National Football League

Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs were humbled in Super Bowl LV

February 8

By Eric Adelson
Special to FOX Sports

Nine points.

One of the most explosive offenses in NFL history scored nine points.

In the Super Bowl.

Patrick Mahomes? Mystified. Tyreek Hill? Taunted. Travis Kelce? Contained. Andy Reid? Checkmated.

Nine points.

"Worst I’ve been beaten in a long time," Mahomes said after the game.

What in the world happened to the champs? A team that had a shot in any game suddenly had no shot in the biggest game. A touchdown machine ended the night with no touchdowns. It was a thumping by Tampa Bay. The Kansas City Chiefs juggernaut that had so many ways to win suddenly had no answers for Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.

"They took away our deep stuff," Mahomes said. "They took away our sideline." 

They took away the Chiefs’ whole identity.

Yes, there were bad calls. But no, that does not explain a 31-9 drubbing. It does not explain how this all-time team became so beatable.

It was only a couple of months ago, over Thanksgiving weekend, that Mahomes was slinging the ball all over the field and Hill was backflipping into the end zone against this same Bucs team on this same Raymond James Stadium field. That day, Hill had more than 200 yards and two touchdowns — in the first quarter. 

On Sunday, Mahomes didn’t have a third-down completion until late in the fourth quarter. What happened?

Let’s start with the obvious: injuries.

Mahomes was gimpy, sometimes reduced to limping as he tried to engineer one of his familiar, previously inevitable comebacks.

His protection was at times paper-thin, as the Chiefs' offensive line was disrupted by injuries to Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz. (Don’t forget the loss of Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, who opted out of the season to serve alongside COVID-19 healthcare workers in his native Quebec.) Mahomes is known for running for his life and then turning disaster into magic, but on this night, disaster often begot more disaster. According to NextGen Stats, Mahomes ran nearly 500 yards on his scrambles. He looked like a Wal-Mart greeter on Black Friday.

Truth be told, the Chiefs seemed out of sorts from the beginning of the game, unable to get a drive going and appearing wobbly on a couple of punts. A rhythm-based offense devolved into static. 

"I think we weren’t on a same page, as an offense in general," Mahomes said. "I wasn’t getting the ball out on time, receivers were running routes not where I was expecting, the offensive line was sometimes letting guys through.

"We just didn’t execute." 

The defense didn’t seem all that prepared either, despite having two weeks to plan for a foe it had already vanquished. Safety Tyrann Mathieu got involved in some chatter with Tom Brady and soon found himself the victim of Tom’s target practice. Whatever happened between the two, the result was Mathieu, an elite backstop who is known as a big-play creator and steadying force on the Chiefs’ defense, appearing to lose focus in a major moment. And he wasn’t the only one. 

"You can’t have penalties, not that many," Reid said postgame. "You’re taking space away from yourself, either defensively or offensively."

Full credit goes to the Bucs. Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Todd Bowles put together a master plan, terrorizing the Chiefs’ offense with speed from all angles. The explanation for Kansas City’s struggles starts and ends with thumpers such as Devin White, Shaq Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul and Ndamukong Suh.

But the Chiefs always come up with something. Remember "Wasp" from last year’s Super Bowl? Remember "Henne Given Sunday" from this year’s playoffs? For so long, such jaw-dropping plays had been the norm, not the exception — one big play that turned the tide and left opponents mystified.

On Sunday, however, that big play never came. Nor did most of the little plays. The Chiefs, known for their unstoppable misdirection plays out of the backfield, finished with 107 rushing yards.

"It was a bad day to have a bad day," Reid said.

What does this loss mean for the Chiefs’ future? Mahomes is still a Super Bowl champ and an MVP — and at 25 years old, he's just entering his prime. The Kansas City offensive line will get healthy. Hill and Kelce are still superstars, and rookie rusher Clyde Edwards-Helaire should only get better.

But this is a shock to the system — and an unexpected callback to the struggles Reid faced during his time with the Philadelphia Eagles.

"I take full responsibility for it," he said after the loss. "You can’t do the things we did and be a good football team, particularly at this level."

Was tragedy a factor? Reid’s son, Britt, was involved in a car crash only days ago, leaving a young girl in critical condition. When asked if he could put his full attention into coaching, the elder Reid said, "I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you my heart bleeds."

But he also said the football game plan was implemented long before the accident. "From a football standpoint, it’s two separate things," Reid said. "From a football standpoint, I don’t think that was the problem."

Are the Chiefs still a dynasty in the making? Or are they more like the Legion of Boom Seahawks? Supremely talented, with a Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback and a Lombardi trophy … yet still battling some what-ifs.

Perhaps, next season, the Chiefs will come back ornery. They’ll surely be bitter after Bucs defensive back Antoine Winfield Jr.’s late-game "deuces" taunt on Hill, and after all of those questionable penalties, and after another off-season of Brady hagiography.

"We’ve gotta use this as motivation to come back," Reid said.

But coming back is easier said than done. Teams that lose the Super Bowl historically struggle when the next season begins (unless Brady is the quarterback). Bouncing back from Sunday's loss will be arguably the greatest test of Mahomes’ career thus far.

Nine points.

Hard to believe. Harder to get over.

Eric Adelson is a freelance journalist based in Orlando, Florida. He can be reached at ericadelson@gmail.com or on Twitter @eric_adelson.


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