The Kansas City Chiefs were the best team in football a year ago, and they’re the best team in football today – with some people telling us they can’t be beaten. And maybe they’re right.
But tell that to Tom Brady.
He’s the guy who has Tampa Bay in the Super Bowl for the first time since 2002 and the second time in its existence. He’s also the guy going to his fourth Super Bowl in five years and his 10th overall … and the one to make Tampa the first team in the 55 years of Super Bowls to host the game in its own stadium (Raymond James) … and the first quarterback to start at the age of 43 … and the only one over 40 to start one.
Except this will be his third at 40-plus – meaning he will have as many Super Bowl starts in his 40s as Dan Marino (1), Drew Brees (1) and Aaron Rodgers (1) had combined in their careers.
Tom Terrific, indeed.
But this is what I like most about Super Bowl LV: It’s Brady vs. Mahomes, and that’s must-see TV. Because the Chiefs with Mahomes can’t be beaten, right? I mean, they’re 25-1 in his last 26 starts, including the playoffs, and 6-1 with Mahomes in the postseason.
Guess who inflicted that one defeat?
If you said, “Tom Brady,” you qualify for Mensa. It was the 2018 playoffs when New England went to Kansas City and beat the Chiefs 37-31 in overtime. Granted, it wasn’t all Brady. The Patriots ran 48 times and scored four rushing TDs. But he made the plays that mattered in overtime and not only overcame the odds; he overcame Mahomes.
The two have met four times in their careers and are 2-2, with Mahomes winning this season’s game in Tampa, 27-24. Tony Romo of CBS compared their next game to “LeBron and Jordan playing in the NBA Finals,” and I guess that’s fair. Except which is which? We don’t know. And we won’t until Feb. 7.
Patrick Mahomes won the Super Bowl last season, and Brady won it the year before.
The expectation is that Mahomes walks off with his second Lombardi Trophy … and maybe Super Bowl MVP … because he’s younger (25) … can make plays outside the pocket … beat Tampa Bay this season … and won’t make the mistakes that a 43-year-old might -- and did in Sunday’s 31-26 defeat of Green Bay.
But this is Tom Brady, people. Each year Brady haters tell us that he’s washed up, and each year we find him back in the Super Bowl. But that wasn’t supposed to happen this season because … well, because he didn’t have Bill Belichick, the Patriots and youth. Plus, he had to win three road playoff games, and when’s the last time that happened?
Sunday, that’s when.
That’s why I’d be careful before counting Brady & Co. out. They just beat Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees in succession. They won their last seven starts. Their defense is vastly improved from the loss to Kansas City this season, making critical stops and bailing out the Bucs from a second-half collapse Sunday.
And they have the greatest quarterback of the Super Bowl era.
I know, Brady’s three second-half interceptions Sunday nearly short-circuited the Bucs’ historic trip to the Super Bowl, but they didn’t. And now Tampa Bay is the first wild-card to reach the Super Bowl since Green Bay did it in 2010.
The Packers won then, and Tampa Bay could win now. The reason: Tom Brady and what he’s done for a franchise that hadn’t been to the playoffs since 2007. When Bucs’ coach Bruce Arians was asked Sunday what Brady has meant to the Bucs this season, he talked about leadership and “the belief that he gave everyone in this organization. It took only one man.”
It will take a lot more than that to topple Kansas City. But Tom Brady is a good place to start.
WHAT WAS MATT LaFLEUR THINKING?
There is absolutely no defense for what Green Bay coach Matt LaFleur did at the end of his playoff loss to Tampa Bay, and what he did was commit the NFL equivalent of hara-kiri. Trailing 31-23 with just over two minutes left, he chose to kick a field goal instead of going for the touchdown. The ball was at the Tampa Bay 8 and it was fourth-and-goal. So you tell me what you do. You have the league’s presumptive MVP. You scored Red Zone touchdowns a league-leading 80 percent of the time. The game was on the line. And you were going to give the ball back to Tom Freaking Brady. So it’s a no-brainer, right? Apparently not. LaFleur chose to kick, a decision he says he “regrets” … and he should. Because it cost the Packers the season. LaFleur is supposed to be a smart guy, but how can someone who’s smart not know eight minus three equals five? Translation: You still have to score the TD you just passed up. So let me repeat: YOU’RE DOWN EIGHT WITH JUST OVER TWO MINUTES LEFT. YOU MUST SCORE THE TOUCHDOWN. So put the ball in Aaron Rodgers’ hands, not on the ground for Mason Crosby. LaFleur did not, the Packers never saw the ball again and they lost. Surprised? The Bucs were, and so was the rest of America. “One hundred percent surprised,” said Tampa Bay’s Shaq Barrett. “There’s no guarantee you’re going to get another shot at it.” You make a decision like that, and you deserve to lose. The Packers deserved to lose.
