Random thoughts on Super Bowl LV

Steve Spagnuolo did not have the cheat code to beat Tom Brady.

Before the game we heard ad nauseum about how Steve Spagnuolo was so great versus Tom Brady & how his defense strategy was the key to beating Brady.  Once the game started, it was pretty easy to see that Spags had not brought Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora, Fred Robbins, & Justin Tuck in their prime to rush Brady.  A great chef still needs good ingredients & a less talented chef can look better if they have the best quality ingredients.  I would like to think this would stick a wooden steak through the heart of that argument, but I doubt it.

The Chiefs were called for lots of penalties because they deserved them.

There was a lot of whining about the disparity between penalties called on each team along with some not too subtle comments that Brady always gets the calls.  To the latter point, I think it is clear that the NFL would like Patrick Mahomes to be the new face of the league, so if there were any kind of conspiracy to promote a player, I think it would have been Mahomes.  The truth is that the Chiefs’ defensive backs were called for holding or interference multiple times because they held almost every time.  On the first defensive holding call against Breeland they also showed holding by the DB on the other side of the field. 

Bashaud Breeland’s penalty with about 20 seconds to go in the 1st half was flagrant.  Mike Evans blew by him & as he was losing contact Breeland tripped him.  He basically tackled him.  There was concern about whether Brady had overthrown Evans (making it an uncatchable ball & no penalty).  There really isn’t a way to know.  If he did, it wouldn’t have been by much. Mike Evans is fast and was running all out in the Super Bowl.  I tend to think he would have laid out & caught it.  I certainly wouldn’t have bet against him & Breeland didn’t.  He knew he was beat & he tripped up Evans to keep him from scoring.  It was actually a smart move on his part because he thought Evans was about to beat him for a touchdown.

Tony Romo mentioned more than once that the Chiefs held on every play. This looked like a case where they were coached to hold on every play because the referees wouldn’t call it on every play.  Then they griped when they called it every now & then.  A better defensive backfield wouldn’t have gotten so many penalties because they wouldn’t have had to violate the rules so frequently.  “Let them play” shouldn’t mean “let them cheat.”

Along those lines, on the Bucs 1st drive there was an egregious face mask on Leonard Fournette with no call.  If that had been called, they would have had a first down & might have scored.  The outmatched Kansas City offensive line was holding regularly & it generally wasn’t called. There is no evidence that the results were influenced by ticky tacky penalties.  Realistically, if every Chiefs’ penalty had been called, it would have been more of a blowout.

Chris Jones punching Ryan Jensen was a stupid penalty.

At the end of a play in the 2nd quarter, Center Ryan Jensen gave Chris Jones a push after the whistle.  Defensive tackle Chris Jones retaliated by taking a swing at Jensen’s head. Jones was caught & the unnecessary roughness penalty eventually allowed the Buccaneers to retain possession & kick a field goal.

Aside from the whole part where the guy who responds is usually the guy who is penalized, this was a stupid move.  I think this every time I see a player punch or attempt to punch another player in the head.  What’s their best-case scenario there?  If you land a punch to the helmet that is hard enough to injure the player, it will definitely be hard enough to break your fingers.  You aren’t going to accomplish anything & if you are penalized, you hurt the team & probably your pocketbook with a fine.  It seems like the thing to do is take that anger out on the next play.

One more penalty thing.

Antoine Winfield Jr.  was penalized & then fined $7,815.00 for flashing the peace sign at Tyreek Hill.  It came with 4:06 left to play in the game after he broke up a 4th down pass intended for Hill.  On the one hand, that’s fair.  It was clearly taunting.  On the other hand, it is absolute BS.  In their game 12 meeting Hill flashed the peace sign at Winfield Jr. when he scored a touchdown against him.  How is it a flag & a fine for one player to make the exact same gesture as another player who consistently does it & isn’t fined.  The NFL either needs to enforce the rules the same way for both players or it needs to change the rule.  It didn’t make an impact on the game & the fine won’t be noticed in his wallet, but it is blatantly unfair.

Gronk!

There was hard promotion of Travis Kelce as the dominant tight end in the league in the run up to the game.  During the game though, the most dominant tight end was Rob Gronkowski. If you just look at the stats, Kelce recorded 133 yards to Gronkowski’s 67.  That doesn’t tell the story though.  Aside from the two touchdown receptions, his blocking was great as well. There were multiple times where he was the lead block on the defensive end. Kelce won’t do that. Kelce racked up some yards in garbage time with the Buc’s defense dropping back to prevent long plays to force the Chiefs to burn time with long drives.  When it mattered though he dropped a key pass & was pretty quiet.  Lavonte David was great covering Kelce. 

Gronkowski is obviously much closer to the end of his career, but for that day at least there was no question of who the best tight end on the field was.  His 2 touchdowns tied him with Jerry Rice as the only 2 players to catch 2 touchdowns in more than 1 Super Bowl.  The first touchdown he caught pushed Brady/Gronkowski past Montana/Rice for most touchdowns in the playoffs between a quarterback/receiver duo. 

Patrick Mahomes’ ability to throw off script is amazing, but sometimes betrays him.

Anyone who saw Mahomes’ crazy scramble & throw as he was falling to the ground in the 4th quarter had to be impressed.  It isn’t often that an incomplete pass is shows in the highlights, but when a quarterback manages to throw the ball 30 yards while falling down & hit the receiver in the face, it’s a highlight!  Unfortunately for the Chiefs, the ball bounced off running back Darrel Williams’ face mask.

What didn’t make most of the highlight shows was how his reliance on sidearm passes hurt him.  There were multiple sidearm throws that were knocked down that could have been completed if he had used a traditional throwing method. One by Jason Pierre Paul at the end of the 1st quarter really stands out.  Sometimes take the layup instead of going for style points.

