It was, without a doubt, one of the most embarrassing moments of Tampa Bay’s 2020 season.

In a whirlwind first quarter, Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill reeled in seven catches for 203 yards and two touchdowns, shredding a Bucs secondary that looked hopelessly outmatched. To punctuate his dominant period of play, Hill flashed the peace – or “deuces” – sign to Bucs safety Antoine Winfield Jr. on his first touchdown, then back-flipped into the end zone on his second score of the game.

It was the move of a Super Bowl champion playing with all the confidence in the world and the ring to prove he was a world beater. Those were two things the Bucs didn’t have back in Week 12, and it showed.

Bucs FS Antoine Winfield, Jr. and Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill

Bucs FS Antoine Winfield, Jr. and Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill – Photo by: USA Today

The team was reeling a bit after dropping two of their last three games, both to quality NFC teams that the Bucs were supposed to prove they could play with by November. And after allowing a 17-point first quarter and a big early deficit to the Chiefs, the Bucs’ goals of competing for a Super Bowl had never looked more in doubt as the team’s record slipped to 7-5 on the season.

Little did we know en route to Tampa Bay beating Kansas City in Super Bowl LV, 31-9, that even in the midst of losing three of four in November, the Bucs were finding their way. Sometimes the most growth is found on the other side of adversity, but the Bucs we’ve become accustomed to over the years never seemed to reach the point of full bloom, instead withering and dying in the spotlight. Bucs fans even invented little catch phrases to cope with the disappointment, with Tampa Bay’s failures in big moments against top competition simply falling under the “It’s A Bucs Life” moniker.

But in 2020, all of that changed. Even in the midst of a troubling midseason slump, it was changing. The Bucs were getting socked in the mouth by several bullies, and they were going to have to decide what type of team they were going to be.

Were they going to be the “same old Bucs” and fade to the fringe of the NFC race for a Super Bowl? Or was this a new era in Tampa Bay, where the bullied and battered prepared to rise from the mat and swing back until they connected with a knockout blow?

Coming out of the bye week, wins over the final four regular season games gave the Bucs some much-needed confidence, but there were many questions still to be answered. How would they handle the spotlight of the playoffs? Could they overcome a vaunted Washington defensive line that was working opponents at the time? How were they going to top a Saints team that had owned them for years, winning five straight over Tampa Bay?

Then, one-by-one the questions were answered, the doubters were silenced and the identity of the Bucs’ culture change began to take shape. No longer was this a team that opponents could afford to not take seriously. No longer was this a Lovie Smith or Mike Smith defense that could be pushed around, a young offensive line that was consistently bullied, and a quarterback that created more adversity for the team than he overcame.

These 2020 Bucs? They became a whole different breed.

Bucs CB Sean Murphy-Bunting

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

These were the Bucs who cared not for New Orleans’ dominance over them in the past, instead putting together a remarkable game plan that stifled Sean Payton’s offense and ended Drew Brees’ career with yet another playoff loss sooner than expected. Outside of the result of the game, moments in the process like Devin White and Sean Murphy-Bunting’s violent post interception stiff arms, Ryan Jensen antagonizing Saints linebacker Alex Anzalone with several pancakes, and Lavonte David pointing at Alvin Kamara on the sideline and saying “I want you!” were some of the highlights.

Different Bucs team. Different Bucs mindset.

It wasn’t just a matter of out-executing the Saints, although that was obviously the first step. It was how the Bucs did it that mattered so much, running nine straight plays to end the game and drain the final four-plus minutes off the clock.

It was a soul-snatching, signature win, after which Carlton Davis dubbed the Bucs defensive backs “Grave Diggers” for their performance in holding Michael Thomas to zero catches on four targets. Think any Bucs cornerback in recent years has had the confidence to slap a label on their position group like that, and then go out on the field and back it up?

These were the Bucs who didn’t back down for a second, even in the face of an impressive comeback effort by the Packers in the NFC Championship Game, forcing league MVP Aaron Rodgers into two of his worst games of the season while pulverizing the offensive line in front of him. Sparked by Vita Vea’s return, the Bucs defensive line tossed around the Packers O-line up in Lambeau Field, ringing up five sacks and consistently forcing Rodgers into uncomfortable spots.

After all the talk about how Tampa Bay’s 38-10 victory over Green Bay in the regular season was a fluke, the old Bucs might have believed the lie. Or worse, it might have caused them to relax based on the overwhelming result of the two teams first meeting. Instead, it galvanized this 2020 Bucs team and coaching staff, exploiting the Packers with a very different game plan on both sides of the ball.

