FRISCO, Texas – Well, well, well.
The offensive line does matter after all, doesn’t it.
For two weeks leading up to Super Bowl LV, all we constantly heard was Mahomes vs. Brady, Mahomes vs. Brady, as if this was the start of the Australian Open.
As if there were not 10 other guys out there on the field with those two quarterbacks. As if those opposing defenses would not have a say in Sunday’s final game of the unprecedented 2020 NFL season.
And maybe the most egregious oversight in the thousand hours of analysis leading up to Sunday’s game at Raymond James Stadium between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was the Chiefs woefully injury-depleted offensive line facing off with the Bucs defensive strength – their Front Four, now worthy of some sort identifying moniker, like maybe the Bay Of Pirates after the Bucs’ 31-9 shredding of the Chiefs.
All they had to do for pre-clarification was punch up any number of people here at The Star, myself included, to explain how utterly devastating playing with a bunch of backup offensive linemen, and at times, backups to the backup, can be for an offense and the general good health of the poor sap having to play quarterback behind that mess.
Ask Dak Prescott.
Ask Andy Dalton.
Ask Ben DiNucci.
Ask Garrett Gilbert.
Heck, ask Ezekiel Elliott.
They can all tell you what it’s like having to play the majority of a 16-game season with an undrafted rookie free-agent backup right tackle starting 14 of 16 games. They can tell you what’s it’s like having to start an undrafted second-year guy with only two previous games of NFL experience nine games at left tackle and then your presumed veteran backup swing tackle another five games once healthy.
They can tell you what it’s like when having to start your presumed backup center for 12 games after your perennial Pro Bowler decides to retire in the offseason and then your rookie fourth-round draft starts those the other four games at center. Or to further compound the problem, forced to play your second-year guard with not a snap of NFL experience when your All-Pro guard goes down with a concussion for the better part of two games. Or then start said guard another seven games when forced to move your stabilizing veteran guard to tackle for but two games before losing him for the final five games with a debilitating calf injury.
Man, you think that doesn’t matter, just a huge one of many reasons for 6-10.
Young Patrick Mahomes barely lived to tell you it darn sure does, though was man enough to fall on his sword Sunday night as quarterbacks are known to do, throwing out some mumble-jumble about “lack of rhythm” and “not on the same page” B.S for that offensive power outage.
Why the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs were trying to go back-to-back for the ninth time in NFL history, last by New England in Super Bowls XXVIII and XXXIX, with only one starting offensive lineman, center Austin Reiter, in place for the entire season, having previously lost both starting guards, and then in the AFC Championship losing two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Eric Fisher to a ruptured Achilles, making it a clean sweep at the tackle spots, too.
You never want to do this, but the Chiefs ‘hands were forced for lack of depth, having to make three changes to cover Fisher’s loss, moving now starting backup right tackle Mike Remmers, on his ninth team in 11 seasons, to left tackle with only one career game of left tackle experience. Then move now starting guard Andrew Wylie, with only a partial game of tackle experience under his undrafted in 2017 belt, to right tackle. That then necessitating, an early-season veteran pickup Stefen Wisniewski to start at right guard, on his third team in three years, making his fourth start of the season, becoming the third different starting right guard for Kansas City.
Even prior to the game, Andy Reid admitted, “It’s one of the best defensive lines that we’ll be facing this year,” and then later added, “We’re not the prettiest bunch on the offensive line.”
After running for his life with a turf-toe injury likely in need of offseason surgery, Mahomes linked to a lie-detector test surely would second that motion.
Why getting sacked three times by the Bucs front four and hit another eight times was only part of Pat’s problems. He was pressured on 29 on 56 dropbacks, 52% to set an inauspicious NFL record for quarterback harassment.
So it’s no wonder last year’s Super Bowl MVP and the 2018 season’s NFL MVP completed just 26 of 49 attempts for 270 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions and a career-low 52.3 QB rating.
Mahomes would say after the game, “That’s the worst I’ve been beaten in a long time,” making reference to losing a game by more than one possession for the first time since losing 66-10 to Iowa State when back at Texas Tech on Nov. 19, 2016.
When first reading that quote, though, thought “beaten” meant physically.
My gosh, the guy could rarely set his feet to throw a pass. Worse, once the Chiefs fell behind and into third-down passing situations, Mahomes missed his first eight third-down attempts and finished just 4 of 12, 46 yards and an interception, a quite humble 11.1 third-down passing rating that was fourth worst in Super Bowl history.
Yeah, with the likes of Shaq Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul, Mr. Suh and William Gholston tearing through his drywall of an offensive front, the Chiefs would not score a touchdown for the first time since Mahomes and Reid hooked up in 2017, the Giants beating the Chiefs, 12-9, on Nov. 19, 2017. This from the top-ranked NFL offense this season that scored at least 30 points in half their games (473 total) and once more in the playoffs.
How bad was the protection?
Let the conqueror Tom Brady explain what Mahomes was going through while under siege the entire game.
“It’s almost impossible to play quarterback under duress like that, just the reality of football,” Brady said during the Monday morning MVP Zoom call with the media, along with Bucs head coach Bruce Arians. “Pat was doing as much as he could to make plays last night. He was running around, reversing field, doubling back, tripling back.
“In the end, it’s tough to do that consistently when you feel, God, every play for a six-yard gain I got to fire it in there, thread the needle between two guys, that’s tough to play like that.”
And while Brady was enjoying the time of day in the pocket, sacked just once and hurried only another two times, he also sang the praises of Tampa Bay’s defense, especially that front four, saying, “They played their asses off.”
They sure did, creating unquestioned chaos in Kansas City’s porous pocket.
A feeling the Cowboys experienced only too well.