By Arnie Leshin
Fifty four National Football League Super Bowls at 25 different revenues, until now. For now it’s 55 at 26 different revenues.
fter spending 20 years winning six Super Bowls in nine appearances with the New England Patriots, Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady, at the age of 43, has made his initial season engendering the offense for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers accomplishing what no other team has done before, and that’s taking the Bucs home to Tampa, Fla., for the Feb. 7 Super Bowl, something never done before.
Having finishing two games behind the New Orleans Saints in the NFC South, Tampa Bay (11-5) hit the road as a 5th-seeded wild card and never came home until now. First it arrived in Washington and handed the Football Team a 31-23 setback, then it avenged the two defeats to the Saints with a 30-20 win in New Orleans, and on Sunday the 28-23 victory at the Green Bay Packers’ Lambeau Field will have it welcoming the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs to Dennis James Stadium.
For the top-seeded Chiefs in the AFC, they gained the Super Bowl for the third time in the last three years, winning the last two, and disposing of the visiting 2nd-seeded Buffalo Bills, 38-24, Sunday in the closing game after trailing 9-0 following four games in a row in which they were behind at halftime.
With the coronavirus pandemic hindering this campaign, there’s won’t a packed house to root for its Buccaneers, with about 9,000 fans in the stands for the NFC opener, and approximately 17,000 for the AFC closer. But unlike the cold, wind and some snow flakes that showed up in Green Bay and Kansas City, Tampa on Sunday had sunny skies, a high of 70 degrees, and now it can hang out a sign that says Kansas City at Tampa on Super Bowl Sunday.
It was Brady versus 37-year-old Most Valuable Player favorite Aaron Rodgers, and it might have been a standoff except that Brady made the bigger plays despite throwing a season-high three interceptions to go with his team coughing the ball up three times. He wound up with 20 completions in 36 attempts for 280 yards and three touchdowns.
He put Tampa Bay on the scoreboard quickly with via three-straight connections, a 27-yarder to Mike Evans, a 15-yarder to former New England teammate Rob Gronkowski, and then a 7-yard flip to Evans at 10:59 of quarter. With the point-after, it was already 7-0.
Then after top-seeded Green Bay punted on 4th and 17, Brady was sacked for a minus 6 yards, and Tampa Bay also punted on fourth down. But the Pack and Rodgers, trailing 7-0 after one quarter, answered back to even the score at 7-7. On a 3rd and 3, he hooked up with Marquis Valdes-Scantling in the corner of the end zone. The PAT tied it.
But back came Brady after three of his passes had been dropped, and on 3rd and 9 he found Chris Godwin on a 52-yard pass-play, and with point-after, it was now 14-7. Green Bay then moved the ball and Rodgers had been good on his first eight completed passes, but with 5:13 remaining the half, it had to settle for a 22-yard field goal.
On 4th and 9, the Buccaneers punted on their next possession, but then, following his being sacked, Rodgers was intercepted and Brady went to work again. He fired a 46-yard touchdown pass to Scotty Miller, who caught the ball at the six and ran it in, and with that it was 21-10 visitors at the intermission.
It was increased to 28-10 at 13:54 of the third quarter. Green Bay’s Aaron Jones fumbled the ball, it was recovered by the Bucs’ Jordan Whitehouse, and two plays later, it was Brady finding Cameron Brate for 11 yards and the TD. Leonard Fournette ran for one touchdown and gained 55 yards on 12 carries, and Godwin reeled in five passes for 110 yards.
The home team, a 3-point favorite, didn’t quit as Rodgers threw three touchdown passes, and completed 33 of 48 tries for 346. His top target was Valdes-Scantling with four catches for 114 yards.
It closed to with 28-17 as Rodgers tossed a short pass to Robert Tonyan right inside the end zone. The PAT was good. On its next possession, It scored again, but failed on the try for the 2-point conversion, and that left it behind at 28-23. Then Tampa Bay extended it to 31-23 with its own field goal, and on fourth down with 2:23 left, the Pack chose to kick another field goal instead of going for the T. It was good, and made for the final score as the Buccaneers celebrated their historic route that brings them home for the Super Bowl.
It also could bring Brady hoisting yet another Vince Lombardi Championship Trophy. It’s amazing how he operates, trades in wintertime in New England for summertime in North Florida, and carries this franchise to the NFL’s biggest show for the first time since 2003 when it rolled over the then-Oakland Raiders, 48-21, in San Diego.
Last year, while Brady was in his last year in New England and awaiting free agency, Tampa Bay finished 6-10 and landed in the playoffs for the first time since winning the NFC South title in 2007. This time, he steered the Buccaneers to a dream come true, one never before realized, and that’s home field for the Super Bowl.
Most of the statistics were in favor of Green Bay. It had more first downs, 23-19, more possessions, 35:18-25:22, total yards, 381-351, total plays, 69-61, yards per play, 5.8-5-5, while Tampa Bay had more turnovers, 3-2, and more rushing yards, 76-67. The Packers finished at 13-4 in a game played in 30 degrees and some snow flurries.
But of course the other thing that matters is the W that takes you home to tackle Kansas City for the big prize.