Super Bowl 2021 winners & losers: Tom Brady gets help from Gronk and friends; Patrick Mahomes let down
The Buccaneers put the finishing touches on an unpredictable 2020 NFL season impacted by COVID-19 by producing the most predictable conclusion: with Tom Brady winning another Super Bowl.
Brady and Tampa Bay capped their run to the NFL championship by beating defending champion Kansas City 31-9 in Super Bowl 55 at Tampa's Raymond James Stadium.
Brady led the Bucs to a championship in his first season after leaving New England, and the Chiefs became the latest team to fail to pull off back-to-back Super Bowl wins. Brady now has seven Super Bowl championships and has created more distance from every other quarterback in the Super Bowl era.
The question now: Is Brady the greatest team sports athlete of all time? After all, Michael Jordan had six championships.
Brady is the biggest winner of Sunday given that such questions are now being asked, but there was more than enough credit (and blame) to go around. Sporting News identifies the biggest winners and losers of Super Bowl 55.
Super Bowl 2021 winners, losers
Winners: Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski
Who else could be in this category? Brady, 43, won his seventh Super Bowl ring with the same mistake-free play that has been his trademark for two decades-plus in the NFL. He finished 21 of 29 for 203 yards and three TDs, and he didn't have to do much in the second half.
His first-half performance was more than enough: 16-of-20 passing, 140 yards and three TDs. And he did that with the help of his favorite big-game target from his time in New England.
Gronkowski saved his best performance of the season for the Super Bowl. He caught the game's first touchdown with 37 seconds remaining in the first quarter, and he added a 17-yard TD in the second quarter. He finished with six catches for 67 yards.
Gronk now has 14 TD catches in 20 career postseason games — and his odd-couple dynamic with Brady produced the usual results.
Brady's social media account should be fun for the next 48 hours. That's because he was responsible for leading another Super Bowl run and will continue to be the center of the NFL universe heading into the 2021 offseason. Will he bring Gronkowski with him for another run?
Loser: Patrick Mahomes
To be clear, this loss isn't exclusively on Mahomes. Kansas City didn't have starting tackle Eric Fisher, and that played a major role in the game. Mahomes simply could not get going in the passing game. Tyreek Hill, who had more than 200 yards in the first half against Tampa Bay in the teams' regular-season matchup, finished with seven catches for 73 yards.
Mahomes finished 26 of 49 for 270 yards, with no touchdowns and two interceptions.
Mahomes did his best to make some of his trademark out-of-the-pocket throws, but Tampa Bay just wouldn't let them happen. Mahomes was just 9 of 19 for 67 yards in the first half, and regular pressure off the edge from Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul turned him into a scrambler for most of the game. Linebacker Devin White's interception provided the final blow in the fourth quarter.
Mahomes lost for the second time to Brady in the postseason, and the Chiefs won't have an easy road back to the Super Bowl in an AFC that is flush with franchise-quarterback talent that includes Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson and Baker Mayfield. More could be on the way in the 2021 NFL Draft with Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields, and even the Bengals have hope with the return of Joe Burrow.
Mahomes will have more Super Bowl opportunities, but Sunday proved there are no guarantees, even as a favorite, on the biggest stage. This wasn't a passing-of-the-torch-game; it was a reminder that Mahomes has a long way to go to match Brady as the greatest quarterback of all time.
Winner: Leonard Fournette
Fournette wasn't a factor in the regular-season matchup, but he made his presence felt as an all-purpose back for Tampa Bay in the Super Bowl.
Fournette had 16 carries for 89 yards and added four catches for 46 yards. He scored on a 27-yard run on Tampa Bay's first possession of the second half that opened a 28-9 lead. His physical style was a difference-maker for the Bucs throughout the NFC playoffs, too.
Tampa Bay averaged 4.4 yards per carry and the Bucs nearly doubled Kansas City's rushing attempts, 33-17. That ground support was more than enough for Brady.
Losers: Tyrann Mathieu and Kansas City's secondary
Brady jawed at the Honey Badger repeatedly in the first half, and that became the lasting image of a brutal first 30 minutes for the Chiefs.
Kansas City committed eight penalties for 95 yards in the half, and costly penalties by the secondary led to a pair of Tampa Bay touchdowns.
Mathieu had an interception taken away because of a defensive holding penalty away from the play, and Antonio Hamilton was called for offside on a field-goal attempt later in the series, giving Tampa Bay a first down. Brady cashed in with his second TD pass to Gronkowski for a 14-3 lead with 6:05 remaining in the half.
Tampa Bay took possession with 55 seconds remaining in the half after a Chiefs field goal, and Brady led a scoring drive with the help of two pass interference calls. Bashaud Breeland was called for the first one on Mike Evans, for 34 yards. Mathieu was called for the second at the goal line two plays later, with 13 seconds remaining in the half. Brady capitalized with a 1-yard TD pass to Antonio Brown with six seconds to go.
Tampa Bay had one penalty for five yards in the half. The Bucs' 21-6 lead at the break wasn't an accident.
Winners: Antonio Brown and Ndamukong Suh
The veterans each earned their first Super Bowl ring in the blowout.
Brown, who served an eight-game suspension to start the season, had five catches for 22 yards and the aforementioned TD. Brown might have played his way into another contract, perhaps with the Buccaneers, by being a target Brady can trust. Suh came up with a sack in the fourth quarter and was a key interior-line piece for Tampa Bay's defense. Suh was with the Rams in their Super Bowl loss to New England two years ago. He found it is better to be on Brady's side.
Both players were risky pickups for Tampa Bay, but the strategy of assembling talent to chase a ring with Brady worked.
Are you watching, Packers?
Loser: Joe Haeg
This was a rare miscue by Tampa Bay.
The tackle had a chance to score a Mike Vrabel-type TD on a pass from Brady in a Super Bowl, but he dropped the play-action pass when he was hit by Kansas City linebacker Anthony Hitchens as the ball arrived. Ronald Jones was stuffed on the next two plays.
The goal-line stand early in the second quarter was among the few highlights for Kansas City in the first half.
Winner: Bruce Arians
Arians, 68, became the oldest coach to win the Super Bowl, and he did it by supervising an impressive postseason run that included road victories over Washington, New Orleans and Green Bay in the NFC playoffs ahead of the meeting with Kansas City.
Tampa Bay lost 27-24 to Kansas City on Nov. 29, which dropped the Buccaneers to 7-5. The Bucs did not lose again, and Arians deserves credit for that. Coordinators Byron Leftwich and Todd Bowles have emerged as head-coaching candidates as a result.
Brady said after the game that he isn't retiring, so Arians should have another team that can compete for a Super Bowl in 2021.
Losers: Andy Reid and Bill Belichick
Wait, New England wasn't even playing, right? Brady's Super Bowl run could still be felt in Foxborough, though, given the Patriots finished 7-9 under Belichick in their first full season without Brady in two decades.
Joe Montana didn't win a Super Bowl when he left San Francisco for Kansas City. Brady pulled off that feat in just one season, at the Chiefs' expense. That is going to increase the urgency in New England to find a long-term answer at quarterback.
Speaking of Kansas City, coach Andy Reid missed out on leading the first repeat Super Bowl champion since Brady led the Patriots to back-to-back championships in 2003 and 2004.
Instead, this was an old-school Super Bowl blowout reminiscent of those one-sided NFC smackdowns that defined the 1980s. Reid is now 1-2 in Super Bowls.