Did the Falcons give the Bucs a blueprint to beat the Chiefs?

Credit: Dirk Shadd/Times

Credit: Dirk Shadd/Times

The Falcons played the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs better than any team this season before losing 17-14 on Dec. 27.

The Falcons, on their way to a 4-12 final record, were one acrobatic interception away from pulling off what would have been the shocker of the entire NFL season.

In the process, former interim coach Raheem Morris and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich may have given Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Todd Bowles a blueprint to follow when the Buccaneers (14-5) play the Chiefs (16-2) at 6:30 p.m. Sunday in Super Bowl LV at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.

“The Falcons game, I think they just had a good game plan,” Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes said. “They came in and they were physical.”

The Bucs were shredded by the Chiefs in a 27-24 victory Nov. 29. The Chiefs amassed 543 yards as they raced to a 27-10. Kansas City’s wide receiver Tyreek Hill broke loose for 13 catches, 269 yards and three touchdowns.

The Falcons kept a safety over the top of Hill and doubled-team tight end Travis Kelce. They kept players buzzing around Mahomes’ favorite receivers for most of the game.

The strategy paid off as Mahomes tossed several passes away and was intercepted in the red zone by linebacker Foye Oluokun while trying to squeeze a pass into Kelce.

Hill was held to four catches for 65 yards and no touchdowns. Kelce had seven catches for 98 yards.

The Chiefs needed a fourth-quarter Mahomes’ 25-yard touchdown pass to Demarcus Robinson with 1:55 left to pull out a victory. Mahomes completed 24 of 44 passes for 278 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. His passer rating of 79.5 was his lowest of the season.

“They did a lot of good things and they confused me whenever they needed to,” Mahomes said. “They didn’t win as many games as they wanted to, but if you look at that team they have playmakers everywhere. They battled everybody all year long, but luckily enough we were able to find a way to get a win.”

Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell dropped a potential game-clinching interception in the end zone, and kicker Younghoe Koo missed a 39-yard field-goal attempt that could have sent the game to overtime. There also was another dropped potential interception earlier in the game by Kendall Sheffield.

They Bucs are likely to play less man-to-man and may use some of the mixed man-zone concepts the Falcons used to slow Mahomes and Hill.

Bucs cornerback Carlton Davis was chasing Hill a lot in the first meeting.

“I’m going to bring the same mentality,” Davis said. “I’m always going to be myself. It didn’t work out the first game as far as what we did and our game plan, but we’ve corrected it and we’ve got a great game plan going in. But I’m going in with the same mentality and that’s to dominate.”

The Bucs’ secondary has been a work in progress over the season.

“A lot because just imagine you coming to work every day doing your job and not only you’re not getting credit, but people are saying you’re not doing your job,” Davis said. “People just aren’t realizing what you’re doing and it’s frustrating. Not just for me, but for all of my guys.”

The level of play improved over the season.

“We’ll continue to carry it, not even until we get our respect, just until we’re done playing because it’s something that you never forget,” Davis said of being ranked 32nd in the league early on in the season. “It’s something that’s always on mind. To be slept on is one of the worst feelings ever so that’s definitely our driving force.”

The unit’s resolve was tested after the horrible showing against Kansas City.

“I play defensive back in the NFL, so you’re going to have your share of losses,” Davis said. “It doesn’t change who I am, what I do, or how I approach the game. I’m going to continue to be a dog and go out there and give it my all every time.”

Bowles, a former safety in the NFL, has offered help.

“He’s given me a lot of great tips,” Davis said. “He’s given me the opportunity to show my skill set as a lockdown corner. I really appreciate him for what he’s done for my career thus far.”

In addition to covering Hill better, the Bucs want to control Mahomes when he escapes the pocket.

“It’s just going to take discipline,” linebacker Lavonte David said. “Everybody just latching onto a man whenever we’re in man-to-man or if we’re in zone coverage just matching onto a guy, being able to take away his zones and his reads.”

The Bucs had five sacks in the NFC Championship game against Green Bay without blitzing.

“At the end of the day, you’ve just got to get to him as quick as you can, as fast as you can, any way you can because he makes magic outside the pocket,” said David, who’s spent nine seasons with the Bucs. That’s definitely something that we have to look out for.”

One thing the Bucs have that the Falcons didn’t is a legitimate pass rush, with linebacker Shaquil Barrett and defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul.

“He plays with a heart that is as big as a lion,” Bucs coach Bruce Arians said of Pierre-Paul.

Falcons’ 2021 draft position:

NFL Network’s Bucky Brooks released his Mock Draft 1.0 and has the Falcons selecting BYU quarterback Zach Wilson. He has Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields going second overall to the New York Jets.

Brooks’ picks

1. Jacksonville Jaguars - Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson

2. New York Jets - Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State

3. Miami Dolphins (via Houston) - Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU

4. Falcons - Zach Wilson, QB, BYU

5. Cincinnati Bengals - Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon

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