It’s no longer strange to see Tom Brady in a Tampa Bay Buccaneers uniform. He looks regal, as usual. He looks the way he often does, like an unwavering champion, with arms locked in a trophy-hoisting position.
Yet as Tampa Bay discombobulated Kansas City in a 31-9 victory, the greatest statement wasn’t what Brady proved to his former team or anyone else wondering whether he still had it at age 43. It wasn’t that he outshined the luminous young Mahomes. It was more personal than that, and it was also specific to what he built with the Bucs over the past 11 pandemic-burdened months.
In March, Brady decided to leave New England because it was time. He was right. He decided to leave because he wanted to play for a team with more weapons and upside. He was right. He decided to leave because he needed to write his ending, and he needed to write it his way, and for those addicted to success, aspiration trumps comfort.
He was right.
The Buccaneers didn’t simply ride Brady to a championship, however. Through a regular season in which they had to develop quickly, through a difficult postseason that required three road victories to play Super Bowl host at Raymond James Stadium, they turned into a complete team. On Sunday, their defense led the way, taking apart the Chiefs’ historic, speedy offense with a masterful game plan from coordinator Todd Bowles. Their rushing attack punished the Chiefs and amassed 145 yards, with Leonard Fournette (89 yards) and Ronald Jones II (61 yards) making for an unstoppable combination. And then Brady was typical Brady, flawless in important situations, efficient in the moments between.
Brady, the human dynasty, wasn’t the savior. He was the finisher.
“I think we knew this was going to happen tonight, didn’t we?” Brady said afterward, standing atop a stage as the home crowd cheered.
Maybe he did.
History will consider this another legacy game for Brady, now a five-time Super Bowl MVP. He beat Mahomes, a new rival who is 18 years younger, to conclude a weekend in which longtime rival Peyton Manning received a Hall of Fame nod. Think about that. Manning, his greatest contemporary, has been out of the game for five years. But Brady keeps collecting rings, and now he’s turning back a great quarterback young enough, if he dared, to consider him a father figure.
But, really, this was an incredible team effort, the ultimate example of why Brady chose to move his family south. By the end of this journey, Brady and Rob Gronkowski were connecting for two touchdowns, just like old times, and the Bucs truly resembled a sunny version of the Patriots’ dynasty, right down to defensive ingenuity that left Mahomes clambering to make something out of nothing.
Brady did his job, completing 21 of 29 passes for 201 yards and three touchdowns, most of which came in the first half. But Bowles and the defense owned the night, employing an ideal game plan that limited Kansas City’s opportunities to throw downfield and taking advantage of the Chiefs’ makeshift, injury-marred offensive line by pressuring Mahomes with an array of gifted pass rushers.
Mahomes completed just 26 of 49 passes for 270 yards. He threw two interceptions. He was sacked three times and forced to scramble and throw desperation heaves most of the night. The Chiefs didn’t score a touchdown.
“I could have done a whole lot better to put my guys in position to make plays,” Kansas City Coach Andy Reid said. “Give credit to Todd for the job that he did. He got us.”
It was a dominant performance that, at many points during the season, it didn’t seem the Bucs had in them. With a truncated offseason, they endured an uneven start and later slumped in November. Brady had bouts of erratic play. He struggled with Coach Bruce Arians’s deep passing attack and go-for-broke mentality. Even though the team finished 11-5, it entered the playoffs as a wild card that seemingly needed more time together to compete with more polished contenders.
It takes time to develop a championship culture. Brady joined a team that had only two winning seasons since 2010. The Bucs hadn’t been to the playoffs since the 2007 season. They had cycled through so many coaches after Tony Dungy and Jon Gruden made them successful: Raheem Morris, Greg Schiano, Lovie Smith, Dirk Koetter. Finally, they convinced Arians to come out of retirement, but they went 7-9 in his first season.
They needed a quarterback. They needed more winners. They saw Brady as the perfect fit, and he agreed.
They are most effective playing exactly how they were built. They were an interesting young team that couldn’t put it all together until they ditched turnover-prone quarterback Jameis Winston and signed Brady. With a six-time champion as the final piece, everything suddenly fit.
The Bucs had a quarterback who could carry them, but just as important, they also had one who specialized in playing clean, efficient football. After falling behind in this game, Kansas City — which has elevated the comeback to an art form — had to deal with its most daunting challenge: a quarterback who seldom beats himself. This wasn’t Jimmy Garoppolo, Brady’s former backup in New England, who flubbed a double-digit San Francisco lead in last year’s Super Bowl. Brady knows how to finish.
He won’t call this one, accomplished without the genius of Bill Belichick, the sweetest of his seven championships. But he won’t deny the significance.
“I’m not making any comparisons,” Brady said, acting as if his Super Bowls are like children. “This team is world champion forever. You can’t take it away from us.”
Yet again, he was right.
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