“Football is the ultimate team sport and it takes everybody. Everybody plays a role, I’m just so proud of this whole team and again, just blessed to be a part of it.”

These were the words of Tampa Bay Buccaneers savior Tom Brady – words he’s repeated often this season to a chorus of groans and eye-rolls on the other end of muted media microphones hoping for a juicier quote. It is cliche-filler to be sure, but it’s also 100 percent accurate, and its’ embodiment has never been more evident than in this Bucs team.

Sure, if we’re dividing up credit into chunks, Brady gets the biggest without question. What he’s done on the season is incredible enough – over 4,500 passing yards, 43 total touchdowns, limited turnovers and limited sacks in a Bruce Arians’ offense that typically produces a lot of both thanks to the aggressive nature of the passing attack – but what he’s doing in the playoffs? Completely nuts.

And after beating the Packers in the NFC Championship Game against Green Bay, 31-26, Brady and the Bucs return home to Raymond James Stadium in a rematch of a Week 12 loss, 27-24, to Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City in Super Bowl LV.

Bucs QB Tom Brady

Bucs QB Tom Brady – Photo by: USA Today

Brady was the catalyst of the Bucs’ first playoff win in 18 years in the wild card round, where he shredded a terrific Washington defense for 381 yards and a pair of touchdowns to help the Tampa Bay defense survive a particularly rough outing against an upstart Taylor Heinicke. Brady made several clutch throws, including two touchdowns, and avoided mistakes against the Saints. Then Brady came out on fire against Green Bay, lighting the Packers up for 202 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, including a 39-yard dime to Scotty Miller for a critical touchdown before halftime.

But in the second half Brady and the rest of the offense struggled. Drops have been a familiar refrain for the Bucs this season, and there was at least six of them against Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game, along with a couple uncharacteristically poor throws from Brady. With several chances to put the game away, the Bucs offense wilted, putting a ton of pressure on their defense to save the day.

And that’s what the Bucs defense did, because football is the ultimate team sport. And make no mistake, this is a team.

It’s a team constructed by general manager Jason Licht, whose fingerprints were all over Sunday night’s victory, from the countless key stops made by former fifth overall pick Devin White (15 tackles, many for short gains and a key fumble recovery), to the way the Bucs’ homegrown secondary somehow held up against Rodgers, the league MVP, and the Packers’ plethora of weapons.

No Antoine Winfield, Jr. and no Jordan Whitehead – two of the Bucs most consistently impressive defenders all season long? No problem, as another Licht draft pick, Mike Edwards, played lights out from start to finish, combining with the No. 4 safety on the depth chart, Andrew Adams, to break up the Packers’ last offensive play of the game at the goal line.

Team.

Yes, Rodgers had his way with the Bucs at times, but Sean Murphy-Bunting also came up with a game-changing interception to set up Brady’s touchdown to Miller before the half and another critical third down pass breakup later in the game. That’s three straight playoff games with an interception for Murphy-Bunting, who rallied after a rough regular season to be one of the key catalysts of this Bucs’ Super Bowl run. The reason why? As bad as it got in the regular season, and it got bad some weeks (see Falcons, Week 15), Murphy-Bunting never stopped working and the coaches never stopped believing in him.

Bucs CB Sean Murphy-Bunting

Bucs CB Sean Murphy-Bunting – Photo by: USA Today

Team.

Almost every member of Licht’s fully-drafted secondary has been a hero at some point this season, but it was his free-agency formed defensive line that really changed the game during the NFC Championship Game. Franchise-tagged Shaq Barrett, one year from being the NFL’s sack leader after Licht nabbed him with a one-year, prove-it deal in the 2019 offseason, was unstoppable, running through and around Packers right tackle Ricky Wagner for three sacks on Sunday. On the other side, veteran Jason Pierre-Paul, laughably the Bucs’ lone 2021 Pro Bowler, was equally as dominant, destroying Packers left tackle Billy Turner for two sacks and getting consistent pressure on Rodgers. Licht wisely traded a third-round pick for the play-making Pierre-Paul three years ago.

