Tom Brady‘s still the greatest, but Patrick Mahomes isn’t done yet. Mahomes will be back in a Super Bowl, but if he’s going to put the memory of losing 31-9 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers behind him, he must follow Brady’s example.
Earlier, we explained how the Tampa Bay Buccaneers used power football to win Super Bowl LV.
Mahomes has to learn to take what defenses give him and do what the game demands of him. Two things neither the Kansas City Chiefs nor their quarterback did during Super Bowl LV. They didn’t play the game injuries and the Bucs’ stingy defense forced them to play. Instead, Mahomes tried to do what he always does, make improbably big plays out of nothing by relying on his phenomenal athleticism.
There was something very Aaron Rodgers about the way Mahomes tried in vain to be the hero at Raymond James Stadium. Rodgers, like Mahomes, has more arm talent than Brady and will make more highlight reel-worthy plays, but Brady owns the numbers that matter. Namely, those seven Super Bowl rings.
Mahomes and Rodgers both have a sole Lombardi Trophy on their CVs. Mahomes at least made it back to the big game and has time to win a few more, but he could also slide into the frustrating abyss Rodgers has called home since helping the Green Bay Packers win Super Bowl XLV.
Rodgers hasn’t won the big one again because you always get the impression he has to win on his arm or not at all. A back-shoulder fade in a clutch situation or a last-gasp hail mary. Those are his calling cards.
Brady has the perfect formula if the true greatness of a quarterback is defined by wins and losses. Consider his latest performance on Super Bowl Sunday. The numbers don’t wow you, despite the 43-year-old being named MVP. He went 21 of 29 for 201 yards with three touchdowns, all thrown in the first half. So far, so solid, but nothing spectacular.
What Brady did was willing to relegate himself to a supporting role. He leaned on his running backs, Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones II, who combined for 150 yards. They split 28 carries between them. Counting an ill-fated Scott Miller reverse that lost three yards, Brady handed the ball off 29 times. The Bucs knew they had an advantage in the trenches, where they could overpower the Chiefs, so Brady exploited it.
Can you imagine Rodgers putting the ball and the game in somebody else’s hands so often? Not a chance. It’s difficult to imagine Mahomes doing the same after he attempted 49 passes against the Bucs, despite obvious issues with pass protection.
Eric Fisher‘s injury forced three changes on the Kansas City offensive line. Two backup tackles started, while Stefen Wisniewski made his first start of the season at right guard. Predictably, a Tampa Bay front seven led by Shaquil Barrett, Ndamukong Suh, and Jason Pierre-Paul feasted on this makeshift line.
Shaquil Barrett generated a season-high 8 pressures and one sack on 41 pass rushes (19.5% pressure rate).
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) February 8, 2021
Suh and Barrett combining for 2.5 of the three sacks Mahomes suffered. The sacks were one thing, but Mahomes took other hits and rarely had time to set himself in the pocket and wait for his receivers to uncover deep. He spent most of the Super Bowl running away from pressure.
According to @NextGenStats Patrick Mahomes ran a total of 497 yards before his passes/sacks tonight.
That’s the most pre-throw/pre-sack yards run by any quarterback in any game this season. pic.twitter.com/rsVe85ItNN
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 8, 2021
Speaking of running, the Chiefs should have done more of it. Clyde Edwards-Helaire managed 64 yards on just nine carries and looked like a problem for the Bucs every time he touched the ball. Tampa Bay’s insistence on leaving two safeties deep to protect against Tyreek Hill left the Buccaneers vulnerable to the run, but Kansas City rarely exploited this weakness, rushing the ball just 12 times on plays where Mahomes handed off.
This needn’t be a fault of Mahomes. Head coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy are pass-happy, and the Bucs arrived in the Super Bowl with the NFL’s top-ranked run defense. Yet the Bucs were conceding the run, so Mahomes and his coaches should’ve together and adjusted. Brady would have. Instead, tried to play their familiar vertical passing game without the personnel to do it.
Brady has always taken what defenses have to offer. If he has to handoff 25-30 times, he’ll do it. If he has to throw screens, hit shallow crossers, and play small ball, he’ll do it. If he has to put the ball in the air 50 times, he will. If winning means playing it safe and leaning on his defense, that’s what Brady does.
It’s why he’s got seven rings, while Rodgers, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, and Dan Marino don’t. All are more physically gifted than TB12, but all usually won games their way or no way. If Mahomes wants to avoid ending his career in a similar fashion, he’ll learn to take himself out of games the way Brady has and sacrifice individual brilliance for greater, shared glory.