Before Super Bowl LV, one of my friends texted me that he predicted the Buccaneers would hold the Chiefs to 21 points. I responded that I didn’t think that Tampa would be able to stop KC from reaching 30. Boy, how wrong I was. The Bucs’ defense, under the tutelage of head coach Bruce Arians and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, delivered a performance for the ages, holding the Chiefs offense to a mind-boggling nine points and just 350 yards of total offense. With Kansas City missing both tackles, quarterback Patrick Mahomes was running for his life most of the game thanks to Tampa Bay’s relentless pressure upfront.
This was a far cry from the first Bucs-Chiefs matchup back in November, when Mahomes threw for 462 yards and three touchdowns. Speedy KC wideout Tyreek Hill had a mind-boggling 200 yards in the first quarter, as the Chiefs won 27–24. On Sunday, Mahomes had just 270 yards passing, no touchdowns, was picked off twice, and had a passer rating of just 52.3. Hill was held to 73 yards receiving. Bowles, the former head coach of the New York Jets, was widely mentioned as a potential head-coaching candidate this offseason, but no team bothered to give him a call. But in the big game, he proved why he is one of the superior defensive maestros in the league.
Bowles and Arians dialed up an aggressive game plan, taking note of the fact that the Chiefs were missing both of their starting tackles. They relentlessly blitzed their linebackers and had Mahomes running for dear life on what seemed like every other play. I must have counted at least 20 snaps where the KC stud had to prematurely get rid of the ball or dump it off on the run because of a white Buccaneers jersey that was basically hanging off of him. According to the advanced analytics website Pro Football Focus, the Bucs pressured Mahomes on 44 of his 61 drop-back pass attempts, with stud outside linebacker Shaq Barrett accounting for 10 of those pressures by himself.
In coverage, the Bucs’ secondary, considered by many prognosticators to be a fatal flaw against the Chiefs’ devastating air attack, didn’t just hold up, it excelled. As stated earlier, Mahomes did not throw a single touchdown, but managed to find the gloves of two Buccaneer defenders who intercepted him. One of those defenders, inside linebacker Devin White, had an outstanding game, racking up 11 total tackles in addition to his pick. White has seen tremendous growth as a player his first two years in the league, since he was drafted no. 5 overall by the Bucs out of LSU in 2019. The other Bucs defender who picked off Mahomes, Antoine Winfield Jr., did so with flair: He flashed the “deuces” sign at Hill, which the Chiefs wideout is prone to doing when his absurd speed leads him to breakaway for a touchdown. That led to a fairly weak unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
The last time the Bucs won the Super Bowl, all the way back in the 2002 season, they did so with a defense many consider to be one of the greatest of all time, led by Hall of Famers Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp, John Lynch, and many other Pro Bowlers or All-Pros. They led the league in fewest yards and points allowed, and forced 5 turnovers against Oakland in Super Bowl XXXVII, romping to a 48–21 laugher. 18 years later, with another great defense, they managed to deliver another historic defensive effort, and rewarded their long-suffering fans with another Super Bowl championship.