The Bucs’ four-man pass rush has struggled this season, but the return of nose tackle Vita Vea, whom Licht drafted in the first round after trading back to acquire extra picks, was monumental. Vea constantly forced Rodgers off his spot and condensed the pocket, not allowing the quarterback any room to step up and escape the edge pressure of Barrett and Pierre-Paul. After dominating all season, the Packers offensive line was again manhandled when it counted most, with three of Licht’s best moves as general manager leading the way.

Team.

It hasn’t just been been starters stepping up for the Bucs in the playoffs either. Right guard Aaron Stinnie has had to fill in for an injured Alex Cappa, and he’s been capable enough to win with, even throwing a great block on Leonard Fournette’s 20-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.

And with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin struggling with drops over the past two weeks and Antonio Brown out of the lineup due to injury, it’s been Scotty Miller and Tyler Johnson – two Day 3 Licht draft picks – making some of the biggest plays for Tampa Bay. Miller’s touchdown before halftime was the play of the game, and Johnson’s contested 16-yard grab on third-and-8 brought the Bucs to the doorstep of field goal range in the second half.

Team.

Bucs K Ryan Succop

Bucs K Ryan Succop – Photo by: USA Today

Over and over again, up and down the roster, the Bucs have gotten to this point of the season on the backs of contributions from almost every single player on the team, including kicker Ryan Succop, who has been near perfect in the postseason. When starters like Evans and Godwin have struggled, backups have stepped up. When Carlton Davis and Jamel Dean have been banged up, Ross Cockrell has filled in admirably. When running back Ronald Jones was out with a broken pinkie, COVID-19 and an injured quadriceps, Leonard Fournette stepped in valiantly and carried the ground game, adding a touchdown in all three playoff wins, including a tremendous 20-yard score in Green Bay.

When Vea went down in Week 5, the Bucs’ 5-man rotation did all it could to fill his shoes, maintaining the team’s place as the top run defense in football. And when Devin White’s absence threatened disaster for the Bucs in the wild card round of the playoffs, veteran Kevin Minter stepped up with stellar run defense and a critical tipped pass against Washington, which resulted in Murphy-Bunting’s first game-changing interception of these playoffs.

Tampa Bay’s depth, once thought to be a significant concern in this team’s quest for a Super Bowl trophy in 2021, has been nothing short of spectacular. That’s a testament to the terrific drafting and signings by Licht and his personnel staff in the offseason, and the marvelous development that has taken place due to the teaching and training of the Bucs coaching staff.

The Bucs aren’t in the Super Bowl because Brady single-handedly rescued this team from the cellar of the NFL. As big as Brady’s contributions have been, the Bucs were a good team that needed to grow up a little, cut down on its self-inflicted wounds, and just get competent quarterbacking in order to be a playoff squad in 2020. That’s how talented this team was a year ago.

When they grew up a lot and got elite quarterback play this season? That’s when they became a Super Bowl team.

Bucs QB Tom Brady

Bucs QB Tom Brady – Photo by: USA Today

So regardless of how much the national media narrative tries to disparage this Bucs team pre-Brady, or disparage Brady by saying a great roster carried the former Patriots quarterback to his 10th Super Bowl, let’s make a promise to ourselves, Pewter Report readers. Let’s not fall victim to the linear mentality that one party deserves credit and one party deserves criticism in this. We can be more nuanced than this.

As Brady knows, football is the ultimate team sport. If you want to achieve success, everyone has to perform their role at a high level, especially in critical moments.

In Tampa Bay, when the story of this season is written, that should be the tale they scribe. This wasn’t a team carried to the big game by Brady, or the team that boosted their 43-year old quarterback back to the biggest stage in sports. It was a team that flew on its collective efforts – of front office, coaches and players – to heights no one believed were possible at the start of a COVID-riddled 2020 season.

