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Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Wild year for football culminates in Super Bowl

The most unpredictable NFL season in history ends with a familiar face on top

From being on the brink of possibly canceling the entire season, the National Football League (NFL) now celebrates the culmination of all 269 games. The bumpy road to get to Super Bowl 55 in Tampa Bay came with lots of stress, disappointments and uncertainty, but the result saw a familiar face once again.

Going into the Super Bowl, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the hottest team in the NFL. When six-time Super Bowl Champion Tom Brady signed with the Bucs last April, the expectation was what it always is with him—win. After starting off the season shaky and out of synch on both offense and defense, the Bucs were able to finish the regular season with a record of 11-5, clicking on all cylinders. A rough showing against the Washington Football Team left much to be desired, but their 30-20 victory over the division rival New Orleans Saints left Brady one win away from getting back to the big game, this time representing the NFC. To do that, he had to get past fellow great, Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. In a game of momentum, the Buccaneers were able to hold on and make their first Super Bowl appearance since the 2002-03 season. 

Waiting for the Buccaneers was the Kansas City Chiefs, who were able to make it back to the Super Bowl for the second straight year. The defending champions managed to improve from the previous year, going 14-1 in regular season games where superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes started. Having the luxury of the first-round bye, their first opponent was the Cleveland Browns. After smooth sailing through almost three quarters of play, Mahomes was knocked out of the game, putting the Chiefs on the brink. In the end, they held on and set up a date with the Buffalo Bills. Their offense proved to be too much for the Bills, as they comfortably made it back to the Super Bowl, setting up the showdown between two stellar quarterbacks.

Having met once in the postseason, the Mahomes and Brady matchup was seen by many as a passing of the torch. Coming into the game however, the Chiefs were missing Pro Bowl left tackle Eric Fisher, now leaving both tackle positions to backups. The vaunted Tampa Bay pass rush of Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett had come alive in the playoffs, and if the Bucs had any chance of stopping the Chiefs’ offense, it would have to start from the front four. 

At kickoff in front of 25,000 fans socially distanced in Raymond James Stadium, both teams struggled to move the ball, but on their third drive, Brady found his reliable tight end Rob Gronkowski for Tampa Bay’s first points of the game. They would follow it up with another connection to extend their lead to 14-3, and eventually go into halftime up 21-6. A frustrating first 30 minutes for the Chiefs left them with some adjustments to make, as Mahomes was constantly being pressured the moment he snapped the ball. 

To start the half, Mahomes was able to set up a nice drive, but could not cash in the touchdown, settling for yet another field goal. Meanwhile, the Buccaneers offense continued to roll, scoring another touchdown, further putting their stranglehold on the game. With every Chiefs drive ending in punts or turnover on downs, time eventually ran out, giving Brady his seventh championship, and bringing one home to Tampa Bay. 

Brady was named Super Bowl Most Valuable Player (MVP) for the fifth time and finished the game completing 21 of his 29 passes for 201 yards and three touchdowns. Mahomes on the other hand, was unable to give his team a touchdown, finishing with 26 of 49 passing, 303 total yards and two interceptions. The story of the night was the impeccable play from Tampa Bay’s defense led by defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, holding the number one offense in the league to nine points and not letting them see the endzone once. Now having seven Super Bowl titles to himself, more than all 32 teams in the NFL, Brady further backs up his case for being the greatest football player of all time.

As this chapter has come to a close, another rapidly approaches. This successful close to a wild season only leaves more questions for next year, as it is still unknown what is going to happen or whether next season will be like the past one. With free agency negotiation period starting on March 15, the time is ticking for the NFL to set their salary cap for next season. Although there is no official word, the belief is that the cap will be higher than what they projected with COVID-19. Originally projected at $175 million, it is now believed that it will be at least five million more than that. As teams prepare for cuts and possible signings, the uncertainty of how much money will be available is something that they must live with as free agency approaches. 

Even without knowing who will be moving where, player movement has started off with a bang even before the Super Bowl. In the off week between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl, the Los Angeles Rams completed a blockbuster trade for longtime Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford. The Rams agreed to send two first-round picks, a third rounder and former number one overall pick Jared Goff to Detroit for the rights to the disgruntled quarterback. With the pressure to get back to the Super Bowl, the Rams’ win-now mode has caused these aggressive moves. Stafford was one of the hottest quarterbacks remaining on the trade market, but it seems as though there is much more left to be seen.

Finding a franchise quarterback in the NFL is one of the hardest things to do, so when a team does find one, it does everything in its power to keep him. But, this offseason looks to be one that breaks the mold, as it appears there will be much more moves left before we even hit the official start of the new league year on March 17. The biggest name on the market is reportedly the Houston Texans’ young star quarterback, Deshaun Watson. Mismanagement and lack of talent surrounding him has left Watson but no choice to ask for a trade, which Houston insists they won’t do. It remains to be seen what happens, but the compensation given in the Stafford trade may complicate things for a potential Watson move.

Drafted in 2016, just one year before Watson, Carson Wentz became a big name with a lot of talent. Many injuries and frustrations later, the Eagles are reportedly close to moving on from the young quarterback. After another disappointing season that saw him get benched, it seems as though the Philadelphia management believes it is time to move on. With 2020 second round draft pick Jalen Hurts waiting, the Eagles look to be heading in a different direction. Jimmy Garoppolo, Mitch Trubisky and Sam Darnold are all names that seem to be on the move as well, further proving that the NFL is the league with the quickest turnarounds and unpredictability.

As the NFL concluded the 2020-21 season, there will be many memories teams and fans will remember. Whether it’s seeing a big stadium with nothing but empty seats or adjusting to the fact that masks became a staple, this season will go down in history as one of the best and one of the weirdest seasons ever. Regardless of what awaits in the new league year, fans can be certain that no matter what, they will be entertained by the offseason moves, as the NFL hopes they won’t have to go through the same extensive process again.

“One of the things that I think I have learned and I think all of us have learned is try not to project too far in advance because it’s difficult to do,” said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. “I know this: We’ve learned to operate in a very difficult environment. We have found solutions, and we’ll do it again.”
Written by: Omar Navarro — sports@theaggie.org

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