For the only time during his Super Bowl LV postgame press conference, Andy Reid let out a laugh when asked if he had a newfound appreciation for the challenge of repeating as champions. A year after leading the Chiefs to their first Super Bowl win in 50 years, Reid's team did make it back to the Super Bowl before ultimately falling short of their ultimate goal. Instead of becoming the first team in 16 years to repeat as champion, the Chiefs joined the '78 Cowboys, '83 Washington Football Team, '98 Packers, '14 Seahawks and '17 Patriots as defending champions who lost in the Super Bowl.
Reid is hoping to join a shorter list of teams that have appeared in three straight Super Bowls, a feat that was accomplished by the early '70s Dolphins, early '90s Bills and the late '10s Patriots.
"It's tough," Reid said of his team's recent quest at winning back-to-back titles. "That's a tough thing even to get back to this game. It's tough. But that's what this is all about, and it just shows you the heart of these guys and what they've done to put ourselves in a position to at least have an opportunity to do this. We've got to play better. We've got to use this as motivation to get back again."
Reid's quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, spoke as if the Chiefs' better days are still in front of them during his postgame presser. Minutes after his team's 31-9 loss to the Buccaneers, the former league and Super Bowl MVP exuded confidence when asked about Kansas City's future.
"We have a young group of guys," Mahomes said. "When we kind of joined together, we knew it wasn't going to always going to be successful, and you weren't going to win 1,000 championships in a row. We knew we were going to go through times like this and adversity, and I think the best thing about it is the guys that we have have the leadership ability to be even better next year. Obviously we didn't end the season the way we wanted to. We can learn from that. We can learn from the successes that we had during the season. And at the end of the day, we have to come into this next year with a blank slate and find a way to get back to the Super Bowl again."
History suggests that the Chiefs' road back to the Super Bowl may be daunting. Only eight teams in NFL history -- the 1971 Cowboys, the '72 Dolphins, the '73 Vikings, the '87 Broncos, the 1991-93 Bills and the 2018 Patriots -- have returned to the Super Bowl the year after losing the Big Game. And out of those teams, only the '71 Cowboys, '72 Dolphins and '18 Patriots were able to hoist the Lombardi Trophy a year after being on the short end of the Super Bowl scoreboard.
While getting back to the Super Bowl has proven to be a daunting task for the Super Bowl runner-up, simply making it back to the playoffs is also not a guarantee. Several recent runner-ups have failed to qualify for the postseason the year after playing in the Big Game.
Here's a look at how the previous 10 Super Bowl runner-ups fared during the following season.
Despite going 12-4, the Steelers, who fell to the Packers 31-25 in Super Bow XLV, had to play in the wild-card round after finishing behind the Ravens in the AFC North division standings. Facing the 8-8 Broncos in the first round of the playoffs, the Steelers were famously defeated in overtime on Tim Tebow's 80-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas. The Steelers, who had appeared in three of the previous six Super Bowls, would miss the playoffs in 2012-13 before returning to the postseason in 2014.
While the Steelers boasted the league's top-ranked defense during the 2011 season, Pittsburgh's offense was just 21st in scoring. A late-season injury to Ben Roethlisberger also hurt Pittsburgh's championship hopes, as Big Ben was clearly not anywhere close to 100% health during the Steelers' wild-card loss to Denver. The hits on Roethlisberger -- as well as the offense's dip in production -- led Pittsburgh's brass to not renew offensive coordinator Bruce Arians' contract that offseason replace him with Todd Haley. While Roethlisberger went onto enjoy some of his best statistical seasons with Haley, the Steelers have appeared in just one AFC Championship Game since their last trip to the Super Bowl.
Unlike the Steelers, the Patriots would make another deep playoff run a year after falling short in the Super Bowl. Led by quarterback Tom Brady and third-year tight end Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots would win 12 games during the regular season on the strength of their top-ranked scoring offense.
After putting 41 points up on the Texans in the divisional round, the Patriots would host the Ravens in the AFC Championship Game for a second straight year. But after taking a 13-7 lead into intermission, the Patriots would get shut out during the second half, as three Joe Flacco touchdown passes led the Ravens to a 28-13 victory. While credit should be given to the Ravens, the Patriots were clearly impacted by the loss of Gronkowski, who was inactive after breaking his forearm the previous week against the Texans.
While the Ravens would go on to defeat the 49ers in the Super Bowl, the Patriots would lose in the AFC title game again in 2013 before making it back to the Super Bowl in 2014.
A year after falling just short in Super Bowl XLVII, the 49ers showed virtually no drop off in 2013, winning 12 regular season games while boasting the league's third-ranked scoring defense. After scoring 23 points in each of their playoff wins over the Packers and Panthers, the 49ers' offense scored just 17 points in their six-point loss to Seattle in the NFC Championship Game. While 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick gashed the Seahawks' defense on the ground (rushing for 130 yards on 11 carries), his two interceptions, including his infamous end zone interception with 30 seconds left, loomed large in the 49ers' 23-17 loss.
While their defense was still one of the league's best in 2014, the 49ers regressed dramatically on the offensive side of the ball, ranking just 25th in scoring and 28th in red zone efficiency. San Francisco slipped to 8-8 in 2014, missing the playoffs in what was John Harbaugh's final season with the team. The 49ers won just seven games over the next two seasons before the franchise brought in Kyle Shanahan and GM John Lynch in 2017.