But of course the Bucs believed it was possible. After all, isn’t that what a true team does?

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About the Author: Jon Ledyard

Jon Ledyard is PewterReport.com's newest Bucs beat writer and has experience covering the Pittsburgh Steelers as a beat writer and analyzing the NFL Draft for several draft websites, including The Draft Network. Follow Ledyard on Twitter at @LedyardNFLDraft
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nitey
5 months ago

Well said Jon. Excellent article!

Horse
5 months ago

Well said Jon. This team made it happen; not individuals. The coaching and team both got better as games were played. Brady wasn’t special today: the team was though. Hats off to the Buccaneer Organization! Keep the dream alive!

Spitfire
5 months ago

It’s not at all cliche filler. Brady came here with all of his success and experience but knew we had a solid team just waiting to succeed with some good leadership. He’s not a showboat and not conceited. When interviewed after winning the championship the media wanted to interview him and after he said his piece he passed it off to the rest of the team because he knows what he’s done to help us succeed but also that this has only happened because of what every single player has contributed. He’s not just saying it to say it, he… Read more »

bucballer
Reply to  Spitfire
5 months ago

True Spit! But every boat needs a captain. Brady is that Captain for us! He led by example and by being a vocal leader. None of this happens without him!

chefboho
5 months ago

Licht has his fingerprints all over this team in a good way. He built an absolute monster based on risks and going all in for the GOAT. He’s executive of the year, and this team is playing like family. They all have each other’s backs and here we are watching these men in the Super Bowl. I couldn’t even sleep last night. What a season

Crook
5 months ago

Great article Jon. To me, this season is absolute proof that a GM can make a ton of good moves and build a really great roster (and Licht has) but if they don’t get the Quarterback position correct, they’ll never get the credit they deserve. So happy people finally get to see what great work Licht has done over the past several years building a great roster!

SenileSenior
5 months ago

The continuous roster churn philosophy that BA and JL have instituted and have executed has served us well all season. Sixteen games plus the playoffs make for a very long slug.
We all may have scratched our heads a time or two as we pondered various acquisitions or roster moves over time. The way our situations have been managed has proven masterful this year. There are a thousand factors to be weighed in assessing a champion team and a class organization.
________________
Go Bucs!!! This is the Big One!

ScottC543
5 months ago

I love this team and every man on it.

compewterpirate
5 months ago

There is a lot of credit to be shared around Jon and undoubtedly many players have stepped up and contributed. Jason Licht too certainly deserves his props. However the ultimate catalyst for this Superbowl run has been TB12. His elite leadership skills, his consummate professionalism, his work ethic, his accountability, all his intangibles are off the charts. Add in the high level of his play, his supreme will to win and the huge respect that his accomplishments in the game occasion from his teammates and without doubt he has been the single biggest factor in the Bucs reaching the Superbowl.

ScottC543
Reply to  compewterpirate
5 months ago

Absolutely. It’s way more than just his improved TD/Int ratio over ours last year. It’s the winning attitude, attention to detail, and the day to day professionalism that he brings and passes off to every other player in the locker room.

bucballer
Reply to  compewterpirate
5 months ago

Yep! He is our “Michael Jordan!” The best footballer in the world!

43 Is Only Old in Human Years
5 months ago

This is an interesting article because sort of addresses they way I feel. I know that I am going to get torn apart but I will say I am way less excited about this Superbowl then the first. I could never get behind the team this year, seemed simply like a collection of talent, a bunch of rented guns. I don’t feel like we earned our way to the Superbowl, as the best team money could buy it should have been a bit easier.

buddah
Reply to  43 Is Only Old in Human Years
5 months ago

Ridiculous. I guess the Dodgers didn’t deserve to beat the Rays in the World Series with that “bought” team of hired guns. Free Agency has strict governing rules and there isn’t a team in the league that is entirely “home grown.” The 2002 Buccaneers had Michael Pittman, Brad Johnson, Keenan McCardle, and Keyshawn Johnson–all Free Agent pickups. And they did not have two rookies starting or a defensive backfield made up almost entirely of their draft choices. And they had an entire preseason and off season workouts. To me, this is a greater accomplishment.

