Buccaneers win Super Bowl LV in historic game


Courtesy of Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Tom Brady (12) celebrates in the huddle as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeat the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl.

Gaurav Hardikar, Staff Reporter

On Feb. 7, 2021, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the reigning-champion Kansas City Chiefs in a 31-9 blowout to secure the Bucs’ second Super Bowl victory and their first in 18 years. Though the venue for Super Bowl LV, the Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, was decided upon several years ago, for the first time in NFL history there was a team playing for the championship in their home stadium.

After several years of mediocrity, the Bucs returned to the playoffs for the first time since the 2007 season. However, their last playoff win had come five seasons earlier when they were crowned champions in Super Bowl XXXVII.

For a team that boasted an exceptionally talented roster and an equally sharp coaching staff, one might wonder what was missing in the Bucs’ championship formula.

The answer: a new quarterback.

The 2019 Buccaneers, led by quarterback and 2013 Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, finished the season with a 7-9 record. So when New England Patriots legend Tom Brady announced in early 2020 that he’d be departing from the team after 20-years, the Bucs knew they had a chance to strike gold. The future Hall-of-Famer and six-time Super Bowl champion was exactly what Tampa needed. Historically, Brady ranks fourth all-time in career touchdown-to-interception ratio and was a perfect fit for a team that was merely an elite quarterback away from being a championship contender.

Shortly after Brady signed with the Bucs, he coaxed fellow Patriots legend Rob Gronkowski into coming out of retirement to join him. A three-time champion with Brady in New England and one of the greatest tight ends in NFL history, Gronkowski strengthened an offense already stacked with weapons. As if those weren’t enough, the Bucs also brought in running back Leonard Fournette and, after persistent appeals from Brady, controversial star wide receiver Antonio Brown.

Though this roster looked like an instant favorite on paper, the Bucs found themselves in the middle of the pack uncomfortably late in the season. The offense was struggling and many people blamed head coach Bruce Arians not letting Brady run the offense to his strengths. On top of that, it seemed as though Brady was struggling to adjust to the team and playbook, which was primarily due to the canceled preseason and Organized Team Activities (OTAs).

It didn’t help that the team started the season sloppily and repeatedly committed several costly but easily avoidable penalties. The Bucs also suffered two devastating losses to their rivals, the New Orleans Saints. Though many dismissed the Saints’ week one victory as Brady was still familiarizing himself with the team, the Saints came into Tampa weeks later and thrashed the Bucs 38-3, handing Brady one of his worst losses, and individual performances, ever.

Then came a Super Bowl preview in Week 12. The Bucs sat at an unimpressive 7-4 record and were hosting the defending champions from Kansas City. The Chiefs, led by superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes, came into Tampa guns blazing. The former league MVP and reigning Super Bowl MVP teamed up with wide receiver Tyreek Hill to put the Chiefs up 17-0 in the first quarter. Hill posted a shocking 203 receiving yards and two touchdowns in the first quarter alone. Though the Bucs were able to close the gap in the 27-24 loss, it was apparent that the Chiefs had eased up after such a dominant first half.

The loss to the Chiefs in the regular season would end up being the last time the Buccaneers lost in the 2020 season.

Though they strung together four straight wins to close out the season at 11-5, many still doubted Tampa, especially since those last four games were against considerably inferior teams. Even then, the final record was just enough for the Bucs to clinch a wildcard playoff spot. Brady finished the season with a franchise-record 40 passing touchdowns, the most in his career since his then-record 50-touchdown season in 2007. However, Brady was in unfamiliar territory: He had never hoisted the Lombardi Trophy as a part of a wildcard team.

Meanwhile, the Chiefs’ starters had two weeks to rest before they hosted the Cleveland Browns in the divisional round. Having already clinched home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid elected to deactivate his star players for the final regular season game. Though they suffered a loss in the last week of the season, the Chiefs finished with a league-best record of 14-2.

Midway through the divisional round matchup against the Browns, Mahomes left the game with a concussion. While Chiefs fans held their breath for Mahomes’ health, backup quarterback Chad Henne fended off the Browns, advancing the Chiefs to the conference championship for the third straight year.

