“Yeah, we spent a full day on that campus,” Payton said of his 2017 pre-draft visit to Texas Tech, having flown into Lubbock on the owner’s jet with a handful of assistants. “We came away from there, like, just blown away. Impressed. I know I made the comment that is the best quarterback, the best college quarterback I’ve ever evaluated.”
On Wednesday, in an appearance on ESPN’s Keyshawn, JWill & Zubin Show, Smith was asked if the players’ union would agree to move the Super Bowl if either Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes or Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady were to test positive for COVID-19 ahead of the game.
“I don’t see any scenario where we would agree with the league to move the Super Bowl,” Smith said. “I mean, look, we’ve had a difficult season. We’ve had teams in Cleveland, where I think JC Tretter, our union president, was breaking down film because they didn’t have a coach; we saw the Denver Broncos head into a [game] without a number of quarterbacks. I think it wouldn’t be fair to the rigor and the discipline that we’ve insisted that players have this year to move the Super Bowl. My hope, and certainly everybody’s hope, is that our players will continue to double down, do the great job that they’ve done all season, and we’ll get this fantastic game kicked off on time.”
This was the game that shaped Veach’s idea of what a football player should be. The key, he said, is bottling everything he felt in that moment, about the enormity of football, and carrying it with him into everything he did. “So you take that mindset as an 8-year-old, thinking football is the most important thing and it slowly transforms your approach to your craft,” he said. “To say ‘I’m not just good at something, this is more of who I am.’ When you look for players like that, you see the resemblance [to that attitude]. Pat Mahomes, this is who he is. Tyrann Mathieu, this is who he is. They embrace the whole process; they embrace coming into the building; they embrace meeting new people; they embrace the grind, all the dedication it takes. So when you see players pop up on our roster like Patrick or an Anthony Hitchens, or a Tyrann Mathieu, that probably starts from that.”
That year was also Rob Gronkowski’s second NFL season, when Gronk became a household name. He had 1,327 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns in 2011, both single-season records for a tight end. He seemed unstoppable because of the mismatches he created: He was too fast for linebackers and too big and strong for safeties. He was still an excellent in-line blocker—the traditional role of the “Y” tight end—but could line up in multiple spots in any formation. New England had been successful for years using slot receivers like Wes Welker to manipulate the middle of the field. Eventually, it started experimenting by lining up a bigger player—often Gronkowski—in the same space. There was little he couldn’t do.
When Kelce watched Gronkowski that season, he saw a prototype for how to unleash an exceptional tight end all over the field. He saw a role that looked as satisfying and impactful as his dual-threat quarterbacking days in high school.
“When I moved to tight end, he was the staple,” Kelce said Monday. “He was up-and-coming and had made his mark in the NFL as a young player, and his dominance fueled me to be able to have that much impact in a football game.”
Can the offensive line save its best performance for when it matters most?
The offensive line is easily the most improved unit from the 2019 season and in fact, this may go down as the best offensive line in Bucs history. And what’s even more impressive is the unit has been just as effective without starting right guard Alex Cappa in the lineup for the last two games.
But as great as the pass protection has been and as effective as the run blocking has been, the Bucs offensive line will need to have its best game of the season on Sunday.
That’s because Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is going to have some intense, diverse, and effective blitz packages dialed up for the Bucs.
Spags went blitz-heavy on the Bucs in Week 12 and it paid off. Tampa Bay was held to 10 points in the first half and scored just one touchdown through the first eight drives of the game. Brady’s 0.11 EPA/att was his sixth-lowest mark of the year and he was picked off twice.
Both of those interceptions happened because Spagnuolo blitzed the crap out of Brady and the Bucs offense.
But even making a repeat appearance in a Super Bowl is unusual. The Chiefs are the fourth team in the past 20 years to participate in at least two straight championship games.
That’s some history the Chiefs are fighting.
“It’s just historically an enormous challenge for teams to come back, and there’s a lot of obvious reasons why,” said Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who should know based on his team’s own history. The Seahawks won Super Bowl XLVIII over the Denver Broncos and were deprived of a second straight title when the Patriots intercepted a pass at the goal line in the final seconds following the 2014 season.
“You think, ‘[We] won one year; why wouldn’t you win the next year, too?’ It’s almost easier to get there and win it than it is to come back and do it the second time around. It’s because of the shift that takes place once you win, and all that goes on through those months of the offseason and the buildup and then the anticipation going through the start of the year, all of the stories and the storylines and the scenarios and all of that, and the mentality of the players and what they’ve just accomplished.
Round 1 - Pick 32
Walker Little OL
We haven’t seen Little on a football field since early 2019, but he was a big recruit and looked the part of a future first-round pick before going down with injury at Stanford. Good long-term tackle option for Kansas City.
Around the NFL
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
1 - Aaron Rodgers
Green Bay Packers · QB
(28 votes: Baldinger, Battista, Bergman, Bhanpuri, Blair, Brandt, Carr, Casserly, Chadiha, Filice, Frelund, Grant, Hall, Hanzus, Jones-Drew, Lewis, Mariucci, McGinest, O’Hara, Parr, Patra, Pioli, Ross, Sessler, Shook, Smith, Thomas, Zierlein)
2) Patrick Mahomes (4 votes: Burleson, Cersosimo, Rank, Rosenthal)
3) Derrick Henry (1 vote: Davis)
Why Judy Battista chose Aaron Rodgers: Rodgers’ regular season — remember, that is what is being honored here — was simply out of this world. He led the league in completion percentage (70.7 percent), passing touchdowns (48), interception percentage (a microscopic 0.95 with just five interceptions in 526 pass attempts) and quarterback rating (121.5). His rating was the second-best EVER, behind only himself in 2011 (122.5). Even the mesmerizing Mahomes, who will win many more MVPs in his career, took a back seat to Rodgers this time.
“We had a great exposure for one year with Jameis Winston,” Payton said. “We didn’t have a normal offseason, but we had enough time to see what we had with him as a player, as a leader, as an athlete. I really like what we had a chance to see. He was a tremendous leader for this team, and that’s hard to do when you come in new in free agency your first year as a backup quarterback. So that’ll be an important checkmark for us.
“A lot of times you want to hold your cards closer to the vest, and he is a free agent, but him along with Taysom Hill, who’s in the building, we’ve said it all along, we’re going to develop and coach those guys. Jameis is one of those guys that we have a big interest in.”
In case you missed it on Arrowhead Pride
The Chiefs were behind the 8 ball with their offensive line group before the season began. The one position Kansas City could least afford to lose players (besides Patrick Mahomes, of course) was the position that fell victim to the rigors of an NFL season. Three starters from the Chiefs’ Week 1 game will not line up for the Super Bowl.
The Chiefs have pieced together an offensive line for the majority of the season without starting guard Kelechi Osemele and All-Pro right tackle Mitchell Schwartz. The cruel realities of football popped up yet again late in the AFC championship game when Pro Bowl left tackle Eric Fisher came down with an Achilles injury that ended his season one game short of the ultimate goal and placed at least a portion of next year in question.
The Chiefs will be on their fourth and fifth options at tackle heading into the biggest game in the sport. Mike Remmers signed for the veteran minimum this offseason and has had to play significant snaps at right tackle this season. He will likely move to the left side on Sunday. Former undrafted free agent Andrew Wylie is slated to kick outside from his right guard position to play right tackle.