THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE
Tom Brady was in familiar territory. Standing on a quickly assembled podium, on a starry night in Tampa, he was right at home. He took the Vince Lombardi Trophy with a wide beaming smile, looking all around below him as his teammates hugged and backslapped each other. This was their moment as much as his - maybe more, given that he had been here so often. Was it sweeter this time around? Possibly. The first time is always a landmark moment in a career, but a seventh time? Well, it’s just becoming the norm, is it not? Already head and shoulders above any other quarterback in NFL history, he now has a number of titles that surpasses any collective franchise. It is simply incredible what this now 43-year-old has accomplished. Already carrying the moniker of GOAT, the Greatest Of All Time, in football circles, he now easily throws his hat into the ring of greatest sportsman of all-time.
Brady was named the MVP of Super Bowl LV, the fifth time he has claimed that title. That’s two more than the illustrious Joe Montana - remember when we thought Joe Cool was setting records that would never be broken? Basked in the spotlight, Brady said “This team is World Champions forever, you can’t take it away from us!”, recognizing that this was a team effort and that his teammates deserved as much credit as him, on both sides of the ball. He had already stated that he would like to play until he is 45. When he was pushed again on that subject, he promised “We’re coming back,” an answer that will no doubt have every other team worried that they will at one point need to get through Brady to land a title.
It was meant to be a night that showcased two extraordinary talents at the quarterback position. Instead, the fresh young talent could not find any rhythm, due to a constant pass rush that had him on the back foot. Normally this would not faze Patrick Mahomes, he often finds a way to evade trouble and make the impossible possible. Bit such was the relentless pressure, and extraordinary downfield coverage by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense, he was left looking dejected and – extraordinarily - out of ideas. “They took away our deep stuff. They took away the sidelines and they did a good job of rallying to the football and making tackles. They played a heck of a game defensively and offensively to beat us.” Mahomes said afterward. He was not wrong. The Buccaneers drew up a near perfect game plan, and it was executed with truly few flaws.
After a slow start to the game, with both teams punting on their first series, it was the Kansas City Chiefs who took an early advantage. A sack on Brady led to another punt, and the Chiefs went ahead after a 49-yard field goal by Harrison Butker. No one at this point could know that the kicker would be the only player to score points for the Chiefs. Mental errors can account for losses in games that are played between two teams so evenly matched, and a pass interference call allowed the Buccaneers to continue a drive that set the tone.
Brady found old pal Rob Gronkowski open for an 8-yard touchdown just before the first quarter finished. A decent kick-off return gave the Chiefs an opportunity to hit back but they could not convert on third down and Tampa had their tails up. A 15-yard penalty on Chiefs’ pass rusher Chris Jones moved the chains and Brady took advantage with a 31-yard connection to Mike Evans, but twice Ronald Jones could not push the ball in from the 1-yard line. Again, the Chiefs could not gain any momentum, and after a drop by the usually reliable Travis Kelce they had to give up possession again.
The next series proved pivotal. A Brady pass was intercepted but a holding penalty waved that off. Having to settle for a Ryan Succop 40-yard field goal, another flag gave an automatic first down. You do not give second chances, let alone third ones, to Brady. He soon found Gronkowski again for another score and a 14-3 lead. The Chiefs needed something with 6 minutes left in the half, and they set about their next drive with a better tempo, Kelce finally finding some space. Once more though they were held and Butker cut the lead with a 34-yard kick. There was still a minute left. Enough time for Brady to turn the screw. Once again, he was helped by a big pass interference flag at the Chiefs 24-yard line. Then for the 9, another call was made in the end zone. The Chiefs were hurting themselves, and from the 1 Brady threw his third touchdown of the half, this time to Antonio Brown.
A 21-6 halftime lead is not insurmountable when you have an explosive offense like Kansas, and with some adjustments during the interval it was only a matter of time before it started to click. Tampa Bay had built their lead by being efficient and taking full advantage of sloppy errors made by the Chiefs. Knowing a quick score was needed to jump start any comeback Mahomes once again started with a fast tempo. The Buccaneers stiffened though and with another field goal for Kansas City, 52 yards by the boot of Butker, the lead was reduced again. It was important now that Kansas show they could dial up some pressure. Instead, the worst happened as a mix of strong running and methodical passing by the Bucs was capped off by a strong Leonard Fournette 27-yard touchdown run. At 28-9, and showing no signs of being able to stop Tampa Bay, the Chiefs were starting to look frayed. Mahomes was starting to limp, the repercussions of a turf toe injury suffered in the earlier playoff rounds, and when a pass was batted up and picked off by Antoine Winfield it was the first nail in the coffin. Again, Tampa Bay used a mix of Jones and Fournette to run the ball, taking time off the clock, and the only real error, an errant snap going over Brady’s head, set up a Succop field goal from 52 yards. At 31-9 you still could not count the Chiefs out, but it was not to be their night. The fourth quarter was one of desperation plays, as Mahomes was twice forced back 20 yards before diving pass attempts that, even though close to finding their mark, were just too high or wide. With just pride to play for Devin White intercepted Mahomes in the end zone to wrap up a dominant display by the defense.
Winning Head Coach Bruce Arians was full of praise for his team, but also highlighted Todd Bowles, his defensive coordinator, as did losing Coach Andy Reid, “Give credit to the job Todd did. He got us,” the defeated play caller said. Kelce also tributed the defensive effort saying, “They put a cap over the top and didn’t let us get behind the defense. It was frustrating. It was one of those days where it felt like anything you did, they had an answer for.” Buccaneers linebacker Devin White, who had a phenomenal postseason, told of how lessons were learnt from the last time the two sides met during the mid-point of the season, the last loss suffered by Tampa Bay, “It mattered from start to finish. We talked about beating them bad. We knew they were not physical enough. We wanted to blow them out. Whatever we gave them in that first game, it was because we gave it to them, and Todd Bowles wasn’t going to let that happen in this game.”
This was Tampa Bay’s second championship, the first coming in 2002. It’s hard to see it being the start of a dynasty, it’s just too difficult to repeat as champions as was proved here. If Tom Brady manages to perform to this level again then they will likely return to the playoffs. But if the Bucs can go back-to-back, they will be the first team to do so since the 2003-4 New England Patriots. And we all know who led that team.
The mercurial Mr. Brady.