Super Bowl 54 was last night and -- in case you haven't heard -- the Tampa Bay Buccaneers thumped the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs, 31-9. Tom Brady won his NFL-record seventh Super Bowl, further cementing his status as the greatest quarterback of all-time. But while Brady played well (21/29, 201 yards, 3 TD/0 INT, 125.8 passer rating), the main reason the Bucs won the game was because of their dominance at the line of scrimmage.
On defense the Bucs harassed the injury-depleted Chiefs offensive line all night long, harassing Patrick Mahomes into a slew of rushed passes and errant throws, especially on obvious passing downs. And on offense the Bucs provided Brady with an oasis in the pocket, free of pressure or disruption for pretty much the entire game, while also paving the way for a ground game that picked up 145 yards and chewed up clock and field position in the second half after Tampa had established a 21-6 halftime lead.
Two Hawkeyes contributed to Tampa Bay's absolute control of the line of scrimmage. Newcomers to Tampa shone all night last night -- in addition to Brady's efforts, Rob Gronkowski had six receptions for 67 yards and two touchdowns, Antonio Brown had five catches for 22 yards and a score, and Leonard Fournette had 135 total yards and a touchdown -- but one of Tampa's best newcomers wasn't an ex-Pat (or Fournette), but first round draft pick Tristan Wirfs. Wirfs was an absolute rock as Tampa's right tackle, providing expert protection for Brady all night and helping blow open holes in Kansas City's defense for Fournette and Ronald Jones II on the ground. How good was Wirfs? Well...
Wirfs was superb in the Super Bowl, but that really just put the finishing touches on what was an extraordinary rookie season. Just look at these numbers:
Tristan Wirfs this season:— PFF (@PFF) February 8, 2021
799 pass-blocking snaps
1 sack allowed pic.twitter.com/i9Y0zgOw4I
How about this rookie campaign from Bucs OL Tristan Wirfs:— NFLonCBS (@NFLonCBS) February 9, 2021
22 years old
started all 20 games
did not miss a single offensive snap (1,280 plays)
1 penalty since Week 5
799 pass-blocking snaps
1 sack allowed
Super Bowl champion pic.twitter.com/J4L0PdTfou
One sack allowed all season? Only one penalty since Week 5? Those would be some pretty outrageous numbers for an established veteran. Wirfs pulled them off as a rookie. A rookie who's just four years removed from starting for Mount Vernon. As Iowa fans, we had the privilege of watching Wirfs dominate the college ranks for three seasons. We had first-row seats to watch how good he was as a true freshman in 2017 -- and how rapidly he improved as a sophomore in 2018 and a junior in 2019. And I don't think any of us could have anticipated that he would be this good this early in his NFL career. That's just remarkable.
Wirfs wasn't the only Hawkeye to help Tampa to victory last night, either. Anthony Nelson contributed to Tampa's control of the line of scrimmage with his play on the defensive line. He was officially credited for one tackle and one pass defended, but he was a member of the Tampa pass rush that terrorized Mahomes all night long. Make those confetti snow angels, big fella.
And we have our front-page lead art...former Waukee and Iowa Hawkeye standout Anthony Nelson doing confetti angels after Tampa Bay's Super Bowl victory (@AP_Sports photo by @CharlieRiedel1). @ANelly98 @Buccaneers @christyknelson @Jniowa93 @WaukeeCSD @WaukeeFB @HawkeyeFootball pic.twitter.com/VQL2qFGTIo— Eric Pratt (@ByEricPratt) February 8, 2021
There were Hawkeyes on the losing side last night as well. Anthony Hitchens and Ben Niemann won Super Bowl rings with the Chiefs last year but weren't able to add to their collection this year. Hitchens started and finished with one tackle and one pass defended. Niemann didn't start, but finished with nine tackles in the game, one off Kansas City's team lead. Both Hitchens and Niemann contributed to a key defensive stop early in the game at the goal line, stuffing the Bucs on fourth down and forcing a turnover on downs. Alas, it didn't change anything in the grand scheme of the game, but it was still one of the few highlights for the Chiefs defense last night. Hitchens even prevented a Big Man Touchdown during that series.
Sure, winning a Super Bowl in Raymond James Stadium probably doesn't equal the rush of winning free coconut shrimp for America, as happened the last time Wirfs and Nelson played a bowl game in Tampa, but once you've partaken of the Outback Bowl, most other postseason football experiences are sure to be a letdown.
But, seriously, a hearty congrats to Tristan Wirfs and Anthony Nelson -- they're deservedly on top of the football world with the rest of the Tampa Bay Bucs after last night. And the Bucs couldn't have done it without their contributions, especially Wirfs, an already-brilliant player who just seems to get better and better.
Go Iowa Awesome, friends.