I wish both quarterbacks had been 100% healthy.

We knew going into the game that Mahomes had a turf toe injury.  It didn’t really seem to hurt his mobility, but it had to hurt every time he ran & he was running for his life for much of the game.  What we didn’t know was that Brady had issues as well.  He ended up having knee surgery after the season.  It is probably impossible for a starting quarterback to make it to the end of a season in perfect health.  I guess we should be happy that we got 2 great quarterbacks in this game & didn’t have some kind of crazy COVID -19 induced Blaine Gabbert versus Chad Henne matchup. 

The Buccaneers could have scored more & they weren’t carried by the defense.

One of the takes I have seen after the game is that it was just the Buccaneers’ defense & that Brady & the offense were along for the ride.  This is a terrible misread of the dynamics of the game.

The score was 28-9 halfway through the 3rd quarter. After that the Bucs were just burning clock. The next series the defense got a pick & the Bucs ended up with a field goal, partially because Jensen hiked the ball over Brady’s head. At that point there was 2:46 left in the 3rd quarter & the Bucs led 31-9. That’s game over for anyone except Brady versus the Falcons. The next time the Bucs got the ball back there were only 13:33 minutes left.  Everyone threw a fit about the Falcons continuing to pass with a big lead in the Super Bowl.  In their cases they kind of had to because their running game wasn’t effective.  For the Bucs, Leonard Fournette & Ronald Jones II were very efficient.  When you are up by 22 points with a quarter to play, you run the ball.  I think that if they had passed more, they could have scored more, but then you have the possibility of sacks or interceptions.  The smart thing to do was pound the ball & take time off the clock. Kansas City also got away with a hold around Gronk’s throat with 8:12 left in the 4th on 3rd down. It should have been a first down, but they had to punt. They probably could have picked up a first down on 4th down there if they had gone for it.

The Tampa defense played one of its best games of the season, but this was a team win.  The defense got good field position for the offense & they capitalized.  Brady might have racked up more passing yards, but when the defense gives you a short field & you score, you won’t have as many yards.  It’s pretty awesome though.  The offense also helped the defense.  In the second half the defense was able to come after Mahomes & back up their secondary.  They knew that if they kept the receivers in front of them, the Chiefs would have to make long time-consuming drives for touchdowns.  They had that freedom because they were working with the lead for most of the game because of the offense.  They also had confidence that if the game tightened up, the offense could turn it back on.  This wasn’t Jimmy Garoppolo & the 49’ers offense.  This was Tom Brady & an incredible collection of receivers.

If you doubt that they could have scored more, just look at the first half.  They were unstoppable except for a muffed snap for most of the half. They also had 4 scores in the last 3 minutes of the first half during the playoffs.  Every game! Had that ever happened?

Same thing, but specifically about Brady for Mike Florio

Brady posted a video after the Super Bowl with people talking during the season about how he was done & the Buccaneers wouldn’t make the playoffs.  It also featured commentators talking about how Gronkowski wasn’t any good anymore & Leonard Fournette was “already washed up” while showing them making touchdown to win the Super Bowl.

Mike Florio from Pro Football Talk responded, “Now do one with all the over-the-top media praise for the QB after a Super Bowl that was won by the defense.”   I have one question for him.  Does he think that the Bucs would have won the Super Bowl with Jameis Winston?  With Winston you get 7-9.  With Brady you get a Lombardi. 

Brady completed 80% of his passes in the first half with 3 touchdowns. That was the first time this ever happened in a Super Bowl. His passer rating for the game was 125.8

MVP voting

16 media member vote & their vote counts 80% of the total.  Fans can vote & that counts for 20%.  The vast majority of the votes are in well before the end of the game.  I think Peter King wrote that it was mostly wrapped up with about 12 minutes left in the game. Devin White’s interception came with 1:33 left, so the MVP vote was already in. If that had happened earlier, or no one could vote until after the game ended, I think maybe Devin White would have been the MVP.  There’s an argument that he deserved it even prior to that.  I think the issue here is that the defense as a whole played great but there wasn’t any crazy Larry Brown 2 interception style defender.  They could have split the award & given half to Devin White & maybe half to Lavonte David, but at that point you almost have to include half the defense & that isn’t how it works.  Quarterbacks get too much credit for wins & too much blame for losses, so it doesn’t kill me that Brady won.

Finally…

How about Byron Leftwich?

The fact that Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy didn’t get a head coaching job this year seems odd.  I know that people talk about him not calling plays, but others who don’t call plays have gotten jobs.  This became something of a cause célèbre in the two weeks proceeding the game, since African Americans are woefully underrepresented in the head coaching ranks, especially given the high percentage of African American players.

That being said, what about Byron Leftwich?  He does call plays.  Head Coach Bruce Arians has said that he might not have taken the job if Leftwich wasn’t available.  Despite Mike Florio, some people say, “well he had Brady.”  That’s true, but last year he had Jameis Winston & was able to get over 5,000 yards & 33 touchdowns out of him.  Of course, Winston’s 30 interceptions bought him a ticket out of town.  It was still impressive.  This season he was able to change his game plans to adapt to the skills of a new quarterback & you could basically see them learning to work together on the fly.  Whatever he did during their bye week alone should have been enough to get him some interviews!  They went from lost to unstoppable & didn’t lose another game.  Eric Bieniemy might deserve a head coaching gig, but if I were choosing someone & wanted an offensive minded coach, I don’t think I could do much better than Leftwich.  He may not have been a great quarterback, but he looks like a great coach.

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