Yet it was the victory over the Chiefs in Super Bowl LV that really showed just how much has changed in Tampa Bay over the past year, or even two years since Bruce Arians took over.

This wasn’t just a victory.

Bucs ILB Devin White

Bucs ILB Devin White – Photo by: USA Today

It was a complete annihilation of one of the best pro football teams I’ve ever seen. And, despite that challenge, there was absolutely no doubt in the Bucs players’ minds that they were up to the challenge.

“We talked about beating them bad,” White said after the game. “We knew they wasn’t physical enough. You know, they’re like, real gimmicky on offense and we don’t play like that, man. We like smash-mouth football and we like coming down here and getting in them trenches. That’s what we’re built off. That’s what we’re the No. 1 rush defense in the league and that’s why on the back end, we strapped up, man. We knew we wanted to blow them out. We knew whatever we gave them in that first game, it was because they got what we gave them, and Todd Bowles wasn’t letting that happen this game.”

We talked about beating them bad.

Not just beating them. Beating them BAD.

The confidence to dominate the best and feel zero need to apologize for it. I love it.

And it was evident all throughout the game. There was White standing on the edge of the sideline screaming at Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu as the Bucs drove for their second touchdown of the game.

There was Jensen again, getting under Chris Jones’ skin and drawing a crucial, 15-yard personal foul penalty to get the Bucs out of a third-and-7 situation.

There was Tom Brady, after the Bucs third touchdown, chirping right in Mathieu’s face and even chasing him back out to the middle of the field from his own sideline after Mathieu took the trash talking too far for the star quarterback’s liking.

Bucs QB Tom Brady and Chiefs SS Tyrann Mathieu

Bucs QB Tom Brady and Chiefs SS Tyrann Mathieu – Photo by: USA Today

And of course there was the most iconic moment, a still image that will live in Bucs infamy, as Antoine Winfield, Jr., one of the youngest Bucs on the roster, perfectly illustrated the cultural and confidence shift that has taken place in Tampa Bay this season – especially after the bye week as the team rattled off a franchise-record eight straight wins.

After breaking up a fourth down desperation heave for Hill, who was completely taken out of the game by Todd Bowles’ Cover 2 and Cover 4 schemes, Winfield bent over, looked Hill square in the face as the wide receiver picked himself up off the dirt, and flashed that “deuces” sign right in his eyes.

“It’s something I had to do,” Winfield said. “When we played earlier, he back-flipped in front of my face and gave me the peace sign. So it was only right that I gave him the peace sign back to him. It felt amazing to do that, I’m not even gonna lie.”

Goodnight, sweet prince.

This party is over, and the new-look Bucs ended it in super fashion.

At the beginning of the season I thought the Bucs were one of the most talented teams in the NFL, but I wondered internally if they were too nice. Did they have the edge as individuals and as a team to want to embarrass an opponent when they took the field? To not be satisfied with just a win, but to want to dominate them so thoroughly that they can’t even find the end zone?

I fully believe football is mostly about scheme and talent, but I’m not naive enough to assume that the culture of an organization and the mentality of players doesn’t matter, especially when facing the big dogs in the league. Did the Bucs have what it takes in that area to be the best?

Sunday night proved, again, that these 2020 Bucs are indeed “built on that,” as White would say.

Bucs FS Antoine Winfield, Jr. and Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill

Bucs FS Antoine Winfield, Jr. and Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill – Photo by: USA Today

As the Super Bowl LV champions prepare for an offseason that promises to be full of moves that retain key players and keep that cultural transformation intact, the Bucs will now be one of a few favorites to reach Super Bowl LVI next year in Los Angeles, rather than the upstart long shots who won three straight games despite being underdogs in Vegas. There will be a target on their back, the burden one must shoulder as champions of the greatest sport in the world.

But now, Tampa Bay is ready for such a challenge. The Bucs have been sharpened and molded for this opportunity, knocked down by the bully over and over, only to pick themselves up off the mat and swing back, delivering knockout blow after knockout blow during the entire postseason.

“It’s A Bucs Life” has a whole new meaning and mindset now.

Deuces.

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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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40-47-55-20
4 months ago

That was one of, if not the best articles I’ve ever read about the Bucs! You said it perfectly. You could see their mindset was different and they were playing with confidence and swagger even after loosing to them earlier in the year. Still can’t believe we held Mahomes to 0 TD’s and 2 Int’s. And Brady played excellent but the Bucs D should have been the MVP. Without them stopping KC’s offense we probably wouldn’t have been able to run the ball like we were and execute OUR game plan.