Tampa’s journey through the NFC was an entirely different story. Playing on the road once again, the Bucs arrived in New Orleans to face the dreaded Saints in the divisional round. Though many rooting for the Bucs feared the worst, Brady’s extensive playoff experience and staunch leadership powered the offense in this statement game while the Bucs defense made short work of Saints quarterback Drew Brees. The future Hall-of-Famer played in what was likely his last game and was, to the dismay of many, picked apart. The Bucs finally got revenge on their rivals in a 30-20 road victory and advanced to the NFC Championship, where they would take on the Green Bay Packers and the MVP-to-be, Aaron Rodgers.

The AFC Championship saw the Chiefs host the Buffalo Bills, an underdog that had become electrifying to watch. The 1966 Chiefs beat the Bills to advance to the league’s very first Super Bowl, where they lost to the Green Bay Packers. In 1993, the Bills beat the Chiefs to advance to Super Bowl XXVIII, in which they fell to the Dallas Cowboys.

This time around, the Chiefs got the better of the Bills, as a recovered Patrick Mahomes decimated Buffalo’s usually stringent defense in a 38-24 victory. With another Super Bowl bid under their belts, the Chiefs looked to become the first team to win back-to-back Super Bowls since the 2003-2004 Patriots, which were of course led by Brady.

In the NFC Championship, the Bucs battled against the Packers, led by Rodgers. Rodgers threw for 48 touchdowns in 2020 and led a highly efficient offense that had more passing touchdowns than punts. The Bucs, however, had picked up momentum from the previous two wins and their confidence heading into their third straight road playoff game was ballooning.

Brady started the day nearly flawless, throwing for three touchdowns to help put the Bucs up 28-10 in the third quarter. After that, the tide shifted in favor of the Packers: Brady threw three interceptions, giving the Packers offense several chances to close the gap. Green Bay couldn’t capitalize on these turnovers and eventually lost 31-26. With this nail-biting win, the Bucs punched their ticket to a second ever Super Bowl appearance.

The stage was set for the epic showdown between two generational quarterbacks in Brady and Mahomes. Their explosive offenses and stellar defensive lines made Super Bowl LV an even more anticipated event.

With nearly 25,000 fans in attendance, the game kicked off and the ball started in the Bucs’ hands. Their offense got off to a slow start while Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker nailed a 49-yard field goal, his first of three field goals of the night.

Trailing 3-0, Brady led the Bucs down the field and capped the drive off with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Gronkowski. This touchdown surprisingly marked the first time in Brady’s record-10 Super Bowl appearances where his offense scored a touchdown in the first quarter.

The Chiefs failed to answer on their next drive and punted. However, their defense made a crucial stop on 4th and goal, stuffing Bucs running back Ronald Jones one yard short of the Chiefs’ end zone.

The Chiefs’ offensive struggles continued even after the Bucs’ turnover. With their third punt in their first 4 drives, the Chiefs’ worries were starting to grow. Brady and Gronkowski, meanwhile, found the end zone again on the following drive, putting the Buccaneers up 14-3.

This marked a critical moment in the game for two reasons. Firstly, the 17-yard touchdown pass became the fourteenth time Brady had found Gronk for a touchdown in the playoffs, setting an NFL record between a quarterback and a target.

Secondly, the Chiefs, now down by 11, had to come back in a way only Brady and Mahomes were familiar with. On only three occasions had a team come back to win after trailing by double digits in the Super Bowl. In Super Bowl XLIX, Brady and the Patriots trailed 24-14 to the Seattle Seahawks before coming back to win 28-24. Two years later, Brady led the Patriots in yet another historic comeback in Super Bowl LI, trailing 28-3 to the Atlanta Falcons only to bounce back and win 34-28 in the only overtime Super Bowl. Last year, Mahomes got his chance to do the same, leading the Chiefs to a 31-20 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV after previously being down 20-10.

This time, however, the Chiefs would be denied another epic moment. After a Butker field goal, Brady and the Bucs answered with another touchdown, bringing the score to 21-6 and killing any momentum the Chiefs had built going into halftime.

