Tyreek Hill went from unstoppable to invisible.
After a record-setting performance when he faced the Buccaneers in the regular season, Hill managed just two catches for 13 yards until the final 70 seconds of the third quarter in a stunning 31-9 loss by the Chiefs in Super Bowl 2021.
What was the difference?
“They were playing a lot of zone tonight, primarily Cover 2, Cover 4,” Hill said. “We rarely saw man-to-man and that’s what we game-planned for. Obviously zone here and there, but [Buccaneers defensive coordinator] Todd Bowles did his thing tonight. They just had a better game plan.”
Hill had 269 yards receiving and three touchdowns when the Chiefs beat the Buccaneers in Week 12. In fact, he had 203 yards and two touchdowns in the first quarter alone as it seemed one of the fastest players in the NFL caught the defense by surprise with his speed.
The Buccaneers kept two deep safeties over the middle of the field and shadowed Hill with double-teams, led by cornerback Carlton Davis. Hill finished with seven catches for 73 yards, but most of it came in garbage time.
“I’m not going to blame anyone on our team,” Hill said. “I feel like it’s a collective unit. Whether it’s us running too deep in our routes or whether it’s pressure or whatever the case may be. It’s on all of us.”
When the Chiefs were desperate, facing a 28-9 deficit and a third-and-14 early in the third quarter, quarterback Patrick Mahomes threw off his back foot to Hill.
Maybe he was thinking about the improbable third-and-long reception by Hill that sparked the fourth-quarter comeback against the 49ers in last year’s Super Bowl. Maybe the Buccaneers were, too. Because Hill was blanketed, the pass was deflected and safety Antoine Winfield Jr. made a diving interception.
The only time Hill’s signature “deuces” touchdown celebration appeared was after he was targeted on a fourth-and-10 incompletion late in the game — and Winfield Jr. taunted the fallen defending champions to get revenge for Hill flashing him the two-finger salute in the regular season.
“It’s something I had to do,” Winfield Jr. said. “When we played earlier, he back-flipped in front of my face and gave me the peace sign. So it was only right that I gave him the peace sign back to him. It felt amazing to do that. I’m not even going to lie.”