into work every morning because it was imagination overload.

“Sean’s so outgoing, obviously,” Taylor said. “So positive, so inclusive. And this is a good story for everyone. But we have no focus on that. Every week, you’re close to somebody on the other sideline. It’s just part of being in the NFL.”

Pupil doesn’t sound like he’ll be overwhelmed by teacher on the other sideline Sunday. Doesn’t seem like his quarterback will be either.

Read more in Peter King’s Football Morning in America column

Tom Brady vs. Patrick Mahomes: All-time QB matchups, records, stats

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It’s Patrick Mahomes vs Tom Brady this Sunday night on NBC and Peacock as the Kansas City Chiefs (2-1) head to Raymond James Stadium to take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-1) in a rematch of Super Bowl 55. See below for additional information on how to watch the big game between the greatest of all time and the heir to the throne.

RELATED:  How to watch Kansas City Chiefs vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers – TV, live stream info, preview for Sunday Night Football game

Mahomes is currently in his fifth season as the Chiefs starting quarterback. The 2019 Super Bowl MVP signed a 10-year, $450 million extension in July 2020, which was the richest contract in American sports history by total value. Over the last four seasons (2018-2021), Mahomes has led the league in both passing yards (18,707) and touchdown passes (151). The 27-year-old looks to lead the Chiefs to their seventh straight AFC West Title. Kansas City is the only team to ever win six consecutive AFC West titles, which is tied for the 3rd-longest division title streak of any team in NFL history.

At 45 years old Tom Brady, who already holds 7 Super Bowl titles–the most in NFL history, is currently playing in his 23rd NFL season–one that many thought he wouldn’t see after an unpredictable offseason filled with rumorsretirement, and unretirement. But the greatest of all time is back–this time without the comfort of his longtime trusted TE Rob Gronkowski–and is not only facing the challenge of playing with a banged-up offensive line but is also adjusting to the turnover at the WR and TE positions from this offseason.

RELATED: NFL QBs with most Super Bowl wins – Where does Tom Brady rank ahead of Super Bowl 2023

This Sunday night’s game will mark the sixth meeting between Mahomes and Brady. The previous five matchups have been both high-stakes and high-scoring affairs as Brady holds a slight advantage over Mahomes. Here are all of their head-to-head matchups.

Every past matchup between Tom Brady vs. Patrick Mahomes (3-2 overall record):

  1. Oct. 14, 2018 (Week 6) – Patriots defeated the Chiefs 43-40. Brady threw for 340 yards and 1 TD. Mahomes threw for 352 yards, 4 TD, and 2 INT.
  2. Jan. 20, 2019 (AFC Championship Game) – Patriots defeated the Chiefs 37-31, in overtime. Brady threw 348 yards, 1 TD, and 2 INT. Mahomes finished with 295 YDS, and 3 TD
  3. Dec. 8, 2019 (Week 14) – Chiefs defeated the Patriots 23-16. Mahomes totaled 283 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT. Brady had 169 yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT.
  4. Nov. 29, 2020 (Week 12) – Chiefs beat the Buccaneers 27-24. Mahomes threw for 462 yards with 3 TD. Brady finished with 345 yards, 3 TD, and 2 INT.
  5. Feb. 7, 2021 (Super Bowl 55) – Buccaneers defeated the Chiefs 31-9 playing on their home field at Raymond James Stadium. Brady threw for 201 yards and 3 TD and was named Super Bowl MVP for a record 5th time.

RELATED: NFL QBs with most Super Bowl wins – Where does Tom Brady rank ahead of Super Bowl 2023

In an interview with NBC’s Maria Taylor for Football Night in America, Mahomes discusses the trademarks of a Brady-led team.

“First off, they take advantage of mistakes,” Mahomes said. “If you make a mistake on the field, if I throw an interception or if you fumble, or if something like that happens, he’s going to make you pay and get points on the board and then he’s going to manage the game.”

Mahomes also knows that while Brady has a knack for capitalizing on mistakes, he does not often make many of his own.

“He’s going to make some plays when he needs to make plays, but at the same time he’s not going to make that big mistake. So you have to go out there and play a near perfect football game to win. Another thing, he’s never out of it and I think that’s something I try to pride myself on as well is never being out of the game. So whenever you play against a Tom Brady-led team, you make sure you keep that foot down on the pedal and try to do whatever you can to finish the game off.”

Patrick Mahomes absorbs Tom Brady’s lessons

Despite the difference in age and experience, Brady and Mahomes are alike in their impact on the game.

