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Tampa Bay defense stands above all in Super Bowl victory

Updated February 7, 2021 - 10:27 pm

The Buccaneers’ pass rush was like one of those unrelenting Florida storms, driving wind and rain that never seems to cease.

Hollywood might favor a leading storyline of quarterback Tom Brady landing in Tampa Bay and delivering the Buccaneers a Super Bowl LV victory on its own turf, but never discount the most important of supporting roles.

The headlines that will scream about a 31-9 victory should include the name Todd Bowles, defensive coordinator for the Buccaneers who devised what many thought an improbable scheme: One that not only slowed the breakneck attack of Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City offense but made it a non-factor.

Read that part again.

“You can’t give Todd enough credit,” said Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians. “I think he got tired of hearing about how unstoppable they were. Patrick wasn’t going to beat us running. We let him run all day. Just keep chasing him around and see if we can make some plays.”

That’s all Tampa Bay did.

Nothing fancy

Here’s the amazing part: It didn’t take smoke and mirrors or any magic tricks.

The one area in which Kansas City was susceptible coming in was along its depleted offensive line, where injuries to Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz left the Chiefs with an obvious weakness. Tampa Bay took full advantage.

Bowles believed enough push up front would allow his secondary to stay in front of Kansas City’s speedy receivers. It was stifling, really. Constant. The idea was to force Mahomes past his first read. Make him think a second longer.

“We all worked hand in hand tonight,” Bowles said.

Mahomes was left to scramble throughout, chased time and again by Shaq Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul, Ndamukong Suh and the rest of a defensive line that spent its Super Bowl evening in the Kansas City backfield.

Tampa Bay didn’t even have to dial much up. It blitzed on fewer than 10 percent of dropbacks. The Buccaneers simply trusted their line while keeping two safeties deep the entire game. There was really nothing fancy about any of it.

“Listen, (Bowles) had a good plan,” said Chiefs coach Andy Reid. “I could have done a whole lot better putting our guys in a better position to make plays. My guys busted their tails, and it just didn’t work. It was a bad day to have a bad day. But give credit to Todd for the job he did. He got us.”

The craziness of it all: Kansas City didn’t score a touchdown for the first time since Mahomes became its full-time quarterback. The fourth-year pro never had lost an NFL game by double digits. He was sacked three times and threw two interceptions, completing 26-for-49 for 270 yards.

Defense the difference

It was all orchestrated by Bowles, the former Jets coach who talked this week about not seeking any sort of redemption from his losing seasons in New York once Arians tabbed him as his coordinator last year.

And it didn’t just begin Sunday. Tampa Bay is the first team to beat three Super Bowl MVP quarterbacks in the same postseason (Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and now Mahomes).

“We were really just rushing four men,” said Barrett, who finished with a sack and four quarterback hits. “Everything and anything worked. No matter what we called. It was amazing. It would have been unheard of for the Chiefs not to score a touchdown in the Super Bowl. If you would have bet it, you would have made so much money. Nobody would have believed it.”

You can now. Like a Florida storm. The rain and wind and pressure just kept coming.

Brady was a great story. Tampa Bay’s defense was the difference.

Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.