It’s time for PewterReport.com’s 2-Point Conversion post-game column, which features two statements, two questions and two predictions based on the latest Bucs game. The Buccaneers advanced to Super Bowl LV, which will be held in Tampa Bay at Raymond James Stadium on February 7, by beating the Packers in Green Bay, 31-26. Tom Brady threw three touchdown passes while Tampa Bay’s defense sacked Aaron Rodgers five times and forced two takeaways in the NFC Championship Game victory.
2 BIG STATEMENTS
Table of Contents
STATEMENT 1. Happy Homecoming For Brady And The Bucs
Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht and head coach Bruce Arians recruited legendary quarterback Tom Brady for one reason – to win a Super Bowl.
In Sunday’s NFC Championship Game at Green Bay, Brady delivered the Bucs to Super Bowl LV with a great first half performance, outdueling Aaron Rodgers in a 31-26 upset win over the Packers at Lambeau Field. In the span of two weeks, Brady helped retire New Orleans’ icon Drew Brees, and might have ended the Packers career of the 37-year old Rodgers.
The fact that Brady waltzes into Tampa Bay in the offseason after 20 years in New England and now has just as many NFC Championship wins as Brees and Rodgers is also legendary.
Brady was magnificent in the first half, completing 13-of-22 passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns, including a 39-yard touchdown pass with one second left before halftime. After Sean Murphy-Bunting picked off Rodgers with 28 seconds left in the first half, Arians decided to put his “no risk it, no biscuit” mantra to the test, and went for it on fourth-and-4 from the Green Bay 45.
Bucs QB Tom Brady – Photo by: USA Today
Brady hit Leonard Fournette with a 6-yard pass to set up first-and-10 from the Packers’ 39 with eight seconds left. Instead of trying a long field goal, Arians opted for Brady to let it fly right before halftime, and the greatest quarterback of all time made one of his greatest throws of all time, hitting Scotty Miller with a 39-yard scoring strike to push Tampa Bay’s lead to 21-10 with one second left.
Miller blew by Packers cornerback Kevin King, just as Mike Evans did on his 15-yard touchdown catch to give the Bucs an early 7-0 lead on their first offensive possession.
Brady would add another touchdown in the third quarter, an 8-yard catch by tight end Cameron Brate, to give the Bucs a 28-10 lead after linebacker Devin White recovered an Aaron Jones fumble that was forced by Jordan Whitehead.
But Brady would not play as flawlessly as he did in Tampa Bay’s first two playoff games. Packers safety Adrian Amos picked off Brady in the third quarter and that led to a Green Bay touchdown, which cut the Bucs’ 28-10 lead to 28-17. The Bucs drove down to the Packers’ 28-yard line but a high throw bounced off Evans’ hands and into the waiting arms of cornerback Jaire Alexander at the 24-yard line in the fourth quarter.
After a three-and-out by the Bucs defense, Brady threw another interception to Alexander, who stepped in front of Evans on an underthrown ball as Tampa Bay’s quarterback was under duress from a Green Bay blitz. But by then the damage had been done. Brady and Tampa Bay’s offense had put 28 points on the board by the third quarter and added a field goal in the fourth to put the game away.
The Bucs return to Tampa Bay as NFC champions for just the second time in franchise history, and they’ll be home for good as Raymond James Stadium will host Super Bowl LV. Brady and the Bucs were 9-2 on the road this year, winning seven straight road games, including the last three in the playoffs. Tampa Bay finished the 2020 season 5-3 at home.
“That’s the scary thing about coming to the Super Bowl at home – we’ve been playing so [well] on the road,” Arians said.
Bucs QB Tom Brady and head coach Bruce Arians – Photo by: USA Today
Brady is elated to be on the first team to ever play in a Super Bowl that the city hosts.
