What Kansas City Chiefs, Tampa Bay Bucs can learn from regular-season meeting that could impact Super Bowl 55
And so they meet again.
Ten weeks after their regular-season showdown at Raymond James Stadium, the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers will run it back one more time — this time with the Lombardi Trophy on the line.
That initial matchup was billed as a potential Super Bowl preview, and those predictions have come true.
The Chiefs won that game 27-24, but the final score didn’t reflect how thoroughly the visitors had handled the Bucs, dominating in every major statistical category.
But this is a different Tampa Bay team than the one the Chiefs faced that Thanksgiving weekend. At the time, Tom Brady and the Bucs had yet to fully work out the kinks of their new union, and the loss to the Chiefs marked Tampa Bay’s third in four games.
Kansas City looked every bit a contender; Tampa Bay, not so much.
Now as each team prepares for the rematch, they have several key lessons they can draw upon to increase their chances of success in Super Bowl 55.
Start better: The Buccaneers had an awful first half in Week 12, offensively and defensively. They struggled to move the ball, converting just one of five third downs. Their defense was porous. Patrick Mahomes had 359 passing yards and two touchdowns in the first half alone, and Tyreek Hill had eight catches for 210 yards and two touchdowns — in the first half alone. The Chiefs jumped out to a 17-0 lead, and not until late in the second quarter did Tampa Bay finally find the end zone.
This time around, the Buccaneers have to have a better game plan. They can’t let Mahomes settle into such a great rhythm. The can’t let Hill run freely through the secondary. And, to help limit the Chiefs offensively, the Bucs need to extend drives.
Last time around, Kansas City dominated time of possession 36:47 to 23:13.
“When you play a good offense like that, we’ve got to do a better job and keep them off the field,” Brady said at the time. “We’re going to get back to work and try to do a lot better job last quarter of the season.”
Tampa Bay did do just that, emerging from its bye week with a greater execution on both sides of the ball, winning four straight to close out the season while outscoring opponents on average 37-18.
Protect better: Some of the Bucs’ early offensive ineffectiveness had to do with their inability to protect Brady. They struggled dealing with the Chiefs’ Cover-0 blitz. Brady was sacked just once but hit eight other times and intercepted twice. Tampa has since done a better job giving Brady extra protection, which will be paramount this time around.
Avoid mistakes: Brady and the Bucs certainly got off to a strong start in the NFC championship. They had an aggressive game plan, and the quarterback threw three first-half touchdown passes. But their effectiveness waned in the second half as Brady threw three interceptions — two off the hands of receivers, and one off an underthrown desperation heave with a heavy blitz coming.
Brady can thank the Bucs defense for limiting Green Bay to just six points off turnovers. Otherwise, Tampa very well could have lost. It’s far easier to disrupt the Packers offense than it is the diverse and deep KC attack.
Remain aggressive: The Chiefs should have beaten their Week 12 hosts by more than just three points. They had as many first-half yards as some teams manage in an entire game. But after scoring 20 points in the first half, they managed only seven in the second.
Sometimes the Chiefs slip into lulls where they almost seem bored, and then once under pressure, they roar to life again. Other times we’ve seen them start slow and need a ferocious effort to dig their way out of a hole. No deficit ever seems too great for this squad. But they’ll be facing a highly motivated Bucs team that’s much more comfortable in its identity and execution than it was in Week 12. The Chiefs will not want to mess around.
Be smart: The Chiefs have an ability to score in so many ways, but sometimes they get a little too creative and limit their potential.
They’re good. They know it, but they don’t need to overthink things as they have at times.
There was a red zone trip early in the Week 12 meeting where despite reaching the 1, Kansas City came away with only three points because a gimmick play that called for tight end Travis Kelce to throw an option pass back to Mahomes fell incomplete. The Chiefs wound up shrugging off the missed opportunity, but faced with higher stakes, they’ll have to strike a balance. Trickery is great, and Lord knows they have the resources to score in just about every way imaginable. But missed opportunities inside the red zone could prove costly.
Another example of being too creative: the divisional playoff game where that option run for Mahomes knocked the quarterback out of the game. Kansas City can’t afford a repeat. A Chad Henne-led offense held on just enough to beat Cleveland. But Brady and his potent cast of characters are a little more dangerous than the Browns. Keeping Mahomes healthy and dealing is priority No. 1.