Jonbuc
4 months ago

A very underrated free agent add…Jon Led”The Longest”Yard. Great analysis…not a homer from Day 1…Bucs had to earn their way with him just as the team did through 3 road playoff games. The J-O-N spelling is like White’s int…a perfect capper. :) Nicely done, Sir.

Spitfire
4 months ago

This is the first I’m hearing about the “Grave Diggers” moniker for the secondary, why is that? That would have been nice to shine a better light on! I Love it! I hope they back that up for years to come!

Spitfire
Reply to  Spitfire
4 months ago

You guys said it in an earlier article today but I don’t remember it from before, maybe I missed it.

MikeJ813
Reply to  Spitfire
4 months ago

The secondary and front 7 have been referencing it on their twitters since like week 14ish it’s their “legion of boom”

plopes808
Reply to  Spitfire
4 months ago

I believe it was Carlton Davis who coined the name on twitter during the playoffs

Thunderman
4 months ago

Love this Team and the Swagger they have developed! Was in the stands for the last game against Atlanta last season and watched in disgust as Jameis threw that terrible pick six to end the game. What a turn around, very proud of this Team! Great article Jon!

BucRy
Reply to  Thunderman
4 months ago

I was there too..I remember just standing straight up and walking out as it happened..thought we had a long way to get to this point but all it took was 1 year…simply amazing

ScottC543
4 months ago

Haven’t read the article yet but wanted to comment on the cover pic. That is the moment of the game right there! I want that pic so I can frame it and hang it on this office wall.

a-bomb
4 months ago

As a Bucs fan for nearly all of their existence, I have seen some amazing things but a whole lot more awful things. One fairly constant thing throughout the years has been Bucs D. From the days of LeeRoy and Dewey, Batman Wood, Brantley, etc, up through the Sapp/Brooks/Lynch era the Bucs have fielded some formidable defenses. Yesterdays game might have been the best Bucs defensive performance in my lifetime. It was a defensive masterpiece. Period. That is 11 guys who simply took it personally that the Chiefs were trying to score in their stadium. Its like those guys found… Read more »

GrayBalls
Reply to  a-bomb
4 months ago

Ravens D didn’t give up a TD, it was a kick return. I digress, your comment is solid

Morgan R
4 months ago

Ha ha! Deuces! I LOVE IT!

ScottC543
4 months ago

Hell yes!!!!!!
Kick ass and take names. Rub their noses in it.
Great piece, Jon. Where can I get a high res copy of that pic?

Last edited 4 months ago by ScottC543
MizzouBucs24
4 months ago

Thanks Jon. That’s was one of the best articles I’ve ever read. I am going to print this off and put it in my man cave. I think you just summed up the season and set the stage for next year.

cgmaster27
4 months ago

My goodness this is spot on. This team in general has the swag of the last championship team. This team is young people! young! This secondary has a considerable amount of confidence to finish this season and that’s big to carry over to next year. Devin white is going to be an animal next year, and it CAN NOT be stated enough just how important it was getting Vea back for the playoff run. They’ve had their ups and downs, but in the end, they believed. Tom Brady is the source of this confidence, and you can’t convince me otherwise.… Read more »

Eddie
4 months ago

Don;t forget the Hill “help is coming” fake phone call taunting from first game. He deserved every rubbing and more last night

eaustinyoung
4 months ago

This is the best Buccaneers team ever. 2002 was historic, but this defense and offense is powerful

Wausa
4 months ago

I think you do a very good job in your analysis Jon and the article is well done and on point. However, you have repeatedly talked about how Leonard Fournette is a below average running back and for most of the season you have laughed about Devin White’s ability in pass defense and that Sean Murphy Bunting should not even start. Eventually you picked the Bucs to beat the Chiefs(which did not match up with what you had been saying), but in your podcasts you were pontificating on if the Bucs even had a chance.

RW
RW
Reply to  Wausa
4 months ago

You must admit Fournette was very inconsistent this year. Seems like he had an attitude adjustment after he was a healthy scratch.

drdneast
Reply to  RW
4 months ago

Players are allowed to improve and I was another one who questioned Fournette’s ability and toughness. I used to call him Twinkle Toes but he certainly didn’t run that way towards the end of the season and certainly not in the playoffs.
As for White, his pass coverage at the beginning of the year was poor to say the least but it did improve as the year went on. I have watched lots of play tape on him and that was the consensus of everyone who broke down the Bucs film.
Ledyard’s criticisms were warranted.

