TAMPA — The most unfamiliar of NFL seasons, played as the league maneuvered its way through the coronavirus pandemic, ended with the most familiar of results. Tom Brady added to his collection of Super Bowl victories.
“I think they’re all special,” Brady said. “This has been an amazing year.”
It was the seventh Super Bowl triumph for Brady in his 10th appearance, punctuating his storybook first season with the Buccaneers after two dynastic decades with the New England Patriots.
“I think everybody believed we could win,” Brady said during a postgame video news conference. “Really all year, we believed in ourselves. . . . We were going up against a great team tonight. I’m just happy we got the job done.”
Brady had help from tight end Rob Gronkowski, his former Patriots teammate who came out of retirement to rejoin Brady in Tampa. Gronkowski caught two first-half touchdown passes from Brady as the Buccaneers sprinted to a 21-6 halftime lead and never looked back. Brady also threw a touchdown pass to wide receiver Antonio Brown in a 21-for-29, 201-yard passing performance. He won his fifth Super Bowl MVP award.
“He is the greatest football player that ever played,” said Buccaneers tailback Leonard Fournette, who ran for 89 yards and a touchdown.
There is no end in sight for the 43-year-old Brady, who said last week that he could envision playing beyond age 45.
“Yeah, we’re coming back,” he said during the on-field postgame celebration.
In this postseason alone, Brady and the Buccaneers defeated three legendary — or legendary-to-be — quarterbacks in succession: the New Orleans Saints’ Drew Brees, the Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers and Mahomes.
Buccaneers Coach Bruce Arians gave credit to his defensive coordinator, Todd Bowles, and said, “I think he got a little tired of hearing about how unstoppable [the Chiefs] were.”
The Buccaneers became the first team to play a Super Bowl on its home field. They took advantage, securing the franchise’s second Super Bowl title and its first in 18 years. This is undoubtedly what Brady envisioned when he left the Patriots in free agency in March to sign with the Buccaneers. But in between, they and everyone else in the league had to endure a twisting and challenging season that included daily coronavirus testing, rigid protocols and the constant threat of everything coming unraveled.
But the NFL pushed onward and managed to play the 269th and final game of its season on time. It came during a pleasant Florida evening before a crowd of 24,835 fans, including about 7,500 vaccinated health-care workers who attended as guests of the league. There also were 30,000 cardboard cutouts of fans that made the stands appear even more filled.
The Chiefs failed in their bid to become the NFL’s first repeat champions since Brady’s Patriots in the 2003 and 2004 seasons.
“It’s tough,” Chiefs Coach Andy Reid said. “That’s a tough thing. Even to get back to this game, it’s tough.”
Mahomes was under pressure all night and threw two interceptions while completing only 26 of 49 passes for 270 yards. The Chiefs couldn’t reach the end zone and never resembled the team that dominated the NFL over the past two seasons.
“They were just better than us today,” Mahomes said. “I don’t know what else to say.”
The Chiefs struggled through a first half in which they committed numerous gaffes, including eight penalties for 95 yards, and failed to safeguard Mahomes from the Buccaneers’ pass rush. He was forced to scramble from the pocket regularly while playing behind a patchwork, injury-depleted offensive line and managed only 67 first-half passing yards.
Brady and Gronkowski, meanwhile, connected for their 13th and 14th career postseason touchdowns as a tandem, moving them past former San Francisco 49ers greats Joe Montana and Jerry Rice for the most ever. Brady got the Buccaneers moving late in the first quarter. His first touchdown pass came on an eight-yard toss to Gronkowski on a short throw to the left side.
The Kansas City defense had a goal-line stand in the second quarter to keep the game temporarily tight. A gadget-play pass by the Buccaneers thrown to offensive lineman Joe Haeg, who lined up as an eligible receiver, didn’t work, and tailback Ronald Jones II was stopped on a fourth-down carry from the 1-yard line. Brady and some Buccaneers players signaled touchdown, and Arians tried an instant-replay challenge that failed.
No matter. A 29-yard punt by the Chiefs’ Tommy Townsend set up the Buccaneers at the Kansas City 38-yard line. Their drive was extended first when an interception was negated by a defensive holding penalty, then when the Chiefs lined up offside on a successful field goal. Brady found Gronkowski for a 17-yard touchdown on the next play.
The Chiefs got their second field goal just over a minute before halftime. But Brady and the Buccaneers rushed down the field, aided by two pass interference calls against the Chiefs. Brady’s one-yard touchdown pass to Brown six seconds before halftime made it 21-6. Brown was another Brady-influenced addition to the roster, signed at Brady’s urging when Arians dropped his objection just before the expiration of Brown’s eight-game suspension by the NFL for violating its personal conduct policy.
Harrison Butker’s third field goal, from 52 yards, got the Chiefs closer in the third quarter. But the Buccaneers responded quickly with a 27-yard touchdown dash by Fournette to make it 28-9. Mahomes threw a tipped-pass interception to safety Antoine Winfield Jr., and the Buccaneers turned that into a 52-yard field goal by Ryan Succop.
The Chiefs failed on a fourth-and-nine try from the Tampa Bay 11-yard line early in the fourth quarter, all but sealing the outcome. Mahomes had another fourth-down incompletion with less than four minutes remaining and threw an end-zone interception to linebacker Devin White with less than two minutes to play.
“Obviously it hurts right now,” Mahomes said. “It hurts a lot. But we’re going to continue to get better. . . . We can’t let this define us.”
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