Shaq Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul, two steps, and the play that turned Super Bowl LV

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Mark Schofield
·4 min read
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With just over a minute remaining in the first half of Super Bowl LV, the Kansas City Chiefs faced a 3rd-and-6 at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 14-yard line. Patrick Mahomes, already battered and bruised from the onslaught of Tampa Bay pass rushers, had the Chiefs in position to perhaps change the course of the Super Bowl. Kansas City trailed by 14-3, but with a touchdown on this drive they could cut the Buccaneers’ lead to just four. That, coupled with the knowledge that the Chiefs would receive the second-half kickoff, made this a pivotal moment.

It was the buildup to a scene crafted so many times before by Mahomes and this Kansas City team. Despite trailing early in games, they would slowly begin to figure things out, and unleash a barrage of points, overwhelming their foes. Players like Deshaun Watson, Ryan Tannehill, Jimmy Garoppolo and Josh Allen learned this lesson the hard way over the past two seasons. In this moment, it looked like the next to learn this would be Tom Brady.

Twice before, in matchups between those two quarterbacks, Brady had seemed a script like this play out but been able to withstand that onslaught. In the two meetings between the Chiefs and the New England Patriots in 2018 – one in the regular season and the other in the AFC Championship game – Brady’s Patriots had gotten out to halftime leads, only to see Mahomes and the Chiefs offense kick into gear in the second half. It seemed the script writers had pushed up the clock for this meeting, with Kansas City on the cusp of paydirt.

However, it seems that Todd Bowles and the Tampa Bay defense never got that script.

Super Bowl LV changed in the blink of an eye, when the Buccaneers defense was able to thwart Mahomes and prevent the Chiefs from scoring that pre-halftime touchdown. Rather than pull off the “double-dip” – a touchdown drive before halftime and another after the break, something Brady’s Patriots were known for – the Chiefs were held to just a field goal on each drive.

It would be Brady and the Buccaneers who finished their drives with touchdowns.

How did that happen? It happened thanks to two explosive steps made in beautiful synchronicity from Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul.

In the coming days much will be written and said about the job that Tampa Bay’s defense did against Mahomes. Bowles put together a plan to pressure the Chiefs passer with usually just four defenders attacking the pocket, trusting in the talent of the players up front against the patchwork offensive line Kansas City was forced to start Sunday night due to injuries. The turning point of Super Bowl LV was one more in a litany of examples from this game of four pass rushers flushing Mahomes and forcing him into an impossible situation, preventing that double-dip and setting the stage for one from the Buccaneers:

Both Barrett and Pierre-Paul beat their blockers, flushing Mahomes outside the pocket and out of the camera view for a moment. Forced to yet again run for his life, the quarterback eventually runs out of time and options, lofting a throw towards the sideline and away from any available receiver.

Bring on the field goal team.

But what is so beautiful about this play from the two Buccaneers defenders is how they implement the same pass-rushing move, in concert. The dance of the pass rusher can be a wonderful, artistic thing when executed at a high level, and that is what Barrett and Pierre-Paul do on this snap. Both defenders release off the line and threaten the right shoulder of the nearest blocker. Then, simultaneously, each explodes off their left foot and onto their right, meaning Barrett now angles to the inside of the right tackle, while Pierre-Paul cuts to the outside of the left guard. Both tackle and guard are left grasping at air, while the two defenders continue unabated towards the QB:

There would be another window of hope for the Chiefs, early in the second half. After their opening drive of the third quarter resulted in a field goal, Kansas City trailed by 21-9. Their defense put Tom Brady and the Buccaneers offense into a third down situation on the ensuing Tampa Bay possession, and a three-and-out would throw that window wide open for the Chiefs.

But Brady, as he has done so many times before, came through, and the window slammed shut.

There will be discussions – in fact there already are – about the game plan from the Chiefs. Discussions about pass protection designs and backup tackles and more. On this play, the fact is both Barrett and Pierre-Paul won their matchups, and won them quickly in the down, leaving Mahomes with nothing to do, nowhere to go, and few good options.

Looking back, it was this play from Barrett and Pierre-Paul, forcing the throwaway and ensuing field goal try, that truly closed that window and turned the course of Super Bowl LV.