Dave
Reply to  drdneast
4 months ago

100% agree dude. Everyone was saying that about Fournette the entire season. I wanted him outright benched for Rojo and Vaughn at the halfway point. He only turned it on in the playoffs. Glad he did. But let’s not pretend like he played like that all year. He’s still not worth resigning. Unless it’s a cheap 1 year deal

FLBoy84
4 months ago

This off-season would seem an ideal time to draft Brady’s heir apparent, giving him a couple years to learn and develop the needed mindset to continue this organizational reset that Brady and Co have started.

WD40
4 months ago

Gotta tell ya, in a year where we saw the best team in Red’n’Pewter to ever take the field, we’re seeing the best team on Pewter Report/Buccaneer Magazine to ever hit the keyboard. From the peerless insight we receive from Scott Reynolds, to the hilarious irreverence of Mark Cook, and now the words of the hardest working wunderkind analyst/writer in the biz, we’re getting absolutely spoiled as Bucs fans. And I know we’re only seeing the beginnings of what Matt and Taylor will be dishing out. Was honestly quite disheartened to lose Trevor, but to my pleasant surprise, you guys… Read more »

Spitfire
4 months ago

Just heard that Arians said Evans already told him to use some money from his contract to help keep guys here. In a year where the salary cap will be down, how amazing would it be for the entire team to get together and follow Evans lead and go to Management and tel em to shave 10% (or whatever they need) off their salary to help keep whoever wants to stay. Evans probably realizes when he did everything in the Offense he deserved all the money, and he did. Now that he doesn’t have to do EVERYTHING because he has… Read more »

RW
RW
4 months ago

Rodney Harrison former all pro safety played with Brady on the Pats and called Brady a “thug”. He said Brady ‘wants to beat the living crap out of you” when he plays against you. If your QB has that mentality it’s not surprising the rest of the team exhibits that as well.

drdneast
4 months ago

Chiefs Major Excuses of they got owned in Super Bowl.
Refs on Bucs side because all of their daughters and wife’s want Tom Brady to father a child with them.
Bucs sudden use of extreme trash talking caused Chiefs to book mass counseling sessions with Dr. Phil.
Mahomes’ big toe grew to the size of New Jersey and the color of W. Virginia.
Never in a 1000 years did Chiefs expect Bucs to run same Cover 2 defense like they did in the second half of the first game.
Head coaches son is a terrible driver.

GrayBalls
Reply to  drdneast
4 months ago

Yo, drd, bad taste, bro. I get you were trying to be funny, you mostly succeeded until the driver comment. A child sustained life-threatening injuries. Show some class, man, c’mon

Spitfire
4 months ago

I kept sayin their Oline was gonna be a bigger problem than people gave it credit for. I had a feeling we were gonna push through and punch him in the mouth from the get go and it was gonna be a long night. I knew as much as KC can run up the score that if you paid attention to the last 3 quarters of week 12 that there was just as good of a chance we would hold them to 17 points (or less). I knew KC relied on their skill more than their hard work and it… Read more »

thewbacca
4 months ago

Great article John and enjoyed your outstanding body of work this year, kudos!

I happened to catch a JPP interview in pregame that was obviously produced prior to Sunday. The reporter asked how he will deal with Mahomes and JPP said with all the authority in the world. “I want to know how Mahomes will deal with me!” Gave me chills, and you are right they hit a new gear in mindset.

76bucsfan46
4 months ago

Something else that’s impressed me is how our game planning and adjustments have improved so much. Hats off to our coaching staff, it’s been too long since we had a group of coaches who know how to adjust to in-game situations on the fly. BRAVO

SenileSenior
Reply to  76bucsfan46
4 months ago

Yes, a very important thing to pay attention to as fans. There ar so many facets to creating a championship.
___________
Go Bucs!!!

bucballer
4 months ago

A master class by Bowles and the Bucs on how to neutralize a high powered offense. One that previously nearly dominated the Bucs in their previous meeting. At least in the first half. Can’t say that Bowles and BA don’t make adjustments. Congrats guys. Truly a history making dismantling of the Kansas Ciry Chiefs!

chaeder
4 months ago

An almost perfect article depicting the excellence we all witnessed after an almost PERFECT game. Championship quality stuff as usual at PEWTER REPORT!!!

plopes808
4 months ago

Hopefully “it’s a Bucs life” as it’s been used previously can be laid to rest permanently