Tom Brady’s first season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will end similarly to how many of his campaigns with the New England Patriots finished — with his team in the Super Bowl.
Brady passed for three touchdowns and will be returning to the Super Bowl for the 10th time after helping the visiting Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeat the top-seeded Green Bay Packers 31-26 in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday afternoon.
It is exactly the type of season finale the 43-year-old Brady was hoping for when he traded in cold New England winters for Florida sun.
“It’s been a long process for the whole team,” Brady said during the postgame trophy ceremony. “Today was 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. I know it’s a big game coming up.”
The Buccaneers will become the first team to play a Super Bowl in their home stadium with the game set for Feb. 7 in Tampa, Fla. They will face the winner of Sunday’s AFC title game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills.
The Tampa Bay defense did its part as Shaquil Barrett recorded three sacks and Jason Pierre-Paul added two while hounding Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
“We knew it was time for us to affect the game and we knew we could because Aaron Rodgers holds the ball and wants to make the big plays,” Barrett said. “We just took advantage of the opportunities.”
Brady completed 20 of 36 passes for 280 yards and survived three second-half interceptions as the fifth-seeded Buccaneers built a 17-point lead en route to reaching the Super Bowl for the second time in franchise history. Tampa Bay also reached the big game in the 2002 season and walloped the then-Oakland Raiders 48-21 for its only Super Bowl title.
Cameron Brate, Mike Evans and Scotty Miller caught touchdown passes, Leonard Fournette rushed for a score and Jordan Whitehead forced two fumbles before departing with a left shoulder injury. Devin White racked up 15 tackles and had a key fumble recovery as the Buccaneers won their third straight road game this postseason.
Rodgers completed 33 of 48 passes for 346 yards, three touchdowns and one interception for the Packers. Davante Adams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Robert Tonyan caught touchdown passes and Jaire Alexander had two interceptions.
“I’m pretty gutted,” Rodgers said. “To get to this point — we had our chances. They went up three scores and we battled back. We had a lot of chances.”
Green Bay reached the Tampa Bay 8-yard line late in the game but questionably settled for Mason Crosby’s 26-yard field goal with 2:05 left to move within five points. The Buccaneers got the ball back and picked up three first downs while running out the clock.
Packers coach Matt LaFleur said he felt going for the field goal was the right call.
“Anytime it doesn’t work out, you always regret it,” LaFleur said. “The circumstances of having three shots and coming away with no yards and knowing you not only need the touchdown but the two-point conversion.
“I was looking at it that we have four timeouts with the two-minute warning. It didn’t work out.”
Said Rodgers: “I was thinking we were going to have four chances (of scoring). … That decision was made, and we moved on.”
Brady improved to 10-4 in conference championship games, while Rodgers dropped his fourth straight to fall to 1-4. The Packers have lost in the NFC title game in each of the past two seasons.
“This one does sting,” LaFleur said. “It will take a long time to get over this one.”
Green Bay experienced a devastating sequence over the final 34 seconds of the first half to trail 21-10 at the break.
The Packers were down four and facing second-and-18 from their own 32-yard line when Rodgers was intercepted by Sean Murphy-Bunting.
The turnover became costly when Miller sped past Green Bay’s Kevin King and Brady connected with him from 39 yards out with one second left to account for the 11-point halftime advantage.
“That was an awesome play,” Miller said. “The coaches made an awesome decision going for it.”
More misfortune occurred on the Packers’ initial possession of the third quarter. Aaron Jones caught a short pass, but Whitehead dislodged the ball at the Green Bay 32 and White recovered it at the 29 and ran 21 yards to the 8.
On the ensuing play, Brady tossed an 8-yard scoring pass to Brate to make it 28-10 just 66 seconds into the second half.
Rodgers threw an 8-yard scoring pass to Tonyan with 9:28 left to cut the Tampa Bay lead to 11. Adrian Amos then intercepted Brady and the Packers cashed in with Rodgers hitting Adams on a 2-yard scoring pass to pull within 28-23 with 24 seconds left in the stanza.
Ryan Succop booted a 46-yard field goal to give Tampa Bay a 31-23 lead with 4:42 remaining.
The Buccaneers started strong by taking the opening kickoff 66 yards on nine plays with Brady tossing a 15-yard scoring pass to Evans. Green Bay tied the score in the opening minute of the second quarter when Rodgers threw a 50-yard touchdown pass to Valdes-Scantling.
Tampa Bay moved ahead on Fournette’s 20-yard run with 12:24 left in the half. The Packers crept within 14-10 on Crosby’s 24-yard field goal with 4:59 left.
–Field Level Media