Tom Brady deservedly won a record fifth Super Bowl MVP following his team's 31-9 win over the Chiefs in Super Bowl LV. But another Buccaneers' team captain, linebacker Devin White, also made a strong argument to take home the MVP trophy. The Buccaneers' leading tackler during the regular season, White recorded a game-high 12 tackles (two for loss) and an interception, as Tampa Bay's defense kept the Chiefs' usually high-scoring offense out of the end zone.
After tackling every Chiefs player in sight for over three hours, White was still fired up during his postgame press conference. He didn't hold back when he was asked about what it meant to hold Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City's offense to a mere nine points.
"It mattered," White said. "It mattered from the start to the finish. We talked about beating them bad. We knew they weren't physical enough. They're real gimmicky on offense. We don't play like that. We like smash mouth football. We like coming downhill and getting in the trenches. That's what we're built on. That's why we're the No. 1 rush defense in the league. And that's why on the back end, we strapped up.
"We knew we wanted to blow them out. We knew whatever we gave them in that first game, it was because we gave it [to them]. And Todd Bowels wasn't letting that happen in this game."
While they Chiefs actually out-gained the Buccaneers' offense, they were just 3-of-13 on third down and 1-of-3 on fourth down. Mahomes, who faced consistent pressure from the Buccaneers' defense, completed just 26 of his 49 attempts. Kansas City barely tried to run; they gained 107 yards on just 17 carries. Conversely, the Buccaneers rushed for 145 yards on 33 carries. Leonard Fournette led the way with 89 yards on 16 carries that included the only touchdown of the second half, a 27-yard jaunt midway through the third quarter.
The Tampa Bay's defensive effort on Sunday night called to mind the Raiders' dominant performance in Super Bowl XVIII. Similar to the Buccaneers, the Raiders lost a high-scoring game to defending champion Washington during the regular season. But in the Super Bowl, the Raiders held Washington's offense (a unit that set the NFL regular-season scoring record that season) to just nine points in a 38-9 victory.
"When I was watching those guys warm up, I just didn't have a sense that they respected us at all," said Raiders Hall of Fame cornerback Mike Haynes. "Everybody else we played, they seemed to have a sense of who we were and what kind of game we played. They didn't. I figured it must be because they beat the Raiders earlier [in the season]. When we went back into the locker room before we came out the second time, we were definitely a different team. We were going to be focused until that last whistle. There was no doubt that this game was going to be a battle. We were all 100% prepared for that.
"It was a great game. It was a good feeling. I had never felt like that before."
The Raiders' victory that day still stands as the biggest margin of victory over a defending champion. That being said, the Buccaneers' defensive performance on Sunday night joins the short list of the greatest defensive showings in Super Bowl history. Miami's "No Name" defense held Washington's offense scoreless in Super Bowl VII. Pittsburgh's "Steel Curtain" defense shut out Minnesota's offense in Super Bowl IX. Chicago's "46" defense stymied the Patriots in Super Bowl XX. In their first Super Bowl win, Tampa Bay's defense made three pick-sixes in a 48-21 win over the Raiders.
More recent examples include Seattle limiting Peyton Manning and the Broncos to one touchdown in Super Bowl XLVIII, and the Broncos containment of MVP Cam Newton in Super Bowl 50. And in his final Super Bowl as a Patriot, Tom Brady watched his defense hold the Rams to a mere three points.
What makes the Buccaneers' performance truly stand out is the strength of Sunday's opponent. The Chiefs had won 25 out of their last 26 games with Mahomes under center. The offense featured other top-flight weapons such as receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce. The Chiefs also possessed a solid rushing attack featuring rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire. And while Chiefs apologists will point to Mahomes' nagging foot injury and Kansas City's injuries on the offensive line, it's hard to envision any version of Kansas City's offense having too much success against the defense that opposed them inside Raymond James Stadium.
Where should the Buccaneers' performance Sunday night rank? While he wasn't ready to put a specific number on it, linebacker Shaquil Barrett pointed to one facet of Tampa Bay's defensive performance that will likely resonate for years to come.
"I think our performance speaks for itself. We've got to be in the top somewhere," Barrett said. "Chiefs got a high-powered offense that we came out and played tonight. ... No touchdowns was unheard of for the Chiefs' offense. If you would have bet on it, you would have so much money. Nobody would have thought that the Chiefs wouldn't have scored a touchdown in a Super Bowl game."