TAMPA — When Bruce Arians learned the Bucs would play the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl 55, he wasn’t exactly doing backflips.
Not like Tyreek Hill, whose celebratory reverse tumble in the end zone highlighted his 269-yard receiving performance in the Chiefs’ 27-24 win over the Bucs in Week 12. In fact, 203 of those yards came in the first quarter.
The Bucs allowed 456 yards passing from Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes to fall to 7-5, their last loss of the season.
“I’m not really excited to play Tyreek Hill, (Travis) Kelce and (Patrick) Mahomes,” Arians said Monday. “That’s a formidable challenge, but our guys will be up for it.”
That wasn’t the case in November, when the Bucs fell behind 17-0 to the defending Super Bowl champions.
Hill exploited a poor game plan by Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowles that had defensive back Carlton Davis trying — and failing — to cover Hill one-on-one.
The Bucs defense played better in the second half, forcing the Chiefs to punt three times. But when Mahomes needed to keep the chains moving, he converted six of 12 times on third down.
“That game was one where I think we were down 17 (points) and then we came storming back,” Arians said. “Just couldn’t get the ball back. It should be a really good game. They’re a hell of a football team and they’re super well coached by Andy (Reid) and his whole crew — (Steve Spagnuolo) and everybody. (They have) great players, so it should be fun.”
Arians is right. The Bucs fought back on both sides of the ball. Linebacker Shaquil Barrett, who had three sacks Sunday at Green Bay, hit Mahomes and forced a fumble that was recovered by William Gholston.
The Bucs defense rebounded and intercepted Mahomes twice, but both plays were negated by penalties. Ndamukong Suh jumped offsides, and Jason Pierre-Paul was called for roughing the passer.
Brady passed for 345 yards and three touchdowns. It was his two interceptions in the third quarter that ended drives at the Chiefs’ 36- and 24-yard lines. It included a deflected pass and another that was underthrown to Scotty Miller under pressure.
In fact, Brady cut the Chiefs’ lead to a field goal with his 7-yard scoring strike to Mike Evans. The Bucs had 4:10 remaining in the game and two timeouts. Unfortunately, Mahomes ensured they never got the football back. He scrambled for two first downs and threw to Hill for another to end the game.
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Arians was frustrated that Brady never got the chance to bring the Bucs all the way back.
“Just not getting that ball back at the end and making a good comeback,” he said. “We’ll help a little bit more than we did in that ballgame. Again, you learn from mistakes (and) you learn from really good things, and there were some really good things in that game. We’ve got a lot of stuff to build on.”
The Chiefs’ offense runs through Hill and Kelce, who caught all eight passes thrown his way in that first meeting for 82 yards. Arians knows the Bucs will have to devise a good game plan to contain him, too.
“It’s really hard,” Arians said. “He reminds me a lot of Tony Gonzalez back when he was unbelievable just trying to stop him. He’s got wide receiver skills and he runs like a wide receiver. He runs routes like a wideout (and) he beats corners. It’s a hard, hard challenge, but (Bowles) will come up with some schemes. Again, we’ve got to get after the quarterback and we can’t let (Mahomes) run around and make those plays that he and Kelce do so well.”
The Bucs have won all three playoff games on the road this season, but they will be the home team in every way possible for Super Bowl 55 on Feb. 7. That includes being able to use their own locker room.
While you might think the Bucs would have a huge advantage playing in their home stadium, that’s not the case. Arians says the restrictions on traveling to the game will eliminate the long media sessions and having to relocate for the week.
“I think it really helps (Kansas City),” Arians said. “Normally when you get to town for Super Bowl, everybody’s pulling and tugging you — trying to get everything done the week before. Then, when you hit town, you’ve got all the media obligations and your practice and game plans are all put in. I think it’s a great advantage for them (because) it’s just an away game. They get to do their normal prep just like we do. Nobody’s going to get tied up in all that stuff.”