Tyreek Hill sprinted past cornerback Carlton Davis again, caught the ball in stride and then cut so sharply that safety Mike Edwards ended up flailing at him with one arm near the sideline. Hill casually jogged a few more yards before pausing at the goal line and doing a backflip into the end zone.
It was the second and most impressive of three scores for Hill, who was the star of Kansas City’s 27-24 victory at Tampa Bay in Week 12. Hill finished with 13 receptions for 269 yards — both career highs — and proved to be a mismatch for Davis and the Buccaneers.
Tampa Bay gets another shot at Hill and the Chiefs in the Super Bowl next Sunday, the first rematch in the NFL finale in nearly a decade.
Same teams, same venue, much higher stakes.
The Chiefs are counting on the same outcome. The Bucs, who have won seven straight since that late November loss, are looking to become the eighth team in 14 tries to beat an opponent in the Super Bowl that it lost to in the regular season.
Both sides expect to lean on — and learn from — that previous meeting.
“We’ll help a little bit more than we did in that ballgame,” Bucs coach Bruce Arians said.
Tampa’s biggest and most obvious mistake was trying to single-cover Hill, one of the fastest players in the league. Davis was burned repeatedly, including on consecutive TD passes from Patrick Mahomes to Hill (75 and 44 yards) in the first quarter. Davis gave up their third scoring connection, too, but had much tighter coverage on what was a perfect throw and catch.
Hill had seven receptions for 203 yards and two TDs in the first quarter alone, but just six catches for 66 yards and a score the rest of the way. The difference?
“I just got tired. I got tired of running,” Hill joked this week.
“No, let me stop,” he continued. “Todd Bowles is a great defensive co-ordinator. He’s been doing it for a long time. I’m sure he’s seen guys like me throughout his career. Just being able to dial up (coverages) and things like that to slow me down.
“Also … bringing the safety over the top a bit to double me and (Travis) Kelce. That kind of slowed us down a lot, plus their front seven is tremendous. Once they get clicking on defence, they’re a great defence. They fly around the field; they’re great. I feel like I just got lucky and was able to get open.”
The Chiefs scored on three of their first four possessions and led 17-0 before the Bucs crossed midfield. The margin could have been even greater had Tampa’s defence not forced a field goal after Kansas City ran two plays from the 1-yard line.
Davis knocked down Kelce’s pass to Mahomes, a nifty trick play that started when Mahomes flipped to Hill, who pitched to Kelce, who expected to find Mahomes open in the end zone. It was Davis’ best play of the afternoon.
Kansas City settled for the chip-shot field goal on the opening possession. Mahomes and Co. had a chance to extend their 17-0 lead early in the second, but Shaq Barrett stripped the quarterback on a first-and-goal play from the 8 and forced the Chiefs’ lone turnover.
Tampa Bay waited until the fourth to make its comeback. Tom Brady threw two interceptions in the third quarter and the Bucs trailed 27-10 before a furious rally.
Brady found Mike Evans for scores of 31 and 7 yards, the first one coming on a fourth-and-3 play early in the quarter and the second one coming after a pair of roughing-the-passer penalties on Frank Clark.
Down three with 4:10 to play, Tampa turned to its defence to get a stop and get Brady the ball back. But Mahomes didn’t let it happen, scrambling for one first down and then rolling left on third-and-7 and finding — who else? — Hill for a first down in front of — who else? — Davis. Mahomes then took a knee to end the game.
“You learn from mistakes and you learn from really good things, and there were some really good things in that game,” Arians said. “So we’ve got a lot of stuff to build on.”
Mahomes completed 37 of 49 passes for 462 yards and three TDs. Hill finished with the 14th-most receiving yards in any game in NFL history and the most since Julio Jones notched 300 against Carolina in 2016.
Brady completed 27 of 41 passes for 345 yards, with three scores and two picks.
Neither team will be completely the same in the rematch.
The Chiefs had to shuffle their offensive line again this week after losing left tackle Eric Fisher to a torn Achilles tendon in the AFC championship game. Two more starters — right tackle Mitchell Schwartz (back) and left guard Kelechi Osemele (knees) — haven’t played since October.
The Bucs will have 350-pound defensive tackle Vita Vea back for the second straight game after he missed most of the season because of a broken right ankle. Vea returned last week and was the catalyst in Tampa’s five-sack day against Green Bay.
“They kind of readjusted some things and then they had a week off, had a lot of guys get acclimated to the system that Tom Brady likes, their coach likes,” Chiefs defensive lineman Chris Jones said. “They’ve been playing well, especially later in the season. … They’re definitely a different team from when we played them a couple of weeks ago.”
Hill and Davis, though, are sure to be lined up across from each other at some point.
“You go back and look at the game and what matchups you had,” Arians said. “Familiarity helps. I’m not really excited playing Tyreek Hill and Kelce and Mahomes (again). That’s a formidable challenge, but our guys will be up for it.”