SUNDAY SCHOOL: FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED
1. There’s no place like home for Patrick Mahomes in the playoffs. Concussed … not concussed … turf toe … no turf toe … it doesn’t matter. He’s thrown 15 straight touchdown passes without an interception in the playoffs at Arrowhead, the longest streak at one venue in NFL playoff history. But that’s not all. In his last 26 starts, he’s 25-1 – including Super Bowl LIV. He is St. Patrick and the reason the Chiefs opened as a three-and-a-half point favorite to repeat in Super Bowl LV.
2. Green Bay defensive coordinator Mike Pettine will get called to the principal’s office. That touchdown with one second left in the first half was so bad that Hall-of-Fame coach Tony Dungy – normally reserved in his observations – called it “maybe the worst defensive design I’ve ever seen with eight seconds and no timeouts left.” That’s another way of saying it was inexcusable. It was a call like that that got Gregg Williams fired with the Jets, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Pettine’s asked to bring his playbook with him this week. Because this wasn’t just an afternoon he’d like to forget. It was horrid, with the Packers called for 12 men on defense twice. OK, so Green Bay produced three second-half interceptions. It wasn’t enough. The first-half TD is what you’re going to remember. And, in all likelihood, what Matt LaFleur will, too – except he has his own demons to exorcise. One more thing: The loss? It was the ninth straight time that Tom Brady conquered a Pettine-coached defense.
3. Somebody told officials to swallow their whistles. It’s happened before, but never was it more noticeable than this weekend’s championship games. In the NFC contest, Clete Blakeman’s crew called six penalties ... total ... and let so many calls go that when there was the obvious pass-interference in the last two minutes it seemed incongruous. Not to be outdone, officials in the AFC championship game let so much slide that it looked like a WWF throwdown by game’s end. Players and coaches expect … and respect … consistency from officials. There was none Sunday.
4. The gap between Kansas City and the rest of the AFC is enormous. Yes, Buffalo is the second-best team in the conference, but the Bills aren’t closer than they appear in the Chiefs’ rear-view mirror. In essence, the Chiefs are to Buffalo what New England was to the Bills with Brady … and that’s not good. Brady was 32-3 vs. them. Kansas City has a better quarterback. A better run game. A better offensive line. Better receivers. Better defensive line. And Andy Reid. In short, the Bills … and the rest of the AFC … have a long way to go to catch Kansas City.
5. Old Guys rule. You know about Tom Brady. At 43, he’s the oldest quarterback to start a Super Bowl. In fact, he’s the only quarterback in his 40s to start one. But how about Bruce Arians? He’s 67, the third-oldest head coach in the NFL behind Pete Carroll (69) and Bill Belichick (68). And then there’s Andy Reid. He’s 62, the fifth-oldest. Football is supposed to be a young man’s game. And it is. When Tom Brady isn’t involved.
FOURTH AND LONG
1. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Patrick Mahomes is 4-1 in playoff games when trailing by two or more scores. The only quarterback who’s better? His Super Bowl opponent. Tom Brady is 6-1.
2. When it comes to conference championship games, Jake from State Farm is right: There’s no Rodgers Rate. The guy is 1-4 with nine touchdown passes and eight interceptions.
3. After hearing Rodgers say he’s “uncertain” about his future, ESPNWisconsin’s Jason Wilde concluded that Rodgers “sure sounded like a guy saying goodbye.” That should concern Packers’ fans. Wilde has covered every game of Rodgers’ career. Guaranteed, this story isn't going away.
4. Just a hunch, but Tampa Bay won’t let Tyreek Hill beat them this time. He’s the guy they tried to single cover when he caught 203 yards in passes when the Chiefs and Bucs met in November. OK, so it happens. Except it was 203 yards in the first quarter.
5. Meaningless stat but worth mentioning: Brady just tied the Bucs’ Brad Johnson (2002) for the most playoff wins (3) in franchise history.
6. Repeat of No. 5: Brady ties Joe Flacco as the quarterback with the most road playoff wins (7) in NFL history.
7. Now one that IS significant. Brady just tied Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers for NFC championship victories. Each has one.
8. Seeing Andy Reid hug injured tackle Eric Fisher in the second half of Sunday’s game made you think that’s it for him this season. And it is. He suffered a torn Achilles and will miss Super Bowl LV.
9. Tom Brady is 43. Patrick Mahomes’ father is 50.
10. You know you’re in trouble when your best player in a championship game is your kicker. Buffalo’s Tyler Bass was the Bills’ best player.
