After Super Bowl LV, the talk of the NFL will assuredly center on Tom Brady, who's now won more championships than any player in NFL history. That's fair; Brady was virtually flawless on the big stage at age 43, delivering the Buccaneers their first title in nearly two decades -- and his own first Lombardi Trophy outside of New England. But if anyone other than Brady deserved MVP honors for big-game heroics, it was Todd Bowles' entire Tampa Bay defense, which doomed reigning Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes from the get-go thanks in part due to its own physicality and in part due to Kansas City's depleted depth in the trenches.
Most expected the Chiefs to get creative in the absence of both left tackle Eric Fisher and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, who had long been reported out for Super Bowl LV because of injuries. But if Andy Reid and Co. got creative on Sunday night at Raymond James Stadium, nobody realized it, because the Buccaneers got home too quickly. Working behind reserves on both bookends, Mahomes faced more pressures (29) than any quarterback in Super Bowl history, going down twice on sacks and flailing helplessly on three times as many other plays, finishing with a career-worst 19-of-38 stat line that included a late-game interception and zero touchdowns for the first time in more than 30 games.
The secret to Bowles' defense feasting up front? Not much, except for trust in the front four. Tampa Bay schemed up certain situational pass rushes and rotated things in the secondary, especially involving rangy rookie safety Antoine Winfield Jr. But Bowles' best ingredient on Sunday night was simply letting his D-line capitalize on Kansas City's weakened group.
Jason Pierre-Paul didn't light up the box score but deflected a Mahomes pass at the line early on, Ndamukong Suh delivered some penetrating hits in and outside the pocket, and Pro Bowl edge rusher Shaquil Barrett topped them all, generating a QB pressure on almost 20 percent of his rushes and taking Mahomes to the turf.
It didn't help the Chiefs that even simple offensive concepts -- quick runs, screens, short passes -- either didn't work or weren't of much interest to Reid and Mahomes as the game wore on. Typically deployed as counter moves to a ferocious pass rush, they were quickly discarded in favor of a backyard-ball-type night for Mahomes, who was left to run wild and scramble out of trouble before heaving passes deep and into coverage. Had the reigning Super Bowl MVP had even one of his standard blockers on the edge of the line, perhaps the outcome would've been much different, if not a bit closer.
We'll never know. Because on Sunday night, the only ones owning the stage were Bowles and his Buccaneers defense, which deserves just as much credit as Brady for Tampa Bay's run all the way to the promised land.