A few years ago the Pittsburgh Steelers had what many considered the most dynamic three skill position players since the Dallas Cowboys parlayed the triplets of quarterback Troy Aikman, runningback Emmitt Smith and wide receiver Michael Irvin into three Super Bowl victories. The Steelers trio was quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, runningback Le'Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown.
Roethlisberger has led the Steelers offense since 2004, and had taken Pittsburgh to a pair of Super Bowl wins before Brown joined the team in 2010. That season, Roethlisberger guided Pittsburgh to their franchises eight Super Bowl, but their second loss, suffered against Aaron Rodgers and his Green Bay Packers. The Steelers had also lost their fifth Super Bowl to complete the 1995 season against Dallas and the Cowboys storied triple threat at quarterback, runningback and wide receiver.
In 2013, the Steelers added Bell to their backfield, but that trio of outstanding offensive weapons never led Pittsburgh back to a Roman Numeral game.
This year, while Roethlisberger is at home nursing another punishing season of injuries, both Bell and Brown are in Tampa to participate in Super Bowl LV. Bell is running out of the Kansas City Chiefs backfield and Brown on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers roster.
Last season, Tampa Bay won seven and lost nine games while the New England Patriots won the AFC East Division with a 12-4 record. That marked the 16th time in the 18 seasons Tom Brady was their starting quarterback that New England won their division. It is worth noting, that one of the two years the Patriots didn’t win the AFC East, Brady was lost for the season due to an injury suffered on opening day against … wait for it …. The Kansas City Chiefs.
This season, without Brady running their offense and inspiring his teammates, the New England Patriots won/loss record was 7-9. Yet, the team that had that same record last year, the Buccaneers, who Brady now works for, compiled an 11-5 regular season and won three playoff games to advance to Super Bowl LV.
How big of a difference does Brady make?
He has never had offensive weapons that match what Troy Aikman enjoyed in Dallas and won three Super Bowls with, or what Roethlisberger had in Pittsburgh while failing to win a Vince Lombardi Trophy. And yet, Brady is making his record tenth Super Bowl appearance and looking to extend his mark on Super Bowl wins from six to seven.
And he is the point spread underdog in Super Bowl LV.
On the other side of the line to match skills with Brady are the defending Super Bowl Champions and the quarterback many consider the best in the game today, Patrick Mahomes.
Two years ago, Brady and Mahomes battled each other in the AFC Championship Game in Kansas City. Aided by a late penalty, Brady led his Patriots to a game tying touchdown as time ran out in regulation. After winning the overtime coin toss, Brady never allowed Mahomes a chance while leading New England to a game winning touchdown.
After that game, Brady sought out the young Kansas City quarterback, who had just completed his second NFL campaign and first as the Chiefs starting quarterback. Brady consoled Mahomes while assuring him that his day would come and that he just needed to stay on the path he had forged in getting to that Championship Game.
It could then have been seen as Brady passing the mantle as the current best in the league even in victory, which was also accomplished two weeks later when Brady led the Patriots to a win over the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII. Brady’s acknowledgement of Mahomes was also proven right with Mahomes leading the Chiefs to a win in Super Bowl LIV.
Now, two years after that dramatic overtime game, the two great quarterbacks meet again with all the chips at stake. Mahomes got the better of Brady earlier this year in a regular season game played in Tampa, 27-24. The Buccaneers haven’t lost a game since, winning their remaining four regular season games and three postseason road contests to advance to being the first team in NFL history to play a Super Bowl in their home stadium.
There is a lot to like about this game, the question remains who to like more.