Patrick Mahomes not to blame for Chiefs' Super Bowl LV loss
By Geoff Schwartz
FOX Sports NFL analyst
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' surprising 31-9 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs has fried the brains of the football public.
Instead of focusing the attention where it belongs — on Kansas City's offensive failures — we’ve turned our attention to the Chiefs' quarterback in an effort to knock him down.
I won’t be having any of that.
The first is easy: Y’all are being obtuse and lazy. It’s the "easy" thing to blurt out, whether on the airwaves or on Twitter.
The second, which is tied to the first, is that when an explosive offense struggles, the blame is often placed on the starting quarterback.
The QB played worse than expected. The QB missed open receivers. The QB made mistakes.
Fair or unfair, the quarterback will always be blamed for more than just his mistakes.
Third, people are haters. Yes, you are. You hate greatness, for many reasons. This is what LeBron James has always dealt with.
For three seasons, a healthy Patrick Mahomes has yet to play a below-average game, while your favorite team's quarterback had stinkers. It bothers you that people who cover the game are in awe of Mahomes' abilities and play on the field.
So when the Chiefs' offense scores just nine points, it must be because Mahomes choked or wasn’t prepared or just played poorly. None of that is true.
Because it is so rare to see the Chiefs shut down offensively, people are looking to assign blame. There is blame to be placed, and I’ll go over it, but Tampa Bay’s defense deserves credit first.
The Bucs' defense changed Sunday. Todd Bowles and his unit adapted. They were a blitz-heavy defense throughout the season, but on Sunday, the Bucs blitzed on less than 10% of their defensive snaps – and a vast majority of those were on the Chiefs' first two drives.
After that, Tampa Bay sat in coverage. The Bucs doubled Chiefs receivers, they pressured Mahomes, and rarely did the Chiefs find their receiving options wide open like usual. When Mahomes did find someone open, the K.C. receivers were quickly tackled, and the Bucs' defense prevented a big play. It was truly an outstanding performance, so any assessment of Sunday's result must start there.
The first thing we notice when a quarterback doesn’t play well is accuracy. There are usually open receivers, and the quarterback misses. The second is decision-making. The QB has someone open but instead throws it to another option who isn't open. The third is pocket presence. The QB takes sacks when he should be finding open receivers or leaves the pocket too early because he is nervous about the rush.
I’ve watched Super Bowl LV multiple times, and I have yet to find more than a handful of plays on which any of those applies to Mahomes. If you find one, please send it to me. I put out this challenge on social media, and to no surprise, there was no response — because I’m right.
The failure of the Chiefs' offense started with a game plan that was dictated by their offensive line woes and a miscalculation of the Bucs' defensive plan. The Chiefs tailored a plan to try to take the pressure off the offensive line while expecting the Bucs to run man coverage and bring pressure.
I know what you’re thinking: How could the Chiefs not expect the Bucs and Bowles to switch up the defense? Well, most coaches are stubborn and do what they’ve always done. I’m not surprised the Chiefs believed Bowles would stay true to his history, but that doesn’t absolve K.C. for not having any answers.
This is where it gets tough because the Chiefs attempted their answers, such as this screen to Travis Kelce. This screen has been money in the past, but it just didn’t work. Check out this play, and you'll see why Tampa Bay’s defense won this rep.
Now, let's look at the pass protection. In the first half, excluding fourth-down kicks, the Chiefs ran 29 offensive plays. Of those 29, they ran two run-pass options, two screens and 12 instances of helping the offensive line, with help coming from a running back, tight end or both.
As I discussed in my preview article last week, leaving a tight end and running back in to block limits the receiving options. That was a glaring issue for the Chiefs for most of the game. No one was open.
Look at the first third-down play of the game for K.C. No one is open, and with pressure, Mahomes is out of the pocket.
Later, the Chiefs had the running back help the right tackle and the tight end help the left tackle before getting out in the route.
No one is open. This is a theme. You can find this throughout the game.
Throw the ball quickly, they say. Get the ball out of the QB's hand. That will help the offense. Once again, no one was open.
Here's the second play of the game. It’s a run-pass option with none of the receivers looking at the quarterback.
How about this one?
Mahomes does swing the ball out for a completion, but barely anyone is open. All are blanketed in coverage.
Mahomes did not turn down opportunities with open receiving options to instead make a mistake.
But Geoff, what about this third-and-9 play on which Tyreek Hill was standing 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage?
What about it? Do you want your quarterback throwing a minus-5 air yards attempt on third-and-9? What kind of weak argument is that?
Here is that play. With a rush coming, Mahomes is leaving the pocket, with no one but Hill open. Should he throw the ball for a loss on third-and-long or attempt to make the mind-boggling ad-lib play he always makes? You know, the ones y’all love.
He attempted that. It didn’t work. Because no one was open.
But Geoff, his average time to throw was so high.
That must be because his line played well, and Mahomes just didn’t throw it. Again, you have to look past the numbers and watch the game with your eyes.
Not everything was on the offensive line, of course. Does Mahomes have a bad tendency to bail out of the pocket quickly? Yes, he does. But on Sunday, would you have blamed him? Of course not.
Also, when the line is being beaten in less than two seconds (a loss on the grade chart for an offensive lineman) and Mahomes is scrambling for his life to throw the ball 11 seconds after it’s snapped, do you think those 11 seconds mean everything was Mahomes' fault? Get out of here with that nonsense.
If you’d like to find fault in Mahomes, there are a few instances of that. He missed Mecole Hardman on third down to end the first drive. Some might argue Hardman slowed down. It's difficult to tell, but I can see that argument. Mahomes also wasn’t accurate on an early screen. That’s about it.
If you don’t believe me, check out this montage of plays from Brian Baldinger. Drops, drops and more miscommunication.
In the end, I get the urge to blame Mahomes. We always blame quarterbacks. It’s easy. It’s simple.
But this game was neither easy nor simple for Mahomes. He played his butt off.
Geoff Schwartz played nine seasons in the NFL for five teams. He started at right tackle for the University of Oregon for three seasons and was a second-team All-Pac-12 selection his senior year. He is an NFL analyst for FOX Sports.