TAMPA — Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill had an answer for why he didn’t add on much after torching the Bucs for 203 yards on seven catches, two for touchdowns, in the first quarter of their Nov. 29 meeting.
“I just got tired, man,” Hill said last week. “I just got tired of running.”
Hill apparently was kidding — “No, let me stop,” he said — as he quickly reversed field to say the tactical changes by the Bucs defense were what kept him from having an even bigger day in Kansas City’s 27-24 win.
“For real, though, Todd Bowles is a great defensive coordinator,” Hill said on a media Zoom call. “He’s been doing it for a long time, so I’m sure he’s seen guys like me throughout his career. Him just being able to dial up Cover-2s, Cover-55 Strongs and things like that just to slow me down. Also, putting (cornerback) Carlton Davis on me, slowing me down, then bringing the safety over the top a little bit to double me and (tight end Travis) Kelce. That kind of slowed us down a lot.
“Plus, their front seven is tremendous. Once they get clicking on defense, they’re a great defense. (Inside linebacker) Devin White flying around the field. So they’re great, man. I just feel like I got lucky. I was able to just get open.”
The true answer is somewhere between getting tired and getting lucky.
And the real key to Super Bowl 55 on Sunday may be how the teams adjust to what happened in that first meeting nine weeks ago.
There were important takeaways for both teams.
For the Bucs, it was seeing in real-time how explosive and elusive the Chiefs can be as they raced to a 17-0 first-quarter lead. Patrick Mahomes threw for 462 yards overall, connecting with eight different receivers. They have to figure out how to at least slow down Kansas City’s offense a bit.
For the Chiefs, it was being reminded that Tom Brady is still Tom Brady, as the Bucs seemed to discover the play-action, deep-passing game their offense had been missing. With the benefit of the work put in during the ensuing bye week, Tampa Bay has gone 7-0 since that loss.
“If I remember correctly, I don’t think I was too happy after the Tampa Bay game,” Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “Obviously, we gave up some big plays. Most of those things were technique things, things that we can clean up. So it’s all about us just going back over the details, going back over the little things.”
There was a bigger thing, too, though.
“Understanding that we’re playing against Tom Brady,” Mathieu said. “And it’s going to take four quarters to kind of put this guy away. Doesn’t matter how many points we’re up by, what the situation is going into the second half.
“We’ve got to find a way to kind of close the door on Tom, because he’s always shown the ability to put his team back in the game. So it was a learning experience for us. And hopefully we’ve learned from it and we’ll be ready to roll next time around.”
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Defensive tackle Chris Jones, who has exchanged trash-talk with Brady on the field, had nice things to say about what the Bucs have done since the Week 12 meeting at Raymond James Stadium.
“I think when they played us, they kind of readjusted some things,” Jones said. “They had a week off and had a lot of guys get acclimated to the system, what Tom Brady likes and the coach.
“They’ve been playing well, especially the later part in the season. They went down to New Orleans and sealed the job on them. Then they went to Green Bay, who was the No. 1 offense, and played outstanding. They’re definitely a different team from when we played them a couple weeks ago.”
Much of the talk leading up to the Super Bowl will be about Brady and the improvement of the Bucs’ offense, especially in terms of how well it is mixing the run and pass games.
“A lot of those guys, it’s the first time playing together, and I think great things take time,” Mathieu said. “Those guys have been able to kind of settle in, create some familiarity with one another. And they’ve got two running backs that can really run the football well. That can only add to the play-action deep shots down the field. Those wide receivers seem really comfortable now with Brady.”
But the more relevant issue may whether the Bucs’ defense can slow Mahomes.
A key part of that will be how well their defensive front four can take advantage of the injuries that have caused further shuffling of the Chiefs’ offensive line — left tackle Eric Fisher (torn Achilles tendon) was the latest to be sidelined — to disrupt the offensive flow.
“They’re impressive,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid. “That group is playing at a very high level. You saw that with their front against Green Bay; they put constant pressure there on Aaron (Rodgers).
“Our guys are working hard to make sure fundamentally we’re sound and schematically we’re sound. You’re right, we have to just make sure we keep it tight there and (get) good protection, run the ball well. Those things are important.”
Mahomes knows what he’s up against.
“They have a really good defense in general,” he said. “Obviously, the front is special at every single position, but their whole entire defense, they make a lot of plays. So for us, you have to have trust in those guys up front, they work their tail off just like everybody else. I felt like they’ve done a great job all year of going against a lot of good defensive fronts.
“For me, I’ve got to get the ball out of my hand in whatever way possible and not let those guys kind of destroy the game. You want to make sure you get it to our playmakers in space and try to see if we can make some plays happen.”
Then, hope Hill doesn’t get winded.
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