Bucs must deal with Packers’ legends

by Gary Shelton on January 22, 2021

in general

Brady is building his own legend./BUCCANEERS.COM

Friday, 4 a.m.

There are ghosts riding the cold winds of the frozen tundra.

They gather there in the biggest games, inviting their present-day counterparts to join them in immortality. Once more, just before kickoff, they gather beneath the scoreboard, taunting their opponents, reminding them of the domination that was.

They are Vince Lombardi and Mike Holmgren, and they would have Matt LaFleur take a seat beside them. They are Bart Starr and Brett Favre. They are Paul Hornung and Jimmy Taylor. They are Reggie White and Willie Davis. They are Ray Nitschke and Clay Matthews. They are Herb Adderly and LeeRoy Butler. They are Sterling Sharpe and James Lofton. They are Jerry Kramer and Forrest Gregg.

Around Wisconsin, they are comic book heroes, legends that braved the elements and the opposition, men who made a small community big, legends and folks of lore.

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Sunday, the Tampa Bay Bucs will have to contend with all of it, with a team that is trying to measure up the high standards of their predecessors. They are Aaron Rodgers and Aaron Jones, Davante Adams and Za'Darius Smith, and they are trouble enough without the ghosts.

On the other hand, there are the Tampa Bay Bucs.

They have Tom Brady.

When it comes to immortality, to being larger than life, that's as close as the Bucs get. Brady has 14 of these championship appearances. And never mind that he is 43, and that he is coming off a pedestrian game. Sunday's game is a classic quarterback against a classic team. If Brady is good enough, the Bucs have a shot. If he isn't, they probably do not.

Give Brady credit for this. For all of the Packers' greatness, no one has six Super Bowl rings. So, yeah, he's dealing in legacy, too.

Of course, none of those rings are with the Bucs -- at least not yet. But it gives you some idea of the stakes that surround Brady in this game.

Granted, there is more to a quarterback than winning the Super Bowl. Just ask Bucs' coach Bruce Arians.

"I go back to Dan Marino – he’s arguably the best ever and he didn’t have any [Super Bowl wins]," Arians said. "So much of it is your team [and] how good is your team? Your defense and all the football players around you – not just your quarterback. Quarterbacks get all the laurels and the blame and so do the coaches. This is the ultimate team sport and I just happened to be standing on the opposite sideline of the last Super Bowl that [Aaron Rodgers] won. He played really, really well.”

Granted, it isn't just the quarterback. But the ball is usually in his hands.

“Most of the time when you get to championship games, it’s these kind of guys that are playing in them," said Bucs' offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich. "It’s hard to get here. The quarterback has so much to do with getting to these type of games. Really, in NFC Championships, you really have two really good quarterbacks playing at a high level and that’s probably why both teams are there playing in that game. Obviously, these are two of the greats – two of the best to ever do it. We’re really just getting ready, though. We’re just really getting ready [and] trying to prepare ourselves to get ready for a tough defense – a defense that has a lot of really good players on it, a defense that has been playing lights out. We’re just trying to do what we can to prepare ourselves this week to get ready to play [on] Sunday.”

Much of the season has been spent with analysts talking about what Brady still has or does not. But the primary thing he has brought to Tampa Bay is simple.

“I think leadership," Leftwich said. "Leadership and his ability to get his team in these types of games. He’s been in a lot of these games, as we all know. He’s played in a lot of these championship games and it starts, really, with his leadership from day one. Making sure that everybody understands the importance of why we do everything day in and day out to give ourselves an opportunity to be in these types of moments. I just think the leadership that he brings to our team [and] the awareness that he has from being in these moments [and] being in these situations is something that we have benefitted from greatly.”

The thing is, Brady has proven he can still play, too. Just ask longtime teammate Rob Gronkowski.

“When you protect him and you give him the time, I think it gives him the ability to make the best decision for the team," Gronkowski said. "I feel like when he has time back there – he’ll hold onto the ball for sure when he has time – but when he’s sitting back there, he’s relaxed and he knows he’s not being pressured, I feel like it gives him the best opportunity to make the best decision on where the ball should go, on who should get the ball, on where the pass should be, on what coverage to read and all of that. It’s huge to keep him clean [and] it’s huge to give him time. Just overall, I feel like any team that gives their quarterback time, it gives them the best chance to win, so we’ve got to stay on that. We’ve got to stay on top of our game in that aspect and we’ve got to keep giving him time so he can get that ball out.”

Add them all together: The talent of the Packers, and the home field, and the weather, and the history, and the revenge factor (the Bucs pounded the Packers in the regular season). It all will be difficult for the Bucs to overcome.

On the other side, there is Brady.

And with him, there is hope.

The game begins at 3:05 p.m. on Sunday. 

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