11. Buffalo was fourth this season in third-down conversions at 47.4 percent but only 5 of 14 vs. Kansas City. The key: The Chiefs took Stefon Diggs out of the game. He had two catches for 12 yards by halftime and four receptions for 28 by the end of the third quarter. The job won't be as easy in two weeks, however, vs. Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Gronk, Tyler Johnson, Antonio Brown (likely) ... I think you get the idea.
12. Unsung Tampa Bay hero: Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. His defense overcame Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers in back-to-back games. In two games vs. Rodgers this season – both wins – the Bucs allowed three TD passes, had three interceptions and sacked him 9 times. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Rodgers on Sunday was pressured 22 times, the most in his playoff career.
13. Talk about déjà vu all over again. That was the second time in the past 11 years Green Bay was victimized in a playoff game at Lambeau by a last-second Hail Mary to close the first half. It happened in January, 2012, when Eli Manning hit Hakeem Nicks with a 37-yard TD to close the half. This one was a 39-yarder to Scotty Miller, but the result was the same. The Packers lost.
14. Another impact Brady has made on the Bucs: They put up 30 or more points in all three playoff games this season. They had two in their prior playoff history of 15 games.
15. If I’m the Chiefs’ Eric Bieniemy, I’m not sure I’d take the Texans’ job if asked. There are 32 NFL franchises, which is why I might decline. There will be other chances.
16. I guess we should’ve known the Bills’ defense couldn’t hold up. Buffalo was 0-4 this season vs. the Top-6 offenses. Those four were the Bills’ only losses.
17. Deshaun Watson wants out of Houston, and I get it. I also get that he can’t trade himself.
18. The Texans don’t need a new head coach. They need a cattle prod.
19. Game within the game: Remember when the Giants upset Brady and the 18-0 New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII? The defensive coordinator was Steve Spagnuolo, now the defensive coordinator for the Chiefs.
20. Did Kurt Warner really say he wants “every playoff game inside?” Attention, media: We have another quarterback in concussion protocol.
21. Call it the curse of the MVP. If Aaron Rodgers wins this year's award -- and he will -- he becomes the third consecutive winner to fail to reach the game and the 22nd in a row not to win it. The last league MVP to win a Super Bowl in the same season? Hall-of-Famer Kurt Warner in 1999.
22. After listening to new coach Dan Campbell, I have the Detll roit Lions as favorites next season … in the UFC.
23. The Patriots don’t need Matt Patricia back. They need Tom Brady.
24. Philip Rivers retired in the Top Five in career passing yards, touchdowns and completions, but those aren’t the most impressive numbers of his career. This is: 252. That’s the number of consecutive starts (including the playoffs) he had during his 17 years in the NFL. The guy never missed one. Never.
25. My favorite tweet of the day comes from ESPN’s Field Yates: “What an unbelievable Super Bowl matchup: Tom Brady vs. Patrick Mahomes, the two players most likely to dominate the Super Bowl for the next 15 seasons.”
STAT THAT MAY ONLY INTEREST ME
Teams that beat opponents by 20 or more points in the regular season are 14-3 (including 5-0 in the last 11 seasons) when they meet them again in the conference championship game in the same season.
ONE THAT MAY INTEREST YOU
Florida (2020) just joined Pennsylvania (1980) as the only states to have finalists in all four major pro sports leagues (MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL) in the same season.
AND ONE FOR BOTH OF US
According to Football Perspective, in Brady’s last five years with the Patriots, New England was favored in 87 of his 88 starts, including the playoffs. In Super Bowl LV, they’re an underdog (+3) for the third game in a row.
SUNDAY’S GOLD JACKET QUOTES
We’re coming home, and we’re coming home to win.” – Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians.
“To go up against one of the greatest – if not the greatest – quarterbacks of all time n his 150th Super Bowl is going to be a great experience.” – Kansas City QB Patrick Mahomes.
“It might’ve looked easy, but it wasn’t easy.” – Tampa Bay LB Shaq Barrett.
“We had our chances. This one definitely stings and is going to for a long time.” – Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers.
"This guy seems to amaze me more every game." -- Kansas City coach Andy Reid on Mahomes.
“I hurt for everybody involved.” – Green Bay coach Matt LaFleur.
SUNDAY’S GOLD JACKET RECIPIENT
Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. He devised the defense that did what others could not this season – thwart Aaron Rodgers. The Bucs turned an interception and fumble recovery into two scores and limited the Packers to six points following three consecutive Brady interceptions. They also had five sacks, 10 knockdowns and 22 pressures. Tom Brady didn’t win Sunday’s conference championship game. Bowles’ defense did. Now he gets to face a familiar face in Chiefs’ coach Andy Reid. It was Reid who made Bowles his interim defensive coordinator in Philadelphia in 2012, Reid’s last season there.