BigSombrero
Reply to  buddah
5 months ago

But that team won with home grown defense. It was never really about the offense. The defense was mostly drafted players running an iconic defining system, the “Tampa Two”. To this day, people still try to give Dungy credit for Gruden’s superbowl in Tampa.

scubog
Reply to  BigSombrero
5 months ago

Not me. I give Sam Wyche some of the credit. It was the wacky one who was coach when the team drafted Lynch, Sapp and Brooks. Without them does the team sniff the Super Bowl in 2003?

43 Is Only Old in Human Years
Reply to  buddah
5 months ago

Your have a point but Keyshawn had been with the team 3 years and Brad Johnson had been with the team for 2 years before the Super Bowl. Mike Pittman was a necessary signing that year because Dunn had left to free agency. It’s all good, I am just saying that I don’t have the same excitement as I did when we finally got past the Eagles after years of frustration. I lived and died with that team. I also know that as soon as the Super Bowl is over this team will be dissembled because all the 1 year… Read more »

BigSombrero
Reply to  43 Is Only Old in Human Years
5 months ago

I agree with your sentiment. It just didn’t feel organic like the first one. There was no growth or progression from a core of drafted players. That said, I said the move to bring Brady and his entourage was a Super Bowl or Bust move. Well….It’s Super Bowl. I can’t criticize a single thing from yesterday’s game. Brady was masterful. He was accurate. He had zip on his bullets. He was on time with the deep shots. He didn’t hold on to the ball. He didn’t fumble. He didn’t look like a wore out 43 year old mistake. I was… Read more »

bucballer
Reply to  43 Is Only Old in Human Years
5 months ago

Disagree! It was because we won that SuperBowl in 2002 that makes this one even more special. Why u ask, because it took us 18 years to get back to a SuperBowl! We now know that it may never happen again! Enjoy this one. It’s truly magical!

Dave
Reply to  bucballer
5 months ago

For some reason, the 02 SB meant the world to me. Maybe because I never thought in a million years they would get there. I fully expected them to lose to the Eagles. If we win, maybe years down the road I’ll appreciate this one just as much as I did in 02. But at least now, before the game is even played, 02 was my 2nd greatest sports moment of all time, and my favorite Bucs moment of all time. I’ll never forget where I was, when we beat the Raiders.

Last edited 5 months ago by Dave
PissedOffBuc1988
Reply to  43 Is Only Old in Human Years
5 months ago

This is nothing short of special. No matter how you try and turn it.

PewterPose
5 months ago

We talk a lot about player development, but Licht has shown great GM development. This is the guy who traded up for Aguayo. I think Scott made the point on a podcast that Licht works way better with B.A. than the other coaches he’s had here in TB. It comes down to communication. Between players, coaches, front office – everybody being able to communicate effectively and efficiently. That’s a real team. Go Bucs!

drdneast
5 months ago

People seem to dislike Brady for one reason. He’s to perfect. What does he do after the big win. he seeks out his son to enjoy the moment. What does he do when he is being interviewed after the game, he says there are other members on the team and to talk to them, not wanting all the credit. Brady has lots of money, little of which he seems to care that much about, a beautiful wife and family. He says and does all the right things. No wonder people dislike him so much. He’s a good human being. A… Read more »

Theydidwhat
Reply to  drdneast
5 months ago

He’s not a perfect Quarterback, but he is a great person and leader. People just don’t like it when someone always does and says the right thing, it goes against the ways of human nature in the world. If Jesus wasn’t the way to eternal life, many more would dislike him for his character and morals.

PatrioticChief
Reply to  Theydidwhat
5 months ago

Well a lot of people didn’t. That’s why they crucified him lol.