After an embarrassing blowout loss to the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII, Peyton Manning and the Broncos showed their resolve by winning 12 regular season games in 2014. Manning enjoyed another prolific season, while Denver's defense improved from 22nd to 16th in points allowed.
But despite their defensive improvement, the Broncos' defense was still not good enough to stop Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, who led the Colts to an upset win over Denver in the divisional round. The Broncos' loss was a team effort, however, as Manning completed just 56.5% of his throws in Denver's 24-13 loss.
The Broncos' defense saw a rapid improvement in 2015, as Broncos GM John Elway replaced former defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio with Wade Phillips. While Manning battled age and injury in 2015, Von Miller and the rest of the Broncos' fourth-ranked defense led the Broncos to a victory over the Panthers in Super Bowl 50.
Statistically, the Seahawks, who won the Super Bowl in '13 before losing a classic to the Patriots the following season, were even better in 2015. While their defense, led by Richard Sherman, was ranked first in the league for a third straight year, their offense, led by Russell Wilson, finished fourth in the NFL in scoring after being 10th and eighth in that department the previous two years.
But after edging the Vikings on the road in the wild-card round, Seattle was blasted by the Panthers, who went 15-1 during the regular season, in the divisional round. After allowing a 59-yard run on the first play from scrimmage, the Seahawks found themselves trailing 31-0 at halftime. While Wilson's three second-half touchdown passes helped close the gap, the Seahawks ultimately fell to the eventual NFC champs, 31-24.
While Wilson continued to develop into a top-tier quarterback, Seattle would fall again to the eventual NFC champion in the '16 playoffs before missing the playoffs altogether in 2017. While the Seahawks have rebounded with three consecutive playoff appearances, they haven't advanced past the divisional round since 2014.
The 2016 Panthers were unable to shake off their dismal Super Bowl showing the previous season. A year after winning league MVP honors, quarterback Cam Newton suffered a down year (that was partly due to an injury he sustained in Week 14), completing less than 53% of his pass attempts. Carolina's defense -- after losing All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman in free agency -- also took a major step back, as the Panthers' secondary went from 11th to 29th in passing yards allow. The regressions of Newton and the defense contributed largely to the Panthers' 6-10 record in 2016. Carolina enjoyed a brief resurgence in 2017 before missing the playoffs again in 2018 and in 2019. Ron Rivera, who led Carolina to three straight division titles earlier in the decade, was relieved of his duties late in the 2019 season. He has since resurfaced in Washington, leading the Football Team to a division title in 2020.
Like the Panthers, the Falcons, who famously squandered a 28-3 lead in Super Bowl LI, endured a Super Bowl hangover, winning just half of their first eight games of the 2017 campaign. But after a slow start, Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and the rest of the Falcons rebounded by going 6-2 down the stretch to clinch a wild-card berth. But after defeating the up and coming Rams in Los Angeles in the wild-card round, the Falcons' red zone issues that season (they were 23rd in the NFL in red zone efficiency) reared its ugly head in the divisional round, as the Falcons scored just 10 points in their road loss to the eventual champion -- the Philadelphia Eagles. Atlanta has yet to return to the postseason.
After rallying from behind to defeat the Falcons in Super Bowl LI, the Patriots surrendered 41 points in their loss to the Eagles in Super Bowl LII. And despite a (for them) modest 11-5 record, the Patriots regained their swagger in the playoffs, dismantling the Chargers in the divisional round before needing overtime to defeat the Chiefs in Arrowhead Stadium in the AFC title game.
In Super Bowl LIII, the Patriots' defense held the Rams to just three points, tied for the fewest total allowed by a team in Super Bowl history. Offensively, New England was led by game MVP Julian Edelman, whose 10-catch, 141-yard effort keyed the Patriots' 13-3 victory and sixth Super Bowl win during the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era.
Unlike the '18 Patriots, the Rams were unable to rebound the year after losing the Big Game. Injuries at the skill positions, a slip in production on the defensive side of the ball, and playing in the NFL's toughest division took its toll on the Rams, who missed the playoffs with a 9-7 record. The Rams did make it back to the playoffs last season before coming up short against the Packers in the divisional round. Los Angeles recently made noise when they traded Jared Goff, two future first-round picks and a 2021 third-round pick to the Lions in exchange for Matt Stafford.
Injuries derailed the 49ers' defense of their NFC title and chance of redeeming the Super Bowl LIV loss. Jimmy Garoppolo, George Kittle, Nick Bosa, Richard Sherman, Dee Ford, Deebo Samuel, Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson, Brandon Aiyuk, Ben Garland, Solomon Thomas, Ronald Blair, Kwon Alexander, Ezekiel Ansah and Jaquiski Tartt missed a combined 149 games in 2020. Despite those (and other) injuries, the 49ers were 5-6 after beating the playoff-bound Rams in Week 12. And while their final record was an underwhelming 6-10, five of the 49ers' losses were decided by eight or fewer points. If not for the mountain of injuries, San Francisco likely would have claimed one of the NFC's seven playoff spots.