“I think it’s hard to envision,” Brady said. “This is a goal, but at the same time it’s a week-to-week league. We were at 7-5 seven games ago, not feeling great. We felt like we needed to find our rhythm and [we] played four great games down the stretch the last quarter of the season. After that, it was all bonus. We just had to go play well. We played well in Washington, we played well all the way around in New Orleans against a great football team and then came up here knowing we had to play great. The guys came through, everyone stepped up to the challenge and again, just a great [win]. Football is the ultimate team sport and it takes everybody. Everybody plays a role, just so proud of this whole team and again, just blessed to be a part of it.”
STATEMENT 2. Bucs Defense Came Alive After The Bye Week
Tampa Bay’s defense is for real. Todd Bowles’ unit has dominated in the postseason and become a takeaway machine, creating 48 points off eight takeaways in three playoff games. A week after the Bucs defense created four takeaways in a 30-20 win at New Orleans in last week’s divisional playoff game, Tampa Bay’s defense added two more in Green Bay.
Bucs CB Sean Murphy-Bunting – Photo by: USA Today
Cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting had the Bucs’ first takeaway, stepping in front of Allen Lazard to pick off Aaron Rodgers with less than a minute before halftime. That interception led to Tom Brady’s 39-yard touchdown strike to Scotty Miller right before halftime to help the Bucs build a 21-10 lead.
Then safety Jordan Whitehead forced his second fumble of the game, drilling Aaron Jones after a catch and knocking the ball loose. For the second week in a row, linebacker Devin White recovered a fumble and advanced it to the Green Bay 8-yard line. On the next play, Brady hit tight end Cameron Brate with an 8-yard touchdown to increase the Bucs’ lead to 28-10 in the third quarter.
Tampa Bay sacked Rodgers five times in its 38-10 win in Week 6, and came through with five more sacks on Sunday. Outside linebacker Shaq Barrett had three and Jason Pierre-Paul had two and as the return of nose tackle Vita Vea helped Tampa Bay’s pass rush. Vea played 33 snaps on Sunday and those came mostly on pass rushing downs, as he helped the collapse the pocket and force Rodgers from stepping up and avoiding the edge rush.
Not only has Bowles’ defense stepped up in terms of sack production and takeaways since the bye week, the Bucs have clamped down opponents’ scoring. Over the last seven games since the bye, Tampa Bay has allowed an average of just 20.5 points per game, while the Bucs offense has averaged scoring 34.2 points per game. By the way, Green Bay had the league’s top scoring offense in 2020, averaging 31.8 points per game.
No wonder the Bucs are winners of seven straight and are headed to the Super Bowl.
“Yeah, they played incredible,” Arians said. “I thought the defense was spectacular and they’ve been that way all year. They have a great front, great linebackers, [they] play their butts off in the secondary. Some guys went down with injuries and other guys stepped in. It was an incredible effort by the defense and what they did today was amazing against, really, an incredible offense.”
2 PROBING QUESTIONS
QUESTION 1: What Bucs Records Fell In The NFC Championship Game?
Plenty. Let’s start with quarterback Tom Brady, who threw three touchdowns and now has seven in the postseason as a Buccaneer, surpassing Brad Johnson’s five TD passes from the 2002 season. Brady now has 81 postseason passing touchdowns, which is 36 ahead of Joe Montana in NFL history. Sunday’s performance marked the 11th time that Brady has thrown three or more TD passes in a postseason game. Montana had nine during his illustrious NFL career.
Bucs WR Mike Evans – Photo by: USA Today
Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans had a 15-yard touchdown catch to give the team a 7-0 lead in the first quarter and now has two postseason scores, which ties him with Keenan McCardell for the most TD catches in Tampa Bay’s postseason history. Running back Leonard Fournette has a touchdown in all three of the Bucs’ playoff games this year and ranks second behind Mike Alstott’s seven TDs for the most in Tampa Bay postseason history. Fournette has 313 yards from scrimmage over the last three games, which is the most in a single postseason in Tampa Bay.
