Patrick Mahomes’ diving near-TD pass was a microcosm of Chiefs’ Super Bowl 55 loss

Patrick Mahomes’ body, for the briefest of moments, was parallel to the Raymond James Stadium grass. It was at that instant that he needed to unleash a pass, too, in order to avoid a sack.

Like maybe only Mahomes could, he didn’t just throw the ball. He uncorked a rocket of a sidearm pass 30 yards downfield, heading right toward the front line of the end zone. Waiting there was running back Darrel Williams. Instead of grabbing a touchdown, one that would’ve been one of the craziest in Super Bowl history, Williams let the ball slip through his hands and bounce right off his facemask.

In many ways, that Mahomes fourth-down incompletion summed up the Chiefs’ night in a 31-9 loss to the Buccaneers in Super Bowl 55, a defeat in which Mahomes failed to throw a TD for the fifth time in his NFL career. Mahomes was almost immediately pressured by the Buccaneers’ dominant defensive front. Despite the near-constant heat, Mahomes scrambled and made something out of nothing. But even after Mahomes did everything he could, his pass-catcher let him down. It was far from the only time.

The drops started early. The Buccaneers took a 7-3 lead on a late first quarter touchdown from Rob Gronkowski, and the Chiefs had a chance to answer. Mahomes evaded pressure on third down before letting an off-balance toss go toward Kelce. The normally sure-handed tight end dropped it. Tyreek Hill had a drive-killing drop in the first half, too.

Mahomes needed his receivers to pick him up because of how much he was forced to leave the pocket. The Chiefs have been down their starting right tackle, Mitchell Schwartz, since the first half of the season, but left tackle Eric Fisher injured his Achilles in the AFC title game and missed the Super Bowl, too. Backup linemen weren’t the answer for Tampa Bay’s strong pass rush.

Ndamukong Suh got 1.5 sacks. Shaq Barrett added 1.0, and Vita Vea helped Suh on a combined sack. But it was to Mahomes’ credit that he was only sacked thrice. He near-constantly left the pocket in pursuit of greener pastures, often releasing a throw at the last possible instant from a position on the field Tom Brady didn’t need to even consider all game. Mahomes ended up pressured on 29-of-56 dropbacks, the most in Super Bowl history, according to ESPN.

Check out this graphic. It shows where quarterbacks were forced to move on pass plays. Mahomes’ lines are the top, basically from sideline to sideline. Brady’s are just a tiny in-the-pocket clump.

Mahomes, for basically his whole football life, has been able to create plays that other quarterbacks wouldn’t dream of. It’s how he won NFL MVP in 2018 and Super Bowl MVP in February 2020 as the Chiefs beat the 49ers. Even under pressure, Mahomes can make good things happen.

Against the Buccaneers, Mahomes was under even more pressure than usual. On an early incompletion, Barrett came sprinting into the backfield untouched by a blocker, and it didn’t get better from there. By the end of the game, Mahomes could only be bailed out from another sack by a huge hit to his head that resulted in a penalty flag. 

The Chiefs needed only one or two of those magical Mahomes moments to turn into completions for the game’s momentum to start swinging. Even that Williams drop came early in the fourth quarter. A score there would’ve made it a two-possession game (with some two-point conversions involved). Hope was still in the cards at that point.

Instead, dreams of a repeat bounced away as the ball bounced off Williams’ facemask. Mahomes, like he so often does, had done everything he could to give the Chiefs a chance. The only difference was this time, fighting more of an uphill battle than usual, it wasn’t nearly enough. 

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