The Tampa Bay Buccaneers saved their best for last by beating the Kansas City Chiefs 31-9 in Super Bowl LV. It was a near-complete performance from a veteran team built to win now. The process began when Tom Brady arrived from the New England Patriots last offseason.
Brady was named MVP after winning his seventh Super Bowl. He was joined by old pals Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Brown, along with former Jacksonville Jaguars castoff Leonard Fournette. Tampa’s chances of a repeat will hinge on head coach Bruce Arians and an outstanding staff squeezing one more great season out of Brady and Co. There isn’t much of a young core, although tackle Tristan Wirfs and safety Antoine Winfield Jr. justified their high draft status.
What Went Right
The defense was the stingiest in the NFL against the run thanks to a formidable front seven. Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul locked down the edges, while Ndamukong Suh and William Gholston clogged the interior. Meanwhile, linebackers Devin White and Lavonte David were a dynamic pairing in front of a young secondary. Winfield and corners Carlton Davis and Sean Murphy-Bunting made great strides. The unit peaked by making Patrick Mahomes look ordinary on the biggest stage.
Hobbled by a bad toe while getting hurried, pressured and battered by a relentless #Buccaneers defence in #SuperBowlLV on Sunday, #Chiefs superstar QB Patrick Mahomes had a difficult time as he went 26-of-49 to record a tie behind 4 other players on this list of tough SB efforts pic.twitter.com/I7x3c81VRG
— StatsCentre (@StatsCentre) February 8, 2021
Brady’s offense actually experienced some teething problems early doors. The aging quarterback struggled a little with Arians’ vertical passing scheme. TB12 eventually worked it out and threw 40 touchdown passes, 13 to Mike Evans.
What Went Wrong
Brady and Arians didn’t always gel. Arians wasn’t shy about criticizing Brady in public. To his credit, Brady knuckled down and learned the offense. His education wasn’t without some setbacks though. The most notable came during a 38-3 hammering at home to NFC South rival the New Orleans Saints in Week 9. Brady was sacked three times and threw as many interceptions. Losing twice to the Saints cost the Buccaneers the division and forced them to take the long route to the big game.
Those defeats highlighted a strange anomaly about the Bucs’ season. Although Brady passed for 4,633 yards, he lacked a truly prolific target. Evans led the team with 70 catches for 1006 yards. It didn’t help that tight end O.J. Howard ruptured his Achilles in October. Todd Bowles‘ defense came on strong late in the year, but only after a few rocky moments. Like when Mahomes and Tyreek Hill inspired a 27-24 win at Raymond James Stadium in Week 12. Hill’s 269 receiving yards formed a turning point for Bowles, who began to shelve his favored blitzing and man coverage for a four-man rush and two-deep safeties.
Team Award Winners
MVP – Tom Brady
Brady pushed this team over the top. He did it by taking what defenses gave him and doing what each game asked of him.
Tom Brady won a title, had 3 road wins, and threw 10 touchdown passes in one postseason in Tampa.
That either matches or exceeds what Tampa did in their first 44 seasons in franchise history, in each category. pic.twitter.com/EzEAN583Pq
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 8, 2021
Sometimes that meant the Buccaneers ran the ball more than Brady threw it. At others, it meant letting a burgeoning defense bail out a struggling offense. Brady’s stayed the king of the hill for over two decades by playing to win on the field, not on the stats sheet. He’s also retained an uncanny ability to stay cool when the stakes are highest. Just like in New England, Brady made his best plays in the biggest games. Think his 39-yard touchdown pass to Scott Miller that broke open the NFC Championship Game against the Green Bay Packers. Or his clutch scoring strike to Brown against the Chiefs on Super Bowl Sunday.
BUCS PUT 7 MORE ON THE BOARD WITH 1SEC LEFT IN THE HALF!! 😱
Tom Brady connects with Scotty Miller for the score 🏴☠️
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) January 24, 2021
Brady is fighting father time, but at this point, nobody is surely foolhardy enough to bet against him adding an eighth Lombardi Trophy before he’s done.
Offensive Rookie of the Year – Tristan Wirfs
Three other offensive tackles were drafted ahead of Wirfs last April. But it was the 13th overall pick who started every game. Not bad for an introduction to life in the NFL. Durability wasn’t the only feature of Wirfs’ game. He also allowed only one sack and was flagged for a mere three penalties, according to Pro Football Focus. The Buccaneers have a potential linchpin for the next decade.
Defensive Rookie of the Year – Antoine Winfield Jr.
Winfield proved himself a versatile playmaker during a productive rookie season. He only intercepted a single pass but was a force closer to the line of scrimmage. His run support was outstanding, with many of Winfield’s 62 solo tackles snuffing out an opponents’ attempts to establish something on the ground. Three sacks showed he is a useful weapon for a coordinator as fond of the blitz as Bowles.
Biggest Surprise – Leonard Fournette
There wasn’t a tonne of expectation for Fournette when he landed in Tampa back in September. Clashes with coaches and declining production stalled his career in Jacksonville. Arians still treated Ronald Jones as his starter, but Fournette made the most of any opportunities. He only averaged 3.8 yards per attempt during the regular season, but like Brady, Fournette saved his best for when it mattered most.
Leonard Fournette in the playoffs:
At WFT: 19 carries, 93 yards, 1 TD + 4 catches, 43 yards
At NO: 17 carries, 63 yards + 5 catches, 44 yards, 1 TD
At GB: 12 carries, 55 yards, 1 TD + 5 catches, 19 yards
Vs. KC: 16 carries, 89 yards 1 TD + 4 catches, 46 yards#PlayoffLenny
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) February 8, 2021
Biggest Disappointment – LeSean McCoy
It’s perhaps unfair to have expected more from McCoy when he was competing with Fournette and Jones. McCoy only carried the ball 10 times and caught 15 passes this season. He was rarely healthy, dealing with an ankle problem. There were precious few of the big plays that have defined the 32-year-old’s career. Of all the veterans the Buccaneers brought in to help Brady win now, McCoy contributed the least.
One Burning Question
Can the Buccaneers Repeat?
The Bucs think they’re just getting started, but this team was built to win immediately. There’s inevitably a shelf life when the quarterback is 43, Gronkowski is 31, and Brown 32. This team is also old defensively, particularly in the trenches, where Suh is 34 and Pierre-Paul 32. Suh, Gronk, Brown, Fournette, and McCoy are free agents. So is David, edge-rusher Barrett, and key wide receiver Chris Godwin. The division favors the Buccaneers staying strong thanks to Drew Brees‘ retirement in New Orleans. But that won’t help Arians avoid some tough decisions about the experienced players who played key roles in this title run.