Tom Brady floundered for most of Sunday’s game against Kansas City’s incandescent quarterback, Patrick Mahomes. If the game was seen by some as a chance for a passing of the torch from one quarterback to another, from an N.F.L. legend to his heir apparent, that torch — if passed by Brady at least — very likely would have been intercepted.
But Brady, after being picked off on successive drives late in the third quarter, rallied his still maturing Buccaneers in the fourth quarter with two touchdown passes that pulled Tampa Bay to within 3 points of the high-flying Chiefs. At that moment, it seemed as if the latest of Brady’s famed comebacks might have been in the offing.
But the inconsistent Buccaneers are as far from the old days of Brady’s New England Patriots dynasty as Tampa is from Foxborough, Mass.
Just as relevant, it was the unrivaled Mahomes, who each season takes his game to another level, in the opposing huddle. He coolly led the visiting Chiefs to three routine first downs in the closing minutes to cinch an entertaining 27-24 victory.
Fittingly, the last Kansas City dagger was an 8-yard pass from Mahomes to Tyreek Hill, who terrorized Tampa Bay with 13 receptions for 269 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns. Then, after the game, in a nod to just how high the expectations are for the defending N.F.L. champion Chiefs (10-1), they welcomed talk about how Sunday’s victory at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium — site of this season’s Super Bowl — might help make it easier to win back-to-back championships.
“Man, I hope so, and we did get a familiarity with the stadium, the hotel, the city,” said Mahomes, who passed for 359 yards in the first half and added another 103 yards in the second. “If you get to the Super Bowl, you know you’ve been in this place and beat a good team.”
Kansas City Coach Andy Reid was not making any Super Bowl comparisons, but he did compliment his team for a second consecutive road victory against a playoff contender. On Nov. 22, the Chiefs vanquished the Las Vegas Raiders, the only team that has beaten Kansas City in 2020.
“It was a step forward for our guys, particularly after an emotional game like the Raiders game,” Reid said. “You’ve got to be able to do those things.”
Indeed, the game felt a bit like a meaningful crossroads for both teams. The Chiefs made it plain that they are N.F.L. elite of the highest order, in a class that few of their rivals can match, especially offensively.
Or as Mahomes said Sunday, “We have so many weapons it’s hard for a team to take them all away.”
As for Tampa Bay (7-5), early this season, their defense was a strength against the run and the pass, but opponents have since found ways to move the ball through the air. In a pass-happy league, it will be tough for the Buccaneers to make an extended playoff run — if they make the playoffs — without more cohesive play by their secondary.
Tampa Bay Coach Bruce Arians, however, wondered if his team would see any quarterback as gifted as Mahomes, unless it is in the Super Bowl.
“Very few guys I’ve ever seen in this league, or any league, can backpedal eight, nine, 10 or 11 yards in the pocket and throw a dime 25 yards down the field,” Arians said of Mahomes. “He has an unbelievable skill set. We had a lot of good rushers on him and he just keeps backpedaling away and slings it sidearm or whatever, and he can read the defense as he does it, which makes him even more explosive. It’s very frustrating.”
Asked if Mahomes might inspire Reid, 62, to extend his career, Arians joked that “Andy is going to be coaching until he’s about 80.”
Tampa Bay fell behind by 17-0 in the first quarter largely because they allowed cornerback Carlton Davis, who was playing for the injured starter Jamel Dean, the Buccaneers’ fastest player, to try to defend Hill in man-to-man coverage with no help from a deep safety. Hill first caught a 75-yard touchdown pass down the right sideline, and on the Chiefs next possession he ran away from Davis for a 44-yard touchdown reception. Hill’s 20-yard touchdown catch midway through the third quarter put Kansas City ahead, 27-10.
“We don’t get a lot of that,” Mahomes said of the single coverage Hill received, “especially with that guy and his ability. And when we get it, we try to take advantage of it.”
Brady regained some of his old form in the final quarter by connecting with tight end Rob Gronkowski, who had six catches for 106 receiving yards. Brady, who completed 27 of 41 passes for 345 yards, then cut the Kansas City lead to 27-17 with a precisely thrown 31-yard touchdown to wide receiver Mike Evans. Evans’s second touchdown of the game, a 7-yarder, made it a 3-point game with 4 minutes 10 seconds remaining. But Mahomes twice scrambled for first downs on the Chiefs’ final drive, and boldly threw on occasion as well as Kansas City closed out its victory.
Asked about his aggressiveness in the waning seconds, Reid said: “I learned a long time ago that you don’t give the ball back to Tom Brady. Don’t give him a shot.”