Throughout the NFL’s history, there have been 13 instances when a Super Bowl matchup was a rematch of a regular-season game. The last time was in 2011, when Tom Brady and the Patriots played the Giants in Week 9 before facing each other again in Super Bowl XLVI. Coming into Sunday’s meeting between the Chiefs and Buccaneers, many thought this could be a potential Super Bowl preview. But if that’s true, Brady can only hope that history won’t repeat itself in February.
Kansas City won 27-24 on Sunday, though the Chiefs were far more dominant than their three-point victory indicated. Patrick Mahomes completed 37 of 49 passes for 462 yards and three touchdowns, and the fourth-year pro’s rapport with wideout Tyreek Hill was as strong as it’s ever been. Hill shredded the Bucs’ secondary, piling up a career-high 13 catches for 269 yards and three touchdowns, and he notched seven catches for 203 yards and two touchdowns on seven targets in the first quarter alone.
The Bucs had few answers for Kansas City’s offense. Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Todd Bowles relied on his unit’s pass rush—the Bucs entered Sunday with the league’s fourth-highest pressure rate (25.6 percent) and fourth-most sacks (32)—and deployed his young defensive backs in man coverage or without adequate deep safety help over, and over, and over again.
But despite the Bucs’ seven quarterback hits and two sacks, their pass rush rarely affected Mahomes. Hill routinely took the top off Tampa Bay’s secondary, and tight end Travis Kelce found room within the intermediate areas of the field, tallying eight catches for 82 yards.
Tyreek Hill accounted for over half of Patrick Mahomes air yards (50.7%), with the duo gaining most of their production downfield.— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) November 30, 2020
Mahomes to Hill (10+ Air Yards)
➤ 6/7, 217 yards, 3 TD (+43.6% CPOE)#KCvsTB | #ChiefsKingdom pic.twitter.com/nga2Mc85Fb
If there was ever an offense that best epitomizes a “pick your poison” group, it’s this Chiefs unit. Mahomes, a leading MVP candidate, can make every throw at every level—and he’s among the best at buying time with his legs. His receiving corps, headlined by Hill and Kelce (who’s on pace to become the first tight end to ever record five consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons) challenges defenses in ways that are incomparable to any other group in the league. As The Ringer’s Nora Princiotti recently noted, the Chiefs are just as dangerous this season as they’ve ever been, even if they aren’t as flashy. Kansas City may have only barely squeaked by the Raiders in prime time last week, but it had little problem jumping out to a 17-0 lead against Tampa Bay on Sunday.
The Chiefs defense played a massive role in helping establish the early lead, forcing punts on each of the Bucs’ first four possessions. Brady had a decent day pushing the ball downfield, but the chemistry issues that have been apparent in Tampa Bay’s offense since Week 1 are still affecting the team early in games and in crucial spots. Brady finished the day 27-for-41 with 345 yards and three touchdowns. But he threw two interceptions—one on a deep throw intended for Scotty Miller, and another on a deflected throw to Mike Evans in the face of a Chiefs blitz.
It’s Week 12, so it’s concerning that the Bucs still appear to be figuring things out. Brady was seen on the sideline talking over his interception with Evans and also had to walk outside of the tackle box to explain something to receiver Antonio Brown on another play.
The window of opportunity for Tampa Bay to win was always slim, but it’s shrunk dramatically since Brady signed. Now, at 7-5 and trailing the Saints by two and a half games in the NFC South, the Bucs aren’t in strong contention to finish atop the conference standings. Meanwhile, the Chiefs continue their march through the NFL, appearing as tough as ever. Perhaps we should be concerned about how Kansas City performed in the red zone (0-for-3, settling for two field goals and fumbling once), and how three consecutive possessions resulted in punts, allowing the Bucs to pull within three points with four minutes left. But even when the games get tight, the Chiefs keep winning.
At 10-1, Kansas City remains within reach of the AFC’s no. 1 seed. As the calendar flips to December, it still seems that Mahomes and Co. will dictate what becomes of their season, regardless of who stands in their way.