The more things change, the more they stay the same.
The strangest and most challenging season in league history ended in the early hours of Monday morning with a very familiar sight indeed as Tom Brady lifted the Vince Lombardi Trophy for a record seventh time – more than any other TEAM in history.
But we should not let familiarity mask what is an historic and remarkable achievement that I quite rightly heard described by three-time Super Bowl-winning wide receiver Michael Irvin as "insane" on the NFL Network's post-game coverage.
One of the most eagerly-awaited Super Bowls in living memory - and a battle between arguably the best quarterbacks ever to face off in the title game - turned into something of a damp squib as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers romped to a 31-9 win in their home stadium.
Brady was offered good protection all night long while Patrick Mahomes was running for his life behind a make-shift offensive line that was as troublesome as all Chiefs fans feared it might be during the week leading up to the big game. Mahomes was pressured on 52 percent of his dropbacks last night – the most ever in a Super Bowl.
I'll have more on the Bucs' aggressive, feisty and young defense later… along with Kansas City's resulting offensive failings. But, first, I have to begin with Brady.
Think about what he has just achieved.
In his first season with Tampa Bay, Brady has taken a team that won just 17 games in their previous three campaigns all the way to the top of the NFL mountain. His impact on this long-struggling club was immediate and far reaching. A new standard was set in Tampa and the Bucs responded.
Bucs head coach Bruce Arians told me in the week leading up to Super Bowl 55 that he felt Brady was "the missing piece" and the pragmatic coach even started dreaming about winning it all when signing the future Hall of Famer in March.
Brady was excellent last night and looked totally in his element on the biggest stage of all. He completed 21 of 29 passes for 201 yards, three touchdowns and no picks for a rating of 125.8. I am not against the argument that his baton will eventually be passed to Mahomes, but not in terms of success being achieved on this scale.
We will never see the likes of Tom Brady again. We witnessed another major piece of NFL history last night.
His performance in shredding the Chiefs was brilliant, but it's when you put the whole career and Super Bowl body of work together that Brady's achievements become, as Michael Irvin started, simply insane.
If we take out his rookie year of 2000 when he threw just three passes and the 2008 season when he tore his knee ligaments in Week 1, Brady has played in 19 full campaigns. And here is what he has achieved in that time…
- 10 Super Bowl appearances. Twice as many as the next-best quarterback in John Elway.
- Seven Super Bowl wins. More than any other NFL team and, of course, the most for any player in league history.
- Five Super Bowl MVP awards
- The first NFL player to win a title in three different decades… the 2000s, 2010s and now the 2020s
- The first NFL player to win two Super Bowls after the age of 40 (2018 and 2020 seasons)
- Thrown for 3,039 passing yards (next-best in Super Bowl history is Kurt Warner with 1,156) and 21 touchdowns in the big game (11 is the next-best from Joe Montana)
- The second quarterback in NFL history to win a Super Bowl with two different teams, matching the achievements of Peyton Manning in Indianapolis and Denver
Here is the worrying thing for the rest of the NFL. Brady touched on his future several times during Super Bowl week and stated that he cannot wait to get started on his offseason work and he genuinely believes that Tampa's offensive machine will run even smoother in 2021.
That's why he has been able to achieve all of those highlights above. Each Super Bowl is a separate entity to Brady. Winning one year does not mean he is less determined to win the next one. As soon as the Vince Lombardi Trophy is put to bed, Brady is on to the next challenge and the next chase.
Like I said, we will never see his like again. The greatest and most dominant athlete in all of sports.
Todd Bowles… In this post-season run to Super Bowl glory, Tampa Bay's defense has taken down Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes. Oh, and Taylor Heinicke! And their defensive coordinator pulled together a master gameplan on Sunday night. When these two teams met in Week 12, Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill went off to the tune of 13 catches for 269 yards and three touchdowns. Time and again he got deep and hurt the Bucs. Not on Super Bowl Sunday. The Bucs gave their cornerbacks safety help over the top and took away the big play. Of course, that meant more passes underneath but the likes of Devin White, Lavonte David and Antoine Winfield flew to the ball and made all the necessary tackles. And up front, the dominance we expected from the likes of Shaq Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul and Ndamukong Suh materialised against an under-manned Kansas City offensive line. There were many great defensive performances from the Bucs on Sunday night as they became just the seventh Super Bowl team to hold an opponent without a touchdown, but it all started with their defensive coordinator.
