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Tom Brady gives Tampa Bay a Super Bowl home game with 31-26 win over Packers in NFC championship

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady celebrates with his teammates after winning the NFC championship Sunday with a 31-26 victory over the Packers in Green Bay. (Jeffrey Phelps/AP)

Tom Brady is an NFL dynasty unto himself.

Brady is headed back to the Super Bowl, this time without the New England Patriots. He prevailed over Aaron Rodgers in a duel of legendary quarterbacks as his Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat Rodgers’s Green Bay Packers, 31-26, in Sunday’s NFC championship game at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis.

“It’s been a long process for the whole team,” Brady said during the postgame trophy presentation. “Today was just a great team effort. We played sporadically a little bit, but the defense came up huge. We’re going to need it again in a couple weeks.”

The Buccaneers will be the first team to play a Super Bowl on its home field. They will meet the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV, scheduled for Feb. 7 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa before an expected crowd of 22,000 fans.

“Getting to the Super Bowl wasn’t what our goal is,” Buccaneers Coach Bruce Arians said in a postgame video news conference. “Our goal is to win it.”

To get there, the fifth-seeded Buccaneers won three straight playoff games on the road. The last two came against all-time great quarterbacks. They beat the second-seeded Saints in New Orleans in the divisional round, probably sending Drew Brees into retirement. On Sunday, they defeated the top-seeded Packers and prevented Rodgers from adding a Super Bowl appearance to what is probably a league MVP season.

Brady had three touchdown passes and three interceptions in an uneven performance. He completed 20 of 36 passes for 280 yards. Rodgers threw an interception but had three touchdown passes in a 33-for-48, 346-yard outing.

“I’m just pretty gutted,” Rodgers said. “It’s a long season. You put so much into it to get to this point. We had our chances.”

The Packers trailed 28-10 in the third quarter but drew within 28-23 entering the fourth quarter. It was a 31-23 game with just more than two minutes remaining when Packers Coach Matt LaFleur opted for a 26-yard field goal by Mason Crosby instead of a fourth-and-goal attempt by the offense from the Tampa Bay 8-yard line.

“Any time it doesn’t work out,” LaFleur said, “you always regret it, right? … The way I was looking at it was, you essentially had four timeouts, with the two-minute warning. We knew we needed to get a stop, and I thought we were going to have a stop there at the end.”

Green Bay never got the ball back.

“It wasn’t my decision,” Rodgers said. “But I understand the thinking, above two minutes with all of our timeouts.”

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The Buccaneers ran out the clock after getting a first down on a pass interference penalty on Packers cornerback Kevin King on a late but seemingly correct call; King pulled the jersey of wide receiver Tyler Johnson. The Packers viewed it otherwise.

“I think it was a bad call,” Rodgers said. “I think there were a few opportunities for some plays down the field for us that weren’t called. I’m surprised that call in that situation was made.”

The 43-year-old Brady reached his 10th Super Bowl in Year 1 of the post-New England phase of his career. He’s seeking his seventh Super Bowl triumph. Brady played Sunday in his 14th conference championship game, his first in the NFC and first since leaving the Patriots in free agency in March to relocate to Tampa.

“Guys came through,” Brady said during a video news conference. “Everyone stepped up to the challenge. Football is the ultimate team sport. And it takes everybody, and everybody plays a role. I’m just so proud of this whole team and, again, just blessed to be part of it.”

The Buccaneers last reached the Super Bowl 18 years ago. They won Super Bowl XXXVII in January 2003 with Jon Gruden as their coach, Brad Johnson as their quarterback, Keyshawn Johnson at wide receiver and a defense that included Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks and John Lynch.

The Buccaneers beat the Packers for the second time this season after throttling them, 38-10, on Oct. 18 in Tampa. Rodgers was playing the NFC title game at Lambeau for the first time, but that didn’t help. The Packers lost the NFC championship game for a second straight season.

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Rodgers won’t make his second career Super Bowl appearance, at least not this season. His chances, at 37, are dwindling. Rodgers called his future uncertain and said he’ll need to “take some time away, for sure, and clear my head and just kind of see what’s going on with everything.” The Packers used a first-round pick in last year’s draft on quarterback Jordan Love.

“This won’t haunt me,” Rodgers said. “It’s just going to hurt for a while.”

The Buccaneers left a crowd of 7,772 fans at Lambeau stunned when Brady threw a 39-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Scotty Miller one second before halftime for a 21-10 lead. Brady threw for 202 yards and two touchdowns in the first half. He had a 15-yard touchdown pass to wideout Mike Evans in the first quarter. Tailback Leonard Fournette bulldozed his way to a 20-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.

Rodgers threw a 50-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling in the opening minute of the second quarter. But he also threw an interception to Buccaneers cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting to set up the Buccaneers’ last-second touchdown. It went from bad to worse for the Packers in the third quarter when tailback Aaron Jones lost a fumble after a catch and the Buccaneers immediately cashed in with an eight-yard touchdown pass from Brady to tight end Cameron Brate.

The Packers regrouped with 13 straight third-quarter points as Rodgers threw touchdown passes to tight end Robert Tonyan and wide receiver Davante Adams, sandwiched around safety Adrian Amos’s interception of a Brady pass. Brady threw two fourth-quarter interceptions to cornerback Jaire Alexander without much consequence, and the Buccaneers extended their lead to 31-23 with kicker Ryan Succop’s 46-yard field goal with less than five minutes left.

“This one does sting,” LaFleur said. “It’s going to take a long time to get over this one.”

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