Tampa Bay cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting joined Pro Football Hall of Famers Aeneas Williams (four-consecutive games) and Ed Reed, as well as Jason Sehorn, as the only four players in the Super Bowl era with an interception in each of their first three career postseason games. Murphy-Bunting’s three playoff interceptions are tied for the most in team history with Donnie Abraham, Dexter Jackson and Dwight Smith.
Bucs outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett brought down Aaron Rodgers three times in the NFC Championship Game, joining Warren Sapp as the only players in team history with three or more sacks in a playoff game. Sapp sacked Brett Favre three times at Lambeau Field on January, 4, 1998 in a divisional playoff game. The Bucs’ five sacks of Rodgers tied the single-game postseason record. Tampa Bay recorded five sacks in a playoff game at Dallas during the 1982 season and against Oakland in Super Bowl XXXVII during the 2002 campaign.
Tampa Bay linebacker Devin White tied the single-game playoff record with 11 tackles last week at New Orleans and then broke that mark with 15 stops on Sunday at Green Bay. And finally, kicker Ryan Succop made a key 46-yard field goal in the fourth quarter, which was his eighth field goal of the 2020 playoffs. That ranks second in Tampa Bay’s all-time postseason record books right behind Martin Gramatica’s 11.
QUESTION 2: Will The Bucs Be At Full Strength For Super Bowl LV?
They should be. Safety Antoine Winfield, Jr. injured his ankle in practice and was a game-time scratch, but should be ready to go in two weeks when Tampa Bay plays Kansas City. Mike Edwards started in place of Winfield and played well. The same could be said for wide receiver Antonio Brown, who missed the game due to a minor knee injury he suffered in the first half at New Orleans last Sunday. Scotty Miller and Tyler Johnson filled in for the injured Brown at Green Bay and came up with some clutch catches for the second straight week.
Bucs SS Jordan Whitehead and Packers RB Aaron Jones – Photo by: USA Today
The only real question mark for Tampa Bay from an injury standpoint is safety Jordan Whitehead, who suffered a shoulder injury shortly after forcing a fumble in the third quarter on a big hit on running back Aaron Jones. Whitehead, who was replaced by Andrew Adams in the second half, told reporters that he should be ready to go for Super Bowl LV. On Monday, Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said it was too early to tell if Whitehead suffered any damage to his shoulder that would keep him out of action in two weeks.
Bucs nose tackle Vita Vea returned to action from a fractured ankle and didn’t show any ill effects from that injury on Sunday. Vea was supposed to play 20-25 snaps in first action since Week 5 in October, but wound up playing 33 snaps, which is a great sign for his usage in Super Bowl LV.
2 BOLD PREDICTIONS
PREDICTION 1: Bucs Will Win Super Bowl LV If They Can Score 30 Points
Tampa Bay remains undefeated when scoring 30 points or more this season. The Bucs have scored 30 points or more in 11 victories this season, including the last six games where the team has hit that point total. Tampa Bay lost to Kansas City, 27-24, in Week 12. Scoring 30 points or more is the key to defeating Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs in Super Bowl LV. If the Bucs hit that number they’ll be Super Bowl champs once again.
PREDICTION 2: Bucs Edge Rushers Will Continue To Steal The Show
The Packers were in a similar boat without starting left tackle David Bakhtiari, and Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul tore up Green Bay’s reshuffled offensive line for five sacks on Sunday. Barrett and Pierre-Paul each had a sack of Patrick Mahomes in Week 12 and I suspect they could have even more in the rematch in two weeks, especially with nose tackle Vita Vea in the lineup. The Chiefs didn’t have to face Vea last time and his ability to push the pocket proved to be a difference-maker in Green Bay as Aaron Rodgers was flushed right into the waiting arms of Barrett and JPP several times. Look for Tampa Bay’s edge defenders to steal the show in Super Bowl LV.
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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