This year’s Super Bowl didn’t have much in the way of in-person media availabilities, but the Buccaneers and Chiefs still provided plenty of material over four days of Zoom interviews.
Over the past week, the Globe has written stories about Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Brown, Patrick Mahomes, Eli Manning, and the terrific matchup ahead on Sunday.
But there was also a lot of good material we didn’t get to. Let’s take a look at some of the top story lines and factoids for Sunday’s big game:
▪ Will Brady finally be able to get off to a fast start in a Super Bowl? In his previous nine games, his Patriots teams combined to score 3 whole points in the first quarter (in the second Eagles matchup). But the Buccaneers haven’t been too slow in the first quarter this season. They ranked 13th in the NFL with 88 points in the first quarter during the regular season. In the playoffs, the Buccaneers are plus-10 in first-quarter scoring, and held a lead in two of their three games.
Where the Buccaneers really shined this season was the fourth quarter, where their plus-74 point differential led the NFL.
▪ Chiefs coach Andy Reid and Mahomes can join lofty company on Sunday. Reid would be just the seventh coach to win back-to-back Super Bowls, joining Vince Lombardi, Don Shula, Chuck Noll (twice), Jimmy Johnson, Mike Shanahan, and Bill Belichick.
And Mahomes would join fellow quarterbacks Bart Starr, Bob Griese, Terry Bradshaw (twice), Joe Montana, Troy Aikman, John Elway, and Brady in winning consecutive Super Bowls.
▪ Other than a trophy and a giant ring, there is some money at stake on Sunday. Players on the winning team will make $130,000 and the losers will get $65,000. Buccaneers players will have made a total of $252,000 for four postseason games if they win, and $187,000 if they lose. Chiefs players will have made a total of $222,000 if they win, and $157,000 if they lose.
▪ Two trends shine in Brady’s favor. The Buccaneers are 3-point underdogs, yet underdogs have fared well. In the 20 Super Bowls this century, the underdog has covered 13 times, and won the game outright 10 times (stats courtesy of Covers.com).
And Brady and the Buccaneers are the home team and will wear their white uniforms. Brady was 3-1 in Super Bowls with the Patriots when they wore white, though he lost his last one, against the Eagles three years ago.
▪ A lot of focus this season has been on Brady’s ability to throw the deep ball, which has always been a staple of Bruce Arians’s offense. It was certainly rocky at times, with Brady missing on 22 consecutive deep passes at one point. But Brady finished the regular season ranked second with 41 passes of 25-plus yards (Deshaun Watson had 42). In the postseason, Brady leads with eight such completions.
“I’m amazed. I’ve never seen a guy work as hard at throwing deep balls,” Buccaneers quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen said. “It’s part of almost every practice schedule.”
▪ One angle that I was curious about: Did the Buccaneers adopt much of Brady’s TB12 conditioning program, and did Gronkowski lift weights again this season? That was one of the big rifts Gronk had with the Patriots in his latter years, with Gronk preferring band workouts and less heavy lifting.
“Yes, he does lift weights, just like any of our other guys, though we customize it as much as possible for their style of play, their injury history, and also what’s worked and not worked for them throughout the years,” said Buccaneers strength coach Anthony Piroli.
Gronkowski’s workout regimen worked, as the Super Bowl will be his 20th game, the most he has ever played in a season.
“Gronk really understands his body, so it makes it easier for us, coming up with a good game plan to make sure he’s at his best each Sunday,” Piroli said.
As for Brady, it doesn’t sound like the Buccaneers have all become devoted followers of TB12, but Brady has his influence.
“I definitely pick his brain as much as I can, but a lot of the principles he follows, I think that they’re already a lot of things that we already believe here,” Piroli said. “I think that we already have a lot of parallel thinking in that regard.
“Just cool to see how well he takes care of himself and the fact that he’s an open book and really good with teaching us a whole lot of the good and the bad that he’s done through the years.”