Rob Gronkowski… This time last year, The Gronk was flying off top ropes and getting hit over the head with chairs as he wrestled in the WWE. He seemed happily retired until his BFF, Tom Brady, moved to Tampa and started getting the band together to make a Super Bowl run. Gronk came on slowly during the regular season but ended the year with a very respectable 45 catches for 623 yards and seven touchdowns. In the playoffs, Gronk went quiet as he caught just two passes while taking on extra blocking roles. But he and Brady rolled back the years on Sunday night as Gronk caught six passes for 67 yards and two touchdowns. The pair have now connected on five Super Bowl touchdowns – the most of any duo in history- and 14 playoff touchdowns. Again, an NFL record. Gronk looked fresh, fearsome and a factor. And he was buzzing after the game and indicated that he would return in 2021 for another shot at Super Bowl glory.
Devin White… Twenty years after the great Ray Lewis, of the Baltimore Ravens, was named MVP of Super Bowl 35; another exciting, young inside linebacker was making championship-winning plays on the very same field. Devin White is a stud of a defender and he stamped his authority on this game and this playoff series. He missed the wildcard win over Washington but after adding 12 tackles and an interception last night, White took his three-game postseason totals to 38 tackles, two interceptions and two fumble recoveries. There are several young stars on a Tampa defense that should continue to grow in the coming years but none shine brighter than the athletic and aggressive White.
Kansas City's Offensive Line… The late, great Kevin Cadle always used to make me chuckle when he would tell me: "Never feel sorry for millionaires." I used to take a lot of Kevin's advice to heart but not on Sunday night. I actually felt sorry for Kansas City's $500 million quarterback Patrick Mahomes. He took one of the most brutal Super Bowl beatings I have seen in a long time. Mahomes fought like a lion and I have nothing but admiration for the way he stared down those trying to hit him into a thousand pieces. But his re-shuffled offensive line was totally over-matched and even those who were forced into unfamiliar roles should be hanging their heads in shame this morning. Mahomes was sacked three times but that doesn't begin to tell the whole story. He was brutalised by the Bucs to the point where I genuinely felt worried for his safety in the fourth quarter.
Kansas City's Discipline… The Chiefs shot themselves in the foot time and again in the first half and that led to them being almost out of the game by the intermission as they trailed 21-6. In that opening 30 minutes, Kansas City committed penalties to the tune of 95 yards – the most of any half in a Super Bowl. Time and again, the defensive backs were called for holding and pass interference penalties as they struggled to contain the Bucs' passing game weapons. You could argue that there was some over-officiating going on, but the majority looked like solid calls and prevented further big plays for Tampa Bay. The Chiefs were just out of sorts from start to finish.
Kansas City's Offense… We've talked about the protection already, but Kansas City were also undone by several key drops at the end of plays where Mahomes was running for his life. Tyreek Hill never got uncorked and only picked up garbage time yardage in the fourth quarter and where were all the creative plays we have grown so used to seeing in Kansas City? Mahomes produced a quarterback rating of 52.3 – the lowest of his 54 career starts. But his rating dropped to 17 when under pressure and that's what this all boils down to – it all goes back to an offensive line that was a worry all week long and so it proved to be.
The Fast Five…
- I'm so pleased to see Bruce Arians crowned as an NFL champion and the oldest head coach to win this big game at the age of 68. BA is one of the good guys and a wonderful, old-school leader who tells it like it is. He never sugar-coated anything for Brady and got his reward for a wonderful career on Sunday night.
- With a 68-year-old head coach and a 43-year-old quarterback, the Bucs were clearly all-in this season when it came to attempting to win it all. And the guys Brady tempted to Tampa shone bright alongside him on Sunday. Gronk scored twice, Leonard Fournette gained 135 yards from scrimmage and found the endzone on a 27-yard run and Antonio Brown scored the vital touchdown late in the first half.
- I think the Chiefs will be back on this big stage sooner rather than later. It would not surprise me to see them in Super Bowl 56 in Los Angeles. They have not become a bad team overnight. They just suffered one injury too many – the loss of left tackle Eric Fisher was too much to overcome.
