And then there were two. After running the gauntlet of the NFL field, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs emerged as champions of the NFC and AFC respectively. Each team has battled through different obstacles, but both have found themselves waiting to see who will make it through the finish line.
Tampa’s race for the Vince Lombardi Trophy became a realistic aspiration in March when they pulled off the monumental free-agent signing of six-time Super Bowl champion quarterback Tom Brady. From that point on, they were able to add running backs LeSean McCoy and Leonard Fournette and veteran tight end Rob Gronkowski to their already talented offense. As the season went on, they were able to build their chemistry and prepare for the pressure of the postseason.
In the final stretch of the regular season, they began firing on all cylinders. In their Wild Card round victory over the Washington Football Team, they were able to put up over 500 yards of offense including nearly 150 yards on the ground. This set up a rematch against their divisional foe, the New Orleans Saints, a team that they were winless against in the regular season. Against the Saints, Brady’s experience was on full display. Late in the game, Brady consistently made the right plays to keep their season alive.
In the NFC Championship, it was a full team effort as they upset the top-seeded Green Bay Packers. It began in the first half with the defense applying consistent pressure from linebackers Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul on Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Additionally, Brady found ways to strategically pick apart the defense. While arguments persist about who is greater between Brady and his former head coach, Bill Belichick, there is no denying that their time together played a role in the way Brady was able to read the defense in the first half and make stellar decisions.
The second half saw Rodgers and the Packers mount a comeback helped by both their defense and offense. Facing an 18-point deficit, they were able to work their way back into the game by forcing three interceptions and scoring two quick touchdowns. However, when it came down to a late goal-to-go situation, Tampa got the better of Green Bay and forced them to kick a questionable field goal. After running out the clock, the Buccaneers found themselves at the top of the NFC hierarchy.
On the other side, the Chiefs’ goal for this season can be summed up in one word: repeat. This year, they have been on a mission to defend their 2020 title. Ever since the Patrick Mahomes era began, their identity has been to play with speed and seek big plays. This idea, combined with their wide assortment of playmakers, resulted in them becoming a juggernaut, a true pick your poison offense. Their defense has further improved from last year and became one of the top defensive units in the league.
Their unique playing style led to them finishing the regular season with only two losses, with the second loss being one in which several key players rested. Due to his magic, in Mahomes’ last 25 starts, his team has won 24 games. This helped them to become the lone team in the AFC to have a first round bye.
The story of their Divisional Round victory over the Cleveland Browns was backup quarterback Chad Henne coming in and sealing the game. In that game, the brilliance and experience of head coach Andy Reid became the deciding factor. With the game on the line and facing a third and 14, Henne scrambled and cut it to fourth and one. Typically, in a fourth and short situation, teams opt to either run the ball or try to make the defense jump offside. Reid opted for none of the above and called a quick pass to wide receiver Tyreek Hill. Henne completed the pass and the Chiefs advanced to the AFC Championship for the third straight season. Chad Henne went from being a forgotten player in the league to saving the day for Kansas City.
The AFC Championship started off with the Chiefs in a two-possession hole.
An early-game deficit is nothing new for this team though. Kansas City has found themselves down by two scores in four of their last five playoff games but have come back each time to win in convincing fashion. They are never fazed by these deficits and score points at lightning speed to change the complexion of the game. A variety of players scored touchdowns and turned even the small plays into big gains. Before they knew it, the Buffalo Bills’ advantage quickly became a large Kansas City lead. Their comeback sent the Chiefs back to defend their title in the Super Bowl.
Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers against Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs is the type of game that has “instant classic” written all over it. This game represents more than just another Super Bowl. It is the handing of the baton as Brady is in the waning years of his illustrious career and Mahomes is set to be the next heir apparent in the story of legends.