The Bucs nearly clawed back from an early 17-0 deficit when they hosted the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 13, ultimately falling 27-24 to the defending Super Bowl Champions.
Tampa Bay then limped into their bye week needing a change, dropping three of their previous four games to sit at 7-5 with just four games remaining. But with quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bruce Arians manning the ship, the Bucs changed course and have now rattled off a franchise-record seven consecutive victories since that loss to Kansas City – including two postseason victories over legendary quarterbacks in their own right along the way, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers – to find themselves on a collision course with the Chiefs in Raymond James Stadium once more, this time playing for the Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl LV.
“It was just a little bit of looking inside and knowing that this is a really good football team,” Arians said he told the team during their bye week. “We lost some close games to some really good teams and we have to find a way to win and it’s going to take everybody. There’s things that are going to happen but if everybody just digs a little bit deeper, we’ll figure out ways to win games and once we get going, we’re going to be hard to stop.
Now the Bucs face an interesting road leading up to the Super Bowl, becoming the first team in NFL history to play for a championship in their own home stadium. Arians spoke about the unique advantages that playing for a Super Bowl in their own back yard presents.
“I think the big advantage is that we stay in our own beds and sleep here and do our normal routines,” Arians said. “Nothing’s out of the ordinary until we hit the media sessions next week but everything else, just to be able to stay in your routine, sleep in your bed and all that stuff. I think it’s a huge advantage.”
But while Arians does point to certain advantages that a Super Bowl in Tampa provides, the continuity and lack of travel can only do some much when preparing to face the plethora of offensive weapons that have built the Chiefs into one of the most prolific offenses in recent memory over the past three seasons. Headlined by quarterback Patrick Mahomes, wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce, the Bucs will have to be at their best to overcome the seemingly unstoppable unit.
“You go back and you look at the game and what match-ups you had,” Arians said. “Familiarity helps but I’m not really excited to play Tyreek Hill and Kelce and Mahomes. That’s a formidable challenge but our guys will be up for it.”
While Kelce broke the record for receiving yards by a tight end in 2020, finishing the season with 1,416 and 115 catches over 15 games, he followed his regular season dominance by breaking the record for most catches in a Conference Championship game with 13 against Buffalo. Kelce and Hill also became the first teammates in history to each haul in over 100 receiving yards in back-to-back playoff games on Sunday, combining for 22 receptions, 290 receiving yards and two scores in the Chiefs’ 38-24 win over the Bills.
“It’s really hard,” Arians said about trying to contain Kelce. “He reminds me a lot of Tony Gonzalez back when he was unbelievable to try and stop because he’s got wide receiver skills and he runs like a wide receiver, he runs routes like a wide out, he beats corners. So it’s a hard, hard challenge but Todd [Bowles] will come up with some schemes. But again, we’ve got to get after the quarterback and we can’t let him run around and make those crazy plays that he and Kelce do so well.”
And once again looking back at the Bucs’ first match-up with Kansas City, a game in which Hill totaled seven receptions, 203 yards and two touchdowns in the first quarter alone, Arians remains steadfast that the Bucs ultimately did a lot of things well in that contest but more importantly took away a lot of learning experiences from the defeat.
“We’ll help a little bit more [on Hill in coverage] than we did in that ball game,” Arians said. “And again, you learn from mistakes and you learn from really good things and there were some really good things in that game so we’ve got a lot of stuff to build on.”
So as the preparation for Super Bowl LV begins, Arians and the Bucs are looking forward to their challenge and even more so a chance to keep the Lombardi Trophy in Tampa.
“It should be a great game, it should be a really good game,” Arians said. “They’re one hell of a football team and they’re super well-coached by Andy [Reid] and his whole crew, [defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo] and everybody, great players. It should be fun.