“You want to not like Tom but he’s just like the best guy,” Mahomes said. “So it’s hard to not like him, but to be able to play in golf tournaments, and him give me kind of advice and stuff like that. I mean, he’s the GOAT. You want to learn from the best and it’s really cool to have that relationship with him.”

Even when Brady and Mahomes have faced off in high-stakes postseason games, the advice continues. The two met in the 2019 AFC Championship game, when Brady was still playing for the New England Patriots. Both quarterbacks delivered stellar performances, but Brady managed to lead the Patriots to an overtime victory.

Following this loss, Mahomes tells Taylor that he is upset and spends a lot of time after the game sitting in the locker room. But when Mahomes finally walks out, Brady is waiting for him.

“He could be celebrating” Mahomes said. “He’s going to the Super Bowl and everything like that, and all he said to me, ‘Hey, just keep doing it how you’re doing it. You’re doing it the right way.’ And as a young quarterback, you just go out there and play and try to have fun and do whatever you can to put your team in the best position to win.

But when the GOAT’s saying that, he’s saying you’re doing it the right way, it shows you that you are doing it the right way. And so that was big for me”

While Brady has not revealed all his football wisdom to Mahomes, the Chiefs’ signal-caller looks forward to learning more.

“He won’t give me all the secrets yet,” Mahomes said. “But hopefully one day I’ll get the secrets and can put those into my game.”

Patrick Mahomes embraces the Tom Brady mindset

While Brady and Mahomes are competitors, their respect from one another extends beyond the football field into their personal lives. Mahomes and his wife Brittany, have a young girl, Sterling, and are expecting a baby boy.

“You want to be able to be a family man and be with your family and you want to be able to do these different things, where you’re going into businesses and then helping out and shooting commercials and, at the same time, keeping football first.”

One of the biggest lessons Mahomes has taken from Brady is the importance of prioritizing football in addition to consistently improving at the game.

“That’s the greatness in Tom Brady is no matter how much off the field stuff he does, football is always the main priority and he makes sure to keep it that way,” Mahomes said. “And so you watch that and then at the same time you go back to him on the field and he’s always getting better. I feel like every single year he finds something he can get better at. And that’s what I want to do, is I want to keep getting better as my career goes on so that I can play hopefully, maybe not as long as him, but pretty long as well.”


How to watch the Kansas City Chiefs vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

  • Where: Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida
  • When: Sunday, October 2
  • Start Time: 8:20 p.m. ET; live coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. ET with Football Night In America
  • TV Channel: NBC
  • Stream liveWatch live on Peacock or with the NBC Sports App

What time is kickoff for the Kansas City Chiefs vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers game?

Kickoff is at 8:20 p.m. ET.

RELATED: 2022 Sunday Night Football Schedule: TV channel, live stream info, NFL schedule

For all your NFL jersey and gear needs ahead of the 2022 season, click here!


How to watch Sunday Night Football on Peacock:

If you have access to NBC via your TV provider, you can watch Sunday Night Football on your TV or with a TV provider login on the NBC Sports app, NBC app, or via NBCSports.com. Check your local listings to find your NBC channel. If you can’t find NBC in your channel lineup, please contact your TV provider.

If you don’t have access to NBC via your TV provider, you can stream Sunday Night Football on Peacock with a $4.99/month Peacock Premium plan.  Sign up here or, if you already have a free Peacock account, go to your Account settings to upgrade or change your existing plan. 

Please note that selection of a Premium plan will result in a charge which will recur on a monthly or annual basis until you cancel, depending on your plan. You can cancel your Premium plan at any time in your Account.

RELATED: 2022 NFL Regular Season Schedule – How to Watch, Live Stream, Dates, Times, Matchups


 Follow along with ProFootballTalk for the latest news, storylines, and updates surrounding the 2022 NFL Season, and be sure to subscribe to NFLonNBC on YouTube!

How to watch Kansas City Chiefs vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers: TV, live stream info, preview for Sunday Night Football game

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It’s the Kansas City Chiefs vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers this Sunday, October 2 in a rematch of Super Bowl LV where Tom Brady earned his seventh ring. Sunday’s matchup marks the sixth meeting between Patrick Mahomes and Brady with the 45-year-old veteran holding a 3-2 edge in the series.

RELATED: Tom Brady’s Super Bowl wins, rings, MVPs, losses: Every appearance, NFL stats, records

Live coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. ET on NBC and Peacock with Football Night in America. See below for additional information on how to watch the game.

RELATED:Will Tom Brady make playing beyond 40 more common for quarterbacks?

