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Super Bowl 2021: Why Kansas City will repeat as champions

Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid, shown here Nov.

Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid, shown here Nov. 22, at Las Vegas, are the new power duo in the NFL.   Credit: Getty Images/Christian Petersen

Without Andy Reid, there is no Patrick Mahomes. At least not the Mahomes we’ve come to appreciate as the best young quarterback in today’s NFL and perhaps one of the greatest in NFL history by the time his career is over.

Of that, I have no doubt.

Had Mahomes gone to any other team and any other coach, I’m convinced he wouldn’t have produced a rise so astronomical that no other quarterback has achieved this quickly. History agrees. When Kansas City faces Tampa Bay in Super Bowl LV, Mahomes will become the first quarterback 25 or under to play in two Super Bowls.

And if he stays healthy the remainder of his career — please, please let him stay healthy — only the quarterback he faces on Sunday will have earned more Super Bowl spoils than Mahomes. He is still so young he can’t even grow a full beard, but he is so exceptionally gifted that no quarterback can approximate his athletic brilliance.

Not Tom Brady, he of the 10 Super Bowl appearances and six Super Bowl rings (which will be tough for Mahomes or anyone else to equal). Not Peyton Manning, who elevated quarterbacking to an art form. Not Joe Montana, whose balletic interpretation of the position transformed Bill Walsh’s 49ers into a dynasty. Not John Elway, whose arm strength was matched only by his football swagger.

But without the patient tutelage of his self-effacing 62-year-old coach, none of this happens. The Reid-Mahomes partnership is the perfect blend of knowledgeable mentor with all the answers and brilliant quarterback with all the tools.

As long as that connection fires on Sunday as it has almost every other Sunday of Mahomes’ young career, then they will earn a second straight Super Bowl championship and stake their claim as the NFL’s next dynasty. Worthy successors indeed to the legacy created over the previous two decades by Brady and Bill Belichick.

Here’s how they get there:

MATRICULATE DOWN THE FIELD: Look, we all know Mahomes is a quarterback prodigy, a player who can hit Tyreek Hill in stride on a 50-yard "go" route or buy time in the pocket before All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce finds a crease over the middle in zone coverage. And because of his talent, Reid can more fully use all the plays and formations and trickery he has learned over a lifetime of coaching. At its best, the Kansas City offense is the most enjoyable attack to watch in today’s NFL. Maybe any NFL era.

But Reid may want to take a page from the only other coach in Kansas City history to win a Super Bowl. Remember Hank Stram’s iconic "just keep matriculating the ball down the field, boys" from Super Bowl IV, when Kansas City beat the Vikings, 23-7, at Tulane Stadium? Len Dawson’s offense was machinelike that game, methodically wearing down the Minnesota defense not with big plays, but by relentlessly pounding the ball on the ground and having Dawson throw high-percentage passes.

Kansas City doesn’t have the kind of running game Stram relied upon — rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire is still dealing with hip and ankle problems and Darrel Williams has been the workhorse back in the playoffs. But Reid can still rely on having sustained drives — mixed in with a few home run shots, of course, because Kansas City has that capability — as a preferred strategy.

That’s not to suggest Reid should do as another Super Bowl champion did in Tampa 30 years ago, when Bill Parcells’ Giants possessed the ball for more than 40 minutes to negate Jim Kelly’s K-Gun offense. But having Mahomes play small ball more than he’s been used to — which means hitting Hill on some safe and reliable slant routes and using Kelce for short- to medium-range throws — will do two things: 1. It will keep the Buccaneers’ pass rush from becoming a problem for Mahomes, who now plays behind two backup tackles after the injuries to Mitchell Schwartz (back) and Eric Fischer (Achilles). 2. It will keep Brady on the bench for long periods of time and potentially disrupt what he likes to do best: establish a rhythm that builds throughout the game.

GIVE A COACH AN EXTRA WEEK? WE’LL TAKE REID: If there’s one thing Reid has excelled at throughout his career, it’s taking advantage of extra time to prepare. In regular season and the playoffs, Reid is an astounding 19-3 coming off a bye week in the regular season and 3-0 over the last two playoffs. He is one of the smartest coaches to ever walk the NFL sidelines, and the added time he uses to find just the slightest wrinkle in an opponent’s defense often makes a huge difference.

One issue beyond Reid’s control: the potential fallout from the car accident involving his son, Britt, the team’s outside linebackers coach who crashed into two cars Thursday night, leaving a 5-year-old child with life-threatening injuries. The younger Reid did not make the trip, and though the head coach has previously shown the ability to carry on in the face of off-field issues during his time with the Eagles, this is his first such problem in Kansas City.

MAKE BRADY UNCOMFORTABLE: The Giants were Brady’s kryptonite in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI, not just because of Eli Manning’s clutch play in the fourth quarter, but because of a relentless defense that got to Brady early and often in both games. The key here is to get Brady "off the spot," which is football parlance for chasing him out of the place he’s most comfortable: the pocket. Brady makes his living as a pure dropback passer, but in order for him to function at optimal level, he needs good protection.

And the best way to get to him is to calculate the shortest distance between two points: In other words, straight up the middle the way Justin Tuck was able to do in both Giants’ Super Bowl wins. Yes, pressure from the outside is good, and Kansas City pass rusher Frank Clark can provide that element. But it’s Pro Bowl defensive tackle Chris Jones who will be most important in getting to Brady from the interior defensive line. If Brady is under duress, especially in the early going, it can impact his game the rest of the way.

Kansas City defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo knows; he was the Giants’ coordinator in their spectacular upset of the previously unbeaten Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.

SAFETY FIRST: Cornerback play for Kansas City will be important, no doubt, and rookie L’Jarius Sneed will be counted on to provide strong man coverage, as will veteran Breshaud Breeland. But safeties Tyrann Mathieu and Daniel Sorenson will also figure prominently in Spagnuolo’s scheme. Sorenson is a Swiss army knife-type player who excels against the run and in a variety of other capacities, but it’s the ball-hawking Mathieu who could come up with the big play by winning a battle of wits with Brady and catching him in a rare mistake. Remember, as good as Brady was in the Bucs’ upset of the Packers in the NFC Championship Game, he did have three interceptions in the second half. He can’t afford another half like that.

Put it all together, and this should add up to another singular moment for the future Hall of Fame coach and his transcendent quarterback. Brady may be the greatest of all time, but Mahomes looks ready to carry on that title from here.

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