▪ One fun angle for the Buccaneers is that Brady is now playing for the coaches that used to be his archenemies with the Colts. Arians, Christensen, and offensive consultant Tom Moore were part of Peyton Manning’s brain trust during his 12 years with the Colts, when they had several legendary battles with Brady’s Patriots.
“I had never met him before,” Christensen said of coaching Brady this season. “We had our perception in Indy that was a little bit jaded certainly, in a fun way.”
Said Moore, who was the Colts’ offensive coordinator from 1998-2008: “He broke my heart, there’s no question. He broke a lot of people’s hearts. You can’t help but pull for a guy like Tom Brady, who you see has all the dedication, the work ethic. He wanted to have greatness and he worked to get it.”
▪ Moore, 82, is a fun story. He’s kind of like the Buccaneers’ version of Ernie Adams, the wise sage working behind the scenes.
“I go to work at 4:15-4:30 [a.m.], and I’m probably two hours behind Tom,” said defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. “He has done so much film study, offensively and defensively. He’ll grab me and pull me to the side and talk about red-zone things and things that he sees that help me a great deal. He’s always here, he’s always giving knowledge and understanding of things, and he puts a lot of things in perspective for us.”
Moore said he got vaccinated for COVID-19 and has no interest in retiring.
“I want to come back next year, and the next year, and the next year, and the next year,” he said.
▪ Speaking of the Buccaneers’ coaches, they undoubtedly have the most diverse staff in the NFL. While Arians is white, all three of his coordinators are Black — Byron Leftwich on offense, Bowles on defense, and Keith Armstrong on special teams. Assistant head coach Harold Goodwin — a teammate of Brady’s at Michigan in 1995 — is also Black. And the Buccaneers have two full-time female coaches, including assistant defensive line coach Lori Locust.
Arians said he wants to give opportunities to others because he didn’t get his first head coaching job until he was 60.
“And Chuck Pagano had to get sick with leukemia for me to even become a head coach,” Arians said. “The lack of opportunities I think has made me want to give more opportunities to more people. The women, that was a door that needed to be knocked down, and so, so happy that the two we have are overqualified and doing a great job.”
▪ For Christensen, who was on a staff that won a Super Bowl and lost another with the Colts, a win on Sunday would be vindication of sorts. He was part of Tony Dungy’s staff with the Buccaneers that made it to the NFC Championship game twice but couldn’t get over the hump. Jon Gruden then came in in 2002 and won a Super Bowl in his first season.
“We pushed that cart right up the hill to the tip top, then Coach Gruden got it over the year we left,” he said. “It would be neat finishing what I was a part of that first time through.”
▪ The Chiefs are the first team in Super Bowl history to fly in the day before the game, and to fly out immediately after the game, like a normal road trip. That’s going to be the craziest or the saddest flight home in history.
WEALTH OF KNOWLEDGE
COVID-19 taught the league a lot
The NFL did it, playing all 269 regular-season and postseason games amid the worst global health crisis in a century. The season was equal parts football and science experiment, and the NFL learned a lot about COVID-19, some of which can be applied to the general public.
“We had data from 32 different communities,” said Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer. “That’s a really unique data set from a scientific standpoint.”
Here are some of the biggest takeaways from the NFL’s COVID-19 experiment:
▪ The final numbers: 262 players and 463 coaches and staff tested positive from Aug. 1 to late January, for a positivity rate of 0.08 percent, which was well below numbers seen across the country and in individual NFL markets.
“We feel that our club facilities truly were some of the safest possible locations in those communities,” Sills said.
▪ The NFL learned that the rules about 6 feet of distance and 15 minutes of exposure were just guidelines, and not hard-and-fast rules.
“The ventilation, the mask use, the time of exposure and the distance, all of those factors have to be considered,” Sills said.
▪ One of the biggest findings: Masks work really well.
“Unequivocally yes, masks work, and they are probably the most important risk mitigation strategy,” Sills said. “People focus a lot on the fact that we tested every day and they focus on our contact tracing devices, but the one thing that really prevented transmission was mask use, and consistent mask use. Our data shows that that’s the key element to preventing transmission.”
