CHAMPA BAY: Bucs back atop the NFL

by Gary Shelton on February 8, 2021

in general

Brady won his fifth Super Bowl MVP award./(Tori Richman/Tampa Bay Buccaneers via AP)

Monday, 4 a.m.

Here on the mountain top, it all seems worth it.

After all of the misery, all of the heartache, all of the disappointment. Winston and Freeman and McCown. Morris and Smith and Schiano. Aguayo and Gay and Brindza. All of the tears. All of the doubts. All of the pain.

It has been 6,587 days, or 18 years and 18 games, since Tampa Bay Bucs' fans have felt this way. There have been 170 lost games, and 10 last-place finishes, while Tampa Bay watched other cities celebrate.

In hindsight, it doesn't sound like too much to ask, does it?

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Bowles smothered the Chiefs' offense./(Kyle Zedaker/Tampa Bay Buccaneers via AP)

This was a great dessert after years of bad meals. This was the night that finally made the nightmares go away. This was the game when the Bucs finished their incredible run -- beating the Saints, the Packers and the Chiefs in a row -- to validate their owners' free-spending.

This was the title that put a cap on an incredible year by the Tampa Bay professional franchises.

Want to put into perspective? Tight end Rob Gronkowski said this to sum up the significance of joining Tom Brady to win a Super Bowl.

"It's hands down one of the great accomplishments in sports history," Gronk said. "I don't know if it's the greatest, but I would say it's up there for sure. To come down here to Tampa, to come to an organization that was ready to win, come down here with the players -- they're all fantastic players, great guys, just everyone overall. I mean, the story is just unbelievable. It definitely ranks up there as one of my biggest accomplishment ever."

And there at the top was 43-year-old Brady, cold and efficient as he won the seventh Super Bowl of his career. Brady won his fifth Super Bowl MVP trophy. Brady now has more MVP trophies than any other quarterback has rings.

Brady, who replaced Jameis Winston in the off-season, hit 21 of 29 passes for 209 yards and three scores. He had a passer rating of 125.8.

What Brady has given the Bucs, however, is an internal confidence that this team can win against anyone. Brady was the trail boss, prodding, pushing, guiding this team to be better. It is no secret why he has won so often. He simply will not allow anything else to happen most of the time.

Brady was especially impressive, again, with his touchdown drive just before the half to make the score 21-6.

"Yeah, that was a huge drive for us, that two-minute drive with a minute and something," Arians said. "Just, you know, wanting to start out a little conservative, make sure we got a play in and we got the long pass interference. Made a great, great throw with Antonio and you know, he just played outstanding the whole ballgame. He protected the football; we had great protection and found a couple of guys like Antonio and Gronk. Both their touchdowns were impromptu plays and just did a great job. Great line, great tight ends and just everybody did a hell of a job. Team effort."

Brady enjoyed the ride.

"I think they're all special," Brady said. "This has been an amazing year. We got off to a good start – 6-2 – and then had a little rough stretch where we found our identity. Played a lot better football in December and January. Just really proud of all the guys. Proud of all the coaches and the effort we put in. We knew we were playing a great football team tonight and we got the job done. You want to get this far, you've got to get the job done and we did it."

But the unsung hero of this game was defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, whose team held the high-powered Chiefs without a touchdown. Remember how the Chiefs carved up the Bucs in their late-November meeting? That didn't happen this time. Mahomes had 462 yards passing and a 124.7 rating. On Sunday night, he had 270 and a 52.3 rating. In their first meeting, Tyreek Hill caught 13 passes for 269 yards; Monday night, he caught seven for 72 yards.

It a masterful plan by Todd Bowles, who figured that his defensive line would overpower a Chiefs' line that was shredded by injury. That put more defenders in coverage, who led to a lot of frustrations by the Chiefs. The Bucs had three sacks, two interceptions and had 29 pressures (27 with a four-man line).

"Obviously, I didn't play the way I wanted to play,' Mahomes said, "What else can you say? I feel like the guys did that. They were the better team today; they beat us pretty good."

It continued a nice run by the Bucs' defense who, in turn, stopped Drew Brees, their personal nemesis, Aaron Rodgers, the league MVP, and Mahomes, who was going for another Super Bowl title.

“l can’t give (Bowles) enough credit," Arians said. "I think he got a little tired of hearing how unstoppable they (the Chiefs) were. I thought he came up with a fantastic plan just to keep them in front of us and tackle real well. Patrick wasn’t going to beat us running. We’d let him run all day.  We'd keep chasing him around and see if we could make some plays."

Then there is this: In the second half of the season, the Bucs greatly reduced their penalties. It was a lesson the Chiefs should have learned. They were flagged 11 times for 120 yards,

At the heart of it all was Brady, the quarterback who taught the Bucs how to win. It's odd. Every now and then, even this season, you'll hear that other players might deserve to be called the G.O.A.T. title because of MVPs (Aaron Rodgers) or stats (Drew Brees) or being the reigning Super Bowl winner (Mahomes). But being the G.O.A.T. has always been reflective of world titles. Until someone gets closer, such talk is silly.

This made Brady's big gamble -- leaving New England -- worth it. It made the Bucs' gamble -- trading in a younger quarterback who threw for a lot of yards but had a lot of turnovers -- look like genius.

 "We felt good, like there was no way we were losing this game," said offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich. "BA having the opportunity to win the Super Bowl as a head coach and knowing the assistant coaches, there was no way we were losing this football game – that is how we felt. We were fortunate enough that we found a way to pull it out. I love the way we played as a team. We have been building this thing like this for awhile and it all came together. I am happy for everybody that is involved. 

Could it happen again. You probably remember that the 2003 Bucs were dreadful, falling to 7-9.

But Arians said he would be back next year. Brady, too. And Gronkowski.

One question:

What time is kickoff?

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