Ain’t dead yet. Ain’t done yet. And he sure isn’t retired yet.
Two years ago, Tom Brady won a late-career, over-40, underdog victory at Kansas City to secure another trip to the Super Bowl. It seemed like the bookend of a glorious career. He celebrated by filming an Instagram video with Rob Gronkowski to Diddy’s “Bad Boys For Life,” specifically the line “We ain’t / goin’ nowhere.”
Well, he still isn’t going anywhere, except another Super Bowl, prompting an updated version of his video with Gronk.
This journey was even more improbable than the last. This time is the 10th time, and there isn’t a whole lot left to say about the 43-year-old after he led Tampa Bay to a 31-26 victory in Green Bay on Sunday.
It was Brady’s first NFC championship game victory, to go with his nine in the AFC. In two weeks he’ll seek a seventh Vince Lombardi Trophy. No other player has ever played in seven Super Bowls.
He threw for 280 yards and three touchdowns which helped win this game, but his impact on an organization coming off three consecutive losing seasons is the powerful confidence of a favorite.
“[It’s] the belief he gave everybody in this organization that this could be done,” coach Bruce Arians said. “It only took one man.”
That one man was, by no means, the only hero here in making Tampa the first team to play a Super Bowl in its home stadium — Raymond James Stadium will host the game, with limited attendance, on Feb. 7.
The Bucs’ defense harassed presumptive MVP Aaron Rodgers all afternoon, including five sacks (two from Jason Pierre-Paul) and 10 knockdowns. Tampa tightened up after three second-half Brady interceptions and allowed just six points off those turnovers. The Bucs made an interception (third in three games for Sean Murphy-Bunting) and recovered a fumble.
“It’s been a long process for the whole team and today was just a great team effort,” Brady said. “The defense came up huge.”
The Packers averaged a league-best 31.8 points a game this season. Holding them to 26 is a major accomplishment. Then there was Green Bay coach Matt LaFleur, who decided against giving Rodgers a final shot at a late touchdown and instead kicked a field goal to cut the deficit to five points.
That gave Brady the ball, which he, of course, never gave back.
Brady isn’t riding the coattails of some historic defense or just game managing a brilliant rushing attack during this Super Bowl run. This is an offense that counts on the quarterback to push it to its limits. A 39-yard touchdown pass to Scotty Miller late in the second quarter on fourth-and-3 was the epitome of coach Bruce Arians’ “no risk it, no biscuit” attack philosophy.
And when the Bucs needed to kill the clock to win the game, Arians kept having Brady throw it in the normal confines of the offense. Apparently LaFleur’s late-game analytics didn’t watch Brady play football the past couple of decades.
If he had, the Packers would have seen this coming because it never stops. These Super Bowl trips seem both easier and harder. Easiest because, well, of course Brady wins in the end, the way Superman flies into the burning building and saves the day. Harder, because, well, he’s 43, a number that can’t be repeated enough.
This the same ending, just with a new script. There was no Bill Belichick, this time. No first-round bye courtesy of winning the weak AFC East. No Foxborough weather. No Patriots machine or championship aura overwhelming a scared opponent.
He joined a 7-9 Tampa Bay team last offseason, handpicking an organization with great talent and great potential but few results. The Bucs hadn’t made the playoffs since the 2007 season.
The Bucs won 11 regular-season games, not finding their footing until a closing four-game win streak. As a wild card, they won three consecutive playoff road games at Washington, New Orleans and now Lambeau. They won nine in a row away from home this season, the last two against future Hall of Fame quarterbacks.
Brady wasn’t perfect, but he was perfect enough. Two of his interceptions were pseudo punts. He drove the ball down the field and mixed his passes up to seven separate receivers.
He made a critical decision on a fourth quarter third-and-6 to essentially throw the ball away and avoid risking a sack. By not trying to do too much, he allowed a 46-yard field goal that stretched the Tampa Bay lead and sent the Packers analytics into a death spiral.
He even celebrated with his own take on the Lambeau Leap, climbing a few stairs so he could hug one of his sons who was in the stands.
Brady is famous for his comebacks — in his first Super Bowl against the Rams, the 28-3 hole against Atlanta, etc. Yet for his career, he’s just never really left. The Patriots lost in the first round last year, exposing a roster in desperate need of youth and talent. Brady, after two decades in Foxborough, decided to find greener pastures, or at least warmer weather.
At a time when everyone else is retired, he took on a new challenge, finding focus in the unfamiliar, a new town, a new coach, a new team, a new pandemic. It wasn’t always smooth, but that’s Brady, too.
He’s never smooth enough to quiet doubters who figure there has to be something to explain his success, from luck to coaching to psi level of footballs.
Yet it’s the leadership, the culture he builds throughout the season, and the demands for perfection that he knows, and his teammates believe, matter in the end.
And when they won, Brady didn’t want the spotlight, praising the team, praising the defense, even praising the Packers. He eventually cut Fox’s Tom Rinaldi off during the trophy celebration and said Rinaldi needed to interview some of his teammates.
“Bring some other people up, come on,” Brady said.
When you’ve done this 10 times, you don’t need to say much. After all, he ain’t goin’ nowhere.
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