Football Night in America will feature a weekly segment hosted by former NFL quarterback Chris Simms and sports betting and fantasy pioneer Matthew Berry, which highlights storylines and betting odds for the upcoming Sunday Night Football game on NBC, Peacock, and Universo. Real-time betting odds on the scoring ticker during FNIA also will be showcased. Peacock Sunday Night Football Final, an NFL postgame show produced by NBC Sports, will also go deep on the storylines and BetMGM betting lines that proved prominent during the matchup.

RELATED: FMIA Week 3 – Broncos’ Coaching Experiment Pays Off, Dolphins Win ‘Beast’ Game, and What We Learned About the NFL in September

Be sure to start your NFL Sunday with Matthew Berry’s Fantasy Football Pregame show beginning at 11 AM ET on Peacock and the NFL on NBC YouTube channel.

Kansas City Chiefs

Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs (2-1) picked up their first loss of the season last Sunday after falling 20-17 to the Indianapolis Colts last Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium. Kansas City struggled offensively in Week 3 as the team was held to just three points in the second half. The Chiefs are still working to fill the void in the passing game since trading star WR Tyreek Hill to the Dolphins in the offseason but according to Mahomes, that doesn’t excuse Sunday’s loss.

RELATED: Patrick Mahomes –  I don’t expect growing pains, offense has to gel together

“I don’t expect any growing pains,” Mahomes told reporters at ESPN.com. “Obviously have new players and you don’t know everybody’s going to respond to tough situations. . . . We’ve got to gel all together. It starts with me. There were certain throws I was putting on guys’ back hips instead of in front of him. There were certain situations where we were just barely off of it.”

Mahomes, who signed a 10-year, $450 million contract extension, in July 2020–the richest contract in American sports history by total value–is in his fifth season as the Chiefs’ starting quarterback and hopes to lead Kansas City to its seventh straight AFC West title. The Chiefs are the only team to ever win six consecutive AFC West titles, which is tied for the 3rd-longest division title streak of any team in NFL history.

RELATED: Tom Brady vs. Patrick Mahomes: All-time QB matchups, records, stats

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Brady and the Buccaneers (2-1) are also coming off their first loss of the season–a 14-12 defeat at home from Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers last Sunday afternoon. With WRs Mike Evans (suspension) and Chris Godwin (hamstring)–Brady’s top two targets–and Julio Jones (knee) out in Week 3, Tampa Bay’s offense racked up a total of just 285 yards in the loss. Additionally, the team is still adapting to the turnover at the WR and TE positions from this offseason. Despite some challenges on offense, Tampa Bay’s defense has remained consistent and currently leads the NFL in scoring defense (9.0 pts/gm) and also ranks in the top 5 in total defense.

RELATED: NFL QBs with most Super Bowl wins – Where does Tom Brady rank ahead of Super Bowl 2023


How to watch the Kansas City Chiefs vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

  • Where: Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida
  • When: Sunday, October 2
  • Start Time: 8:20 p.m. ET; live coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. ET with Football Night In America
  • TV Channel: NBC
  • Stream liveWatch live on Peacock or with the NBC Sports App

What time is kickoff for the Kansas City Chiefs vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers game?

Kickoff is at 8:20 p.m. ET.

RELATED: 2022 Sunday Night Football Schedule: TV channel, live stream info, NFL schedule

For all your NFL jersey and gear needs ahead of the 2022 season, click here!


How to watch Sunday Night Football on Peacock:

If you have access to NBC via your TV provider, you can watch Sunday Night Football on your TV or with a TV provider login on the NBC Sports app, NBC app, or via NBCSports.com. Check your local listings to find your NBC channel. If you can’t find NBC in your channel lineup, please contact your TV provider.

RELATED: What to know about Super Bowl 2023 – Date, location, halftime performance info, and much more

If you don’t have access to NBC via your TV provider, you can stream Sunday Night Football on Peacock with a $4.99/month Peacock Premium plan.  Sign up here or, if you already have a free Peacock account, go to your Account settings to upgrade or change your existing plan. 

Please note that selection of a Premium plan will result in a charge which will recur on a monthly or annual basis until you cancel, depending on your plan. You can cancel your Premium plan at any time in your Account.

RELATED: 2022 NFL Regular Season Schedule – How to Watch, Live Stream, Dates, Times, Matchups


 Follow along with ProFootballTalk for the latest news, storylines, and updates surrounding the 2022 NFL Season, and be sure to subscribe to NFLonNBC on YouTube!