The scenario I drew up for Todd Bowles on Friday afternoon was specific.
Say you’re coming off Week 12 again—and off that loss to the Chiefs. And I tell you that, 10 weeks later, in the Super Bowl, your defense, the same one that lost to K.C. on Nov. 29, would become the first to hold Patrick Mahomes out of the end zone, in Mahomes’ 56th start as a pro?
“I would’ve said, Show me that gameplan,” Bowles says, laughing and leaning back in a big leather chair, five days removed from Super Bowl LV. “And I’d have tried to steal it.”
Now, it will be other people stealing the gameplan from him.
The story of the 2020 Buccaneers will be seen—rightfully so—through the lens of Tom Brady winning a seventh title, and taking home this particular Lombardi without Bill Belichick, but rather with a whole new crew of coaches and (save for Rob Gronkowski) teammates. But the story of the Super Bowl itself really shouldn’t be. What happened on Feb. 7 was about more than just No. 12—it was about the reasons why Tampa became the perfect second destination for his NFL career. It was about Bruce Arians’s program and flexibility in bending to meld two different ways of doing business. It was about the O-line that kept Brady upright, and the talented crew he was throwing too. Most of all, it was Bowles’s defense, on the evening Mahomes finally met his playoff match.
In Mahomes’s previous eight postseason starts, the Chiefs had scored 31, 31, 51, 35, 31, 22, and 38 points—and the 22 came in the Divisional Round win over Cleveland, when Chad Henne finished while Mahomes was in concussion protocol. Holding any team in a Super Bowl to three field goals is a major accomplishment—in the previous 54 Super Bowls, only two teams had failed to score a touchdown. Doing it against Mahomes and the Chiefs? Mind-blowing.
And the really wild thing about the plan that got it done was how it made the impossible task of slowing Andy Reid’s offensive juggernaut down somehow, in application, fairly rudimentary. Which, as those around Bowles know, is sort of the 57-year-old’s specialty.
“He’s a brilliant mind, and he can teach it and make it simple,” says Arians, who’s known Bowles since coaching him as a player in the mid-1980s at Temple. “I mean, he can teach it and make it so simple for the players. There’s a lot of guys that know the game, but can’t teach it.”
Super Bowl Sunday would hold up as a shining example that Bowles can, and at a higher level than most. And as we’ll explain, there was a lot more than an afternoon’s work at play in what Bowles put together for the Chiefs.