By Lenn Robbins
Writing about an offensive line the day the mercurial Patrick Mahomes and the magnificent Tom Brady compete for the pro football’s biggest prize is like going to the New York Auto Show and checking out the Winnebagos.
It’s a fine camper, I’m sure, but there’s a reason the canary yellow Maserati and the cherry red Ferrari are under spotlights in middle of the Javits Center and campers are by the coat check.
Of course, neither of those fine driving machines can haul an offensive line and the Chiefs certainly need a lift for their battered, bruised, depleted and patchwork offensive line that won’t hold up against Tampa Bay’s relentless defense.
The Bucs will smother the Chiefs run game and force Patrick Mahomes into two crucial mistakes to claim the franchise’s second Super Bowl victory. Final score: Bucs, 37-33 (41-37 if the rain holds off).
This isn’t to say Mahomes won’t have his moments. He’s simply too athletic and has too many weapons not to make a couple of penny arcade plays. But that line has been borrowing on credit all season long and the bill comes due this evening in Super Bowl LV (CBS, 6:30 p.m.) in Raymond James Stadium.
Consider this: The Chiefs offensive line, which lost starting left tackle Eric Fisher the former No.1 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft to a torn Achilles tendon in the AFC title game, will likely start this group against the NFL’s most potent defense:
Two undrafted players (LT Mike Remmers and RT Andrew Wylie), two 7th-round picks (C Austin Reiter and LG Nick Allegretti) and 2011 2nd-round pick, RG Steve Wisnieski, who is on his fifth team.
There should be an emergency device in the Chiefs O-Line meeting room: In case of emergency, break glass and pull handle.
“We have had guys shuffle in and out of the lineup,” Chiefs offensive line coach Andy Heck said at his pre-Super Bowl press conference. “To me — and this probably has been a bigger year for that — to me, it feels like something that’s a constant in this league. You always have seasons where you’ve got to, ‘Hey, next man up.’ You’ve got to move a guy here to there — so in that regard, this is not unusual.”
Heck is correct. Offensive lines almost always have to plug in players. It’s the reason why linemen who can swing inside and out will always have a job.
With a quarterback such as the matador known as Mahomes, who could frustrate a bull without using a red cape and lance, his line doesn’t have to hold up for long. He is the great compensator, covering for most breakdowns and leaving defensive coordinators wondering what went wrong.
But the Chiefs will be facing a defense that has been relentless since getting strafed by Mahomes in a 27-24 home loss on Nov. 29th. Mahomes completed 37-of-49 passes for 462 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
That was Tampa Bay’s last loss. They’ve won seven straight, allowing a meager 238.4 yards passing. And those seven wins came against quarterbacks named Matt Ryan (twice), Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers.
The Bucs, who led the league in rushing defense at 80.5 yards per game during the regular season, have continued that dominance in three postseason games allowing 85.7 yards. Their so good they’ve turned the reticent Todd Bowles into a quote machine.
‘They smell blood and they go after it,” said the former Jets coach and Bucs defensive coordinator.
The Chiefs line has been bloodied and bruised. They will line up with only one player – Reiter – manning the same position he did at the start of the season. The Chiefs lost three starting linemen – right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, left guard Kelechi Osemele and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz – to injury or COVID opt-out by the sixth week of the season.
“The thing that you lose is that talented, veteran left tackle,” Heck said. “A guy that has been a rock for us.”
The rocks that comprise the Chiefs wall have been cracking all season. Mahomes will get the ball to the human rocket known as Tyreek Hill, who had three touchdown catches in the first meeting. He’ll find the best tight end in football, Travis Kelce, who will make linebackers look like defensive tackles on skates.
But the Chiefs won’t be able to run the ball and rookie safety Antoine Winfield, Jr., our favorite defensive player in last year’s draft, will make an impact play. Oh right, that guy named Brady knows how to win a Super Bowl or six.
Sure hope the parade is in on the beach.