Chiefs' repeat bid doomed by struggles up front in Super Bowl LV loss to Buccaneers

It’s said often, and once again proved to be true on the greatest stage, football is won and lost in the trenches.

Tampa Bay dominated up front on both sides of the ball in Super Bowl LV, turning what promised to be an entertaining game into a lopsided affair and a 31-9 Buccaneers win over the Kansas City Chiefs. The Bucs capitalized on the absence of the Chiefs’ starting tackles, pressuring Patrick Mahomes on plenty of his dropbacks Sunday night and shutting down Kansas City’s famously explosive offense. Statistically, Mahomes turned in one of his worst outings of his otherwise fantastic career, completing 26 of 49 passes for 270 yards and two interceptions. He finished with a passer rating of just 52.3 — and spent most of the night running for his life.

According to Next Gen Stats, Mahomes traveled 497 yards before throwing the ball or being sacked Sunday night, the most scramble yards in a game by any quarterback in the Next Gen era (since 2016). What was once a rare sight — Mahomes dropping to pass, retreating further and winding around the field, desperately trying in vain to find an open target — became commonplace Sunday night, typifying the night for the Chiefs.

“I just think we weren’t on the same page as an offense in general,” Mahomes said afterward. “I wasn’t getting the ball out on time. The receivers were running routes, not exactly where I thought they were gonna be at. And the offensive line, they were good at some times and sometimes they let guys through. When you play a good defense like that, you gotta be on the same page as an offense and we weren’t today and that’s why we played so bad.”

Mahomes completed just 4 of 15 attempts outside the tackle box for 28 yards and two interceptions, finishing with an expected points added of -16.9 on dropbacks ending outside the tackle box, more than double his previous career low of -6.0, per Next Gen Stats. Tampa Bay recorded 14 total pressures on Mahomes pass attempts, of which he completed just five, gaining 50 yards and throwing an interception. He was sacked three times, a total that felt as if it could have been much higher. And Kansas City’s history of succeeding against the blitz fell flat, as Mahomes completed 1 of 5 attempts for 5 yards and an interception when the Buccaneers sent extra rushers.

The Buccaneers won with defensive line excellence, twisting and stunting their way through the Chiefs’ doomed blocking efforts. They also found the going easier against Kansas City’s offensive line, which was forced to play without either of its starting tackles, who were lost to injury before Sunday.

“Well I don’t want to tell you they’re not tough,” coach Andy Reid said of his offensive line. “But I tell you, I could have done a better job of putting our guys in a better position. They fought their tail off. The guys never gave up, I mean these are champions. Just the fact that they were able to get themselves back to this, fighting like crazy to get here. It was a bad day to have a bad day. But I’m not going to lay it all on the offensive line. When we lose, we all lose together on this.”

A second Super Bowl appearance produced a familiar result for backup Mike Remmers, who struggled against Jason Pierre-Paul in one-on-one situations much like he fared against Denver’s Von Miller back in Super Bowl 50. But the failure was on the Chiefs’ line as a whole, with the group degrading over the course of the game from average to punchless. By the time the fourth quarter arrived, Mahomes was quickly bailing from the pocket in multiple ill-fated attempts to create a spark for an offense working with wet firewood.

Left only with the slimmest chance to start a comeback, Mahomes instead found himself flinging prayers while falling to the ground, surrounded by Buccaneers defenders. His last heave — toward Travis Kelce in the end zone — was tipped and intercepted by linebacker Devin White, capping a complete defensive performance for the Buccaneers.

“As far as this game goes, they played better than we did,” Reid said. “That’s my responsibility and I take full responsibility for it. You can’t do the things that we did and beat a good football team like that, particularly at this level.”

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