▪ As further evidence that masks and social distancing work, Sills said, “we had almost no influenza cases this year. And that’s not true just in the NFL, that’s in medicine in general. And that’s a result of many of these mitigation strategies.”
▪ The NFL also plans to be vocal in encouraging the public to get vaccinated this offseason.
“Both us and the [Players Association] medical leadership believe very strongly in vaccinations,” said Sills, who has been vaccinated. “We believe it’s safe, we believe it’s effective, we believe it’s imperative as a way forward out of this pandemic.”
The NFL will create public service announcements this offseason to support vaccination efforts, and the 7,500 vaccinated health care workers attending the Super Bowl will get a lot of airtime.
“That’s why we have the 7,500 vaccinated workers here in Tampa,” Sills said. “We want to highlight how important we think it is while we also thank them for their service.”
Adjustments for CBS broadcasts
The CBS broadcast is going to take on a different tone to reflect the economic and psychological damage done by the pandemic.
“We’re not going to be somber and depressing, but I think we’re going to put everything in perspective, and we’re going to be thankful,” said CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus. “I think America needs this Super Bowl. It’s an opportunity for the country to come together. I think it’s going to be uplifting, I think it’s going to be unifying, and I think it’s coming at the right time. And I really do hope it’s a celebration for everything that’s great about this country.”
Concussions remain a priority
While the pandemic took all of our attention this season, the NFL still is working on reducing concussions. Jeff Miller, the league’s executive vice president of communications, said that concussions in regular-season games dropped by 5 percent this season.
This marks the third straight year that those numbers have decreased, and regular-season concussion numbers are down by about 25 percent compared with a few years ago.
“This is progress, this is not success,” Miller said. “We will continue to implement our concussion reduction strategy.”
But the NFL did not reveal the numbers for concussions suffered in training camp, which is where they haven’t seen as much progress in recent years. Those numbers are usually released at the Combine in late February.
Brian Flores has done a nice job building the Dolphins over the past two years, and the team appears to have a bright future following this season’s 10-6 finish. But it also may be fair to wonder if he’s just flying by the seat of his pants. Flores fired both of his coordinators after his first season, fired his new offensive coordinator after his second season, and for his third season went the unusual route of promoting two coaches (Eric Studesville and George Godsey) as co-coordinators. Other teams have had a similar setup, most notably the 49ers, but those teams have head coaches who call the plays (such as Kyle Shanahan). Flores is a defensive coach and has not announced who will call plays and how the co-coordinator setup will work. It sounds like a disaster in the making . . . Best wishes to former Browns, Chiefs, and Washington head coach Marty Schottenheimer, who was moved to hospice care this past week with Alzheimer’s, which he was diagnosed with in 2014. Schottenheimer’s 200 wins (against 126 losses and 1 tie) rank eighth all time, and he holds the ignominious title of most coaching wins without a championship . . . I got a chuckle out of seeing former Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett congratulate Jason Witten on his retirement, calling him the “gold standard” at tight end and noting that Witten was “literally the teaching tape in every TE room for an entire decade.” Bennett and Witten were Cowboys teammates from 2008-11, and in 2016, Bennett told ESPN, “I hated Jason Witten. I appreciated his game, but I always hated him.” . . . Meanwhile, Witten and fellow retiree Philip Rivers are going into coaching, but not at the NFL level. Witten was named the head coach at Liberty Christian School outside of Dallas, where his children attend. And Rivers was named the head coach at St. Michael’s Catholic High School outside Mobile, Ala., after building a relationship with one of the school’s families. “What has helped me come to this is the growing desire to coach high school football,” he told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “That’s what I’ve always wanted to do. It’s been growing. I can’t wait.” . . . The NFL and NFL Players Association negotiated a salary-cap floor of $175 million for 2021, a decrease of $23 million from 2020, after consistent growth of about $10 million per year since 2013. But NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said Thursday, “There’s a decent chance we could be above the floor.” NFLPA records also show that the Patriots are carrying over $19,571,247 in unused cap space for 2021, the sixth-highest amount among the 32 teams. The Patriots should be players in free agency.