SaskBucs
5 months ago

Well said Jon. Over the years I have tried hard to be an optimist, supporting Jameis when I probably shouldn’t have and defending Licht when I definitely shouldn’t have (Aguayo) but also being very critical of Licht at times. Now seeing the big picture, it’s amazing the team that has been assembled and how it’s come together over a long and tough season. Hats off to everyone in the organization, especially executive of the year Jason Licht. This years draft class, wow. What an incredible time to be a Bucs fan! 1 more W for these guys is what I… Read more »

a-bomb
5 months ago

I would also suggest that the Glazers deserve some credit for sticking with Licht. The previous short leash they were giving to coaches and GM’s just did not work. For some reason, they stuck with LIcht through some tough times and allowed him to grow into the role. Some will talk about the “rented” players that we have added and I understand the point. But, I prefer to look at it from the perspective of guys like David and ME13. Those guys certainly have earned the right to be in this position. Jon’s point is important- the defense and the… Read more »

buddah
5 months ago

Well done, Jon. My only addition would be more credit to Bruce Arians. He has out-coached the opposition in the last two games. He is not flawless, but he not an ego-maniac like many of his predecessors, especially Gruden. Green Bay fans are screaming about the interference call on King that assured the Buccaneers victory. I agree. Given how the game had been called, that call easily could have been a no-call. But what gives anyone the idea that the Packers would have come down the field probably 75 yards or longer with less than 90 seconds and one time… Read more »

PatrioticChief
Reply to  buddah
5 months ago

I think Bowles out coached the opposition. Arians game plan the last two weeks have been fairly weak. Where I do give Bruce credit is his game time decisions. The decision to go for it at the end of the half vs GB’s decision to kick a FG stand as night and day.

Last edited 5 months ago by PatrioticChief
Theydidwhat
5 months ago

Credit and applause to the entire Bucs organization for everything they have endured and accomplished so far this season and in building this roster. Brady is an important piece with his leadership and experience, but all the pieces are needed to finish a puzzle. Nobody’s perfect and the road to this point wasn’t either, that’s football and life. This story isn’t finished. Find a way to plan, coach, play and execute the best team football of the season, play as a unit and bring another championship to Tampa. GO BUCS!!!!!!!!!!!!!

PatrioticChief
5 months ago

Your tape grinding is always appreciated but this was a well written as much as it was anything else. Well said.

bucballer
5 months ago

Of course it was a team, organization effort. It is not a bought team. It is a team supplemented with free agents and built through the draft, like every other team is able to do. Sometimes it works, sometimes it’s just a collection of talent with no cohesion. Having said that, let’s not underestimate the effect of Brady signing with the Bucs! He could have went anywhere. He came here. He did so because of the young talent that this team possessed. He came in and led by example. The Brady effect is real! He completely changed the culture at… Read more »

lambeau
5 months ago

Everyone has a job to do, Jon–and your job is to keep after Bruce and Byron about why the best plan is every first down to run Leonard into Chris Jones for one yard.

4girls
5 months ago

The comparisons between the two Buc Super Bowl teams is interesting, but fruitless, in my opinion. This team is something special. No doubt about it. Think how much the NFL has changed in eighteen years. Think of the new rules, how tough it is to tackle anyone, especially a QB, and not get flagged. Think how much faster and more potent offenses have become. We are in the Super Bowl with a secondary full of VERY recently drafted players who had NO preseason to gel between their first and second seasons (for most of them, anyway). A secondary who beat… Read more »

scubog
5 months ago

I never stop being absolutely baffled by what I read in these comments. No matter what the team or an individual player, coach or GM has achieved, there is always someone with the “yeah but” retort. Always someone with the asterisk. Ever since free agency was granted to the players a few years ago, the way every team is built has changed dramatically. Yet, we have some folks who now are tempering their enthusiasm for our NFC Champion Bucs because a few of the contributors to the success of the team aren’t “home grown”. Makes me wonder how George Allen’s… Read more »