Things didn’t improve much for the Chiefs in the second half. A 27-yard touchdown run from Fournette in response to Butker’s third and final field goal of the night essentially put the nail in the coffin.

A field goal from Bucs kicker Ryan Succop and a scoreless fourth quarter later, the Chiefs were finally put out of their misery in the 31-9 loss. The blowout was not only the first time in Mahomes’ NFL career where he lost by more than a touchdown, it was also the only time the Chiefs have failed to score a touchdown while Mahomes was their starting quarterback.

Despite a poor statistical performance, viewers could tell that Mahomes, perhaps, displayed the most heart out of anyone on the Chiefs. With two starting offensive linemen unable to play, their backups were no match for the Bucs’ fearsome pass rush. Bucs’ Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles made the most of this mismatch, because it meant additional defenders weren’t needed to chase Mahomes.

Instead, Bowles used these defenders to play tighter coverage on the pass-catchers while Mahomes ran for his life from the defensive linemen. This proved a winning formula for the Bucs, as they cornered Mahomes into an unfortunate record of 497 yards run by a quarterback behind the line of scrimmage.

With such poor pass protection, Mahomes was constantly trying to avoid defenders to buy enough time to throw the ball. Mahomes, undoubtedly, gave it his all, but between his crumbling offensive line and receivers that kept dropping the ball, it became clear that there was no hope.

Brady was named Super Bowl MVP after a three-touchdown performance and an impressive passer rating of 125.8. This was his record-fifth time taking home the honor, and ending the 2020 campaign this way made Brady’s resume virtually untouchable.

After this season, it is difficult to envision a point where Brady won’t be viewed as the greatest quarterback of all time. In regular season stats, the three-time league MVP leads the NFL in wins (230) and touchdowns (581). In playoff stats, Brady leads the NFL in wins (34), Playoff touchdown passes (83) and yards (12,449). No other QB has won more than 16 playoff games.

Furthermore, the 43-year-old became the first quarterback to win the Super Bowl in 3 separate decades and the oldest to win the Super Bowl. With the victory, he also went up 2-0 in the playoffs against Mahomes and 2-0 in the Super Bowl against Reid. (The 2004 Patriots defeated Reid’s Philadelphia Eagles to win their third title in four years.)

As if those accolades weren’t enough, with his record-seventh Super Bowl win in a record-10 Super Bowl appearances, the 14-time Pro Bowler fittingly has more championship rings than any other NFL team. The Patriots and the Pittsburgh Steelers lead the pack with 6 each.

In his first season in Tampa, Brady joined Peyton Manning as the only starting QBs to win a Super Bowl with multiple teams, as Manning had done with the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos. However, given the age-old argument that the National Football Conference (NFC) is the tougher, more balanced conference due to the American Football Conference’s (AFC) top-heavy nature, it’s noteworthy that Brady was able to win the Super Bowl with both an AFC team (Patriots) and an NFC team (Buccaneers). The Colts and Broncos, on the other hand, both compete in the AFC.

The Buccaneers also concluded the 2020 campaign with several team accomplishments. They joined the fellow two-time champion Baltimore Ravens as the only franchises with multiple wins and no losses in the Super Bowl. Tampa also became the first team to beat three former Super Bowl MVPs en route to a championship victory (Brees won the honor in 2009, Rodgers won in 2010, and Mahomes won in 2019).

This wild turnaround for the franchise with the worst all-time win percentage across the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL hasn’t been the only bright spot in the Tampa sports world. Within the last year, the Lightning won the Stanley Cup and the Rays made it to the World Series.

Despite the score, Super Bowl LV was full of entertaining moments. Unreal throws from Mahomes while under duress, heated trash talk between Brady and Chiefs All-Pro safety Tyrann Mathieu and a dazzling halftime performance by the Weeknd gave fans plenty to talk about.

However, there is one topic no longer up for discussion for the foreseeable future: who has earned the right to be called the greatest quarterback to ever play the game. All signs point to Tom Brady, the one man who, at 43, is still doing things his contemporaries can only dream of.