- I think he probably just needs some time to cool off, but Sunday's post-match press conference left me wondering how badly Aaron Rodgers wants to return to Green Bay. I'm sure he will be fine with the passing of time, but he is clearly fuming with his head coach having seen yet another Super Bowl opportunity slip through his fingers.
- Much like his quarterback, Sean McDermott had a great year in Buffalo. But, like Allen, McDermott was at fault on Sunday night. Now, it might not have mattered in the end given how prolific Mahomes and the Chiefs were, but Buffalo's head coach was too conservative in the AFC Championship Game, particularly when kicking field goals either side of halftime. You need sevens and not threes when Andy Reid is dialling up plays for Mahomes, Kelce and Hill.
Fact of the Week
Tom Brady became the first quarterback in NFL history to defeat three Super Bowl MVPs in the same playoff series, overcoming Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Mahomes. In those three wins, Tampa's defense also stood up, allowing just four touchdown passes and snaring six interceptions.
Finish That Sentence
Each week in this spot I ask readers - via Twitter - to randomly send me the start of a sentence and, as we do on our NFL UK Live stage show tours, I will finish the sentence with the first thought that comes into my head. Here we go…
From Iain Linwood (@Linavitch) Next year's Super Bowl champions will be… happy! I'm not falling into the trap of making the earliest Super Bowl prediction in NFL history! But I'm more than happy for others to have a go. I think Kansas City are strong contenders to be back in this game next year. Their biggest challenge will come from Buffalo, but some other team could emerge from the pack. Let's not forget that the Bucs were 7-9 before Brady came on board and changed everything. And that is worth noting as we head into the offseason – teams are going to be more aggressive and more desperate to find a superstar quarterback than ever before. It is more vital than ever to have the answer at the game's most important position.
From Michael Ben Jones (@michaelbjones88) One team that failed to make the playoffs this year who will definitely be there next year is… the Miami Dolphins. They came close this season before falling to Buffalo in Week 17, but a few things need to happen for this to come to fruition. The Dolphins either have to win the Deshaun Watson sweepstakes or put enough weapons around Tua Tagovailoa to see the young passer make significant improvements in his second year. There were just not enough skill position difference-makers in Miami this season.
From Francis Redwood (@Franchise890) The biggest surprise of the season was… an on-time finish to a wonderfully-entertaining season that I think we all needed as a distraction in these trying, lockdown-filled times. I thought Week 12 was going to get wiped out at one point, I remember fielding a call from Rob Ryan while walking my dogs to hear that Cam Newton was out of the New England-Kansas City game and there many other scares along the way, including the Ravens being decimated ahead of their thrice-rearranged contest with Pittsburgh. But the NFL did it, carrying out more than one million Covid tests in the process. And now I hope some elements of this pandemic NFL continue – I loved the virtual draft and I especially liked the fact that 4,050 photographers were not allowed to storm the field at the end of last night's Super Bowl. That has long been a bug bear of mine. I think we will also see more virtual meetings for players and coaches as the whole world comes to terms with the fact that we don't always have to be together to get our work done.
I presented Sunday's Super Bowl coverage with a heavy heart as I learned of the death of the great Chris Wesseling, of the Around the NFL Podcast, on Saturday afternoon. Wess – and the other heroes – have become an integral part of our Sunday broadcasts and we have become good friends over the years. I have fond memories of the live show the boys did in London ahead of the 2019 game at Tottenham and myself, Wess and Mrs R shared a nice drink that night. He was always great company and just a cool and caring guy to be around. He was funny, whip-smart and absolutely loved the NFL. And he loved the British fans, holding the supporters here in the UK in the highest regard. For me, I always cared what Wess thought and what he felt. I remember him telling me after the 2018 season-opening show on Sky Sports that it was "the most fun he had ever had on an NFL Sunday." That meant a lot to me then and means the world to me now. I've had to conduct a couple of these on-air tributes to close friends now and that is two too many. But I want to say thanks to all the fans who sent message of support to me, the ATN heroes and, most importantly, to Lakisha and baby Linc. We are an NFL family and we came together again over the weekend when we needed each other the most. We've lost a great one but Chris Wesseling may be gone, but he will never be forgotten.