It’s almost game day!
The Chiefs (16-2) are aiming for their second straight Super Bowl title when they face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (14-5) on Sunday.
Will they be able to pull off another title win, and go back to back?
Here’s what it will take:
1. They’ll have to rise to the occasion.
This one shouldn’t be hard.
“We won a lot of games this year off different guys making plays, offense, defense or special teams,” Chiefs linebacker Anthony Hitchens said in an Associated Press report. “I keep saying that. We find a way to win, and that’s what good teams do.”
Added backup quarterback Chad Henne, “This team is definitely resilient.”
Henne took over when Mahomes sustained a concussion in the divisional round against Cleveland, then threw an audacious pass in the final minutes to convert on fourth down that allowed Kansas City to run out the clock on a 22-17 victory.
“Down in some games in the fourth quarter, we come back to win,” Henne said. “Or the defense gets a big stop for us and we get the ball back with a chance to win, as well. (We’re) definitely resilient. Those tough games and the best shot we got from every team is definitely going to help push us through.”
As the AP report put it: “Therein lies the upshot of all those close games. The Chiefs are never nervous when things get tense.”
2. Patrick Mahomes will have to show up as his best self.
Again, there shouldn’t be too much of an issue here.
Another Associated Press story out this week delved into the topic of the all-time great quarterbacks: They all seem to have a deficiency. But not the Chiefs quarterback. There’s just about nothing he isn’t elite at.
“Mahomes checks so many boxes. It’s really hard to describe to people how special this guy is,” game analyst Tony Romo said. “I can’t think of somebody in history that you just go through and keep going because everyone has a weakness and you’re trying to find everyone’s weakness as an analyst or every team’s scheme weakness and figure it out. I really feel like he’s just the rare guy.”
There was some concern about a toe injury he had suffered in that Browns game, but Mahomes said earlier this week that he’s feeling close to 100%.
And if Mahomes is operating at 100% -- watch out, Buccaneers. He combines arm strength that rivals almost any peer, with the ability to scramble or make plays on the run, with the accuracy and decision making that limit crippling mistakes, with the poise under pressure and leadership that have helped lead the Kansas City Chiefs to their second straight Super Bowl appearance.
In his short time as a starting quarterback, Mahomes has put together perhaps the best three-year stretch of play the game has ever seen. Including the playoffs, he has thrown for 15,922 yards since the start of 2018 with 131 TD passes, while winning the 2018 AP MVP award and the Super Bowl MVP last season.
“ ... Mahomes is probably John Elway,” Bucs cornerbacks coach Kevin Ross said. “John Elway could sprint to his right or sprint to his left and throw the ball back across the field, 70 yards on a rope. Patrick has that ability. You can’t go to sleep on it. You really don’t know what it feels like until you actually go against it.”
3. The coaching.
Andy Reid is a players coach, and it’s helped his team come this far -- all the way to the big game, for a second year in a row.
“He’s got almost like a father figure kind of role in the building and it’s because everyone loves him so much,” Chiefs All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce said of Reid, in an AP report. “He’s got an unbelievable way of getting the best out of everybody that is relating to all different aspects and all different forms of life. ... This game is not won with one guy. That’s the beauty about the game is that that it takes everyone. Coach Reid does an unbelievable job of relating to everybody and getting the best out of everybody. And he’s the ultimate leader.”
“He knows how to get the best out of individuals and make them come together for one common cause,” said former three-time Pro Bowl defensive end Hugh Douglas, who played five seasons for Reid in Philadelphia.
Can Reid stop Bucs coach Bruce Arians and NFL’s winningest quarterback Tom Brady? It certainly looks like he has the tools in place.
4. Overcome potential problems on the line.
Late in Kansas City’s AFC Championship game victory vs. Buffalo, Chiefs starting offensive left tackle Eric Fisher left the game with an injury. Fisher has since been ruled out of the Super Bowl after suffering a torn Achilles tendon.
A left tackle is one of the most important players on the field because that position is tasked with protecting the blindside of the quarterback from oncoming pass rushers on the opposing defensive line. Kansas City was already missing its starting right tackle, Mitchell Schwartz, who has been out since Week 6 with a back injury, although the Chiefs have seemed to compensate just fine in his absence.
But ... will losing Fisher be a different story?
Veteran Mike Remmers will likely step into Fisher’s role as the starting left tackle, but no doubt, Tampa Bay will view it as a major opportunity.
5. Stop Brady.
This one almost goes without saying. Yes, he’s old, but he’s still sharper than ever.
Sunday’s game will almost be like, the quarterback of the past 20 years vs. the quarterback, potentially, of the next 20 years.
Brady looked strong throwing the deep ball vs. the Green Bay Packers. With all of his skills and Super Bowl experience -- Brady will be playing for his seventh ring -- who or what will be able to stop him, especially considering his crew of receivers and all the talent that surrounds him?
It could prove to be quite difficult, or easy, depending how things unfold this weekend.
This story used facts, figures and quotes from The Associated Press.