If you pressure Tom Brady, you can beat him. That's been the formula for NFL defenses since Brady rose to his current heights in 2001. That narrative on how to beat Brady is what made Super Bowl LV so ironic. While Brady received near perfect protection en route to his fifth Super Bowl MVP trophy, his counterpart, Patrick Mahomes, was rushed 29 times, the most in Super Bowl history for a quarterback.
Brady made the most of his protection. He went 21-of-29 with three first-half touchdown passes. Mahomes, however, threw two interceptions while barely completing over 50% of his throws. He also failed to find the end zone for the first time in his career as a starter. And while Mahomes would surely like to have some plays back from Sunday's 31-9 loss, Brady doesn't think Mahomes could have done much more considering what he was up against.
"What our defensive line did last night was incredible," Brady said the morning after winning his seventh Super Bowl -- more wins than any NFL franchise. "It's very difficult, almost impossible, to play quarterback under duress like that. That's just the reality of football. You have a rhythm in your head of how a play should go, or the rhythm of a certain play. If that rhythm is off from the snap of the ball, you're just scrambling to make plays.
"Pat was doing everything he could to make a bunch of plays last night. He was running around, reversing field, doubling back, tripling back, and made some great throws. But in the end, it's tough to do that consistently and play in rhythm."
As Brady said, Mahomes did try to work his magic amidst an unrelenting pass rush. At the start of the fourth quarter and with the Chiefs on the Buccaneers' 11-yard-line, Mahomes managed to escape several pass rushers before throwing incomplete passes, as the Chiefs turned it over on downs. While Mahomes' immense athleticism was on display on both plays, those plays largely summed up the type of night it was for the former league and Super Bowl MVP.
"Our D-line really made him uncomfortable all night," Brady said. "It's a good feeling from our sidelines seeing them do that. Just seeing the other quarterback work for passing yards is a great feeling. I know when I feel in rhythm, and I feel like, 'OK, things are really clean. I'm seeing everything,' it's fun, it's relatively easy. But when you feel, 'God, every play, for a six-yard gain, I've got to fire it in there and thread the needle between two guys,' it's tough to play football like that."
The Buccaneers' defense took full advantage of the Chiefs' revamped offensive line. Additionally, Kansas City's lack of offensive balance -- they attempted 49 passes compared to 17 runs -- allowed the Buccaneers to primarily focus on Mahomes. And while health and an unbalanced game plan likely played a role in their struggles, Mahomes said that large portion of blame needs to be placed on his and his offensive teammates' shoulders.
"I just don't think we were on the same page, as an offense in general," Mahomes said. "I wasn't getting the ball out in time. The receivers were running routes not exactly where I thought they were gonna be at. And the offensive line, they were good at some times, and sometimes, they let guys through. When you play a good defense like that, you've got to be on the same page as an offense. And we weren't today, and that's why we played so bad."
A large reason for their struggles was a Tampa Bay defense that mostly flew under the radar throughout the 2020 season. Devin White, who recorded 12 tackles and an interception on Sunday night, was not named to the Pro Bowl despite racking up 140 tackles, nine sacks, four forced fumbles and two interceptions during the regular season. Buccaneer defenders whose work was also largely overlooked include linebackers Lavonte David and Shaquil Barrett, defensive end Ndamukong Suh, safety Jordan Whitehead and rookie free safety Antoine Winfield Jr. The only Buccaneers' defensive player to make the Pro Bowl was Jason Pierre-Paul, who had tormented Brady in Super Bowl XLVI as a member of the Giants.
The Buccaneers' defense can no longer be ignored after playing their best on pro football's biggest stage. Their performance made one of the NFL's best players mortal. It also contributed to arguably the game's greatest all-time player adding yet another ring to his unprecedented collection.
"I just give credit to our D-line, to Coach [Todd] Bowels, the scheme he came up with," Brady said. "All the linebackers, Devin, Lavonte, what they did in pursuit of him, they played their ass off."