TAMPA — He had found him in the end zone twice for touchdown passes in the biggest game of their lives. But after the confetti had fallen and he was nearly done with his last interview Sunday night, Tom Brady spotted Rob Gronkowski one more time.
“Robby G! Robby G!” Brady yelled with a smile as bright as the Lombardi Trophy. Then he winked. “Congrats, baby! I’ll see ya later!”
It may take some time to put into perspective what Brady, Gronkowski and the Bucs accomplished in beating the Chiefs 31-9 to win Super Bowl 55 at Raymond James Stadium.
Brady talked the Pro Bowl tight end out of retirement in the offseason and convinced the Bucs to trade for his rights, and there they were again, together at the top of the NFL.
By winning his seventh Super Bowl at age 43, in his first year with the Bucs, during a pandemic after leaving behind a 20-year career in New England, Brady’s legacy has now taken on Ruthian status.
Brady beat the Saints’ Drew Brees, the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers and the Chiefs’ wonderboy quarterback Patrick Mahomes in consecutive games in these playoffs.
But asking Brady to compare his Super Bowl victories is like asking him to pick his favorite child.
“I think they’re all special,” he said.
But Gronkowski didn’t have any trouble describing where in NFL lore he ranks Brady’s transformation of a Bucs team that had not reached the playoffs in more than a dozen years into Super Bowl champions.
“It’s hands down one of the greatest accomplishments in sports history,” Gronkowski said. “I’m not going to say it’s the greatest, but it’s up there, for sure. Come down here to Tampa, come to an organization that was ready to win. They’re all fantastic players. Great guys. The story is unbelievable.”
Brady has had better performances in the Super Bowl. He completed 21 of 29 passes for 201 yards and three touchdowns, two to Gronkowski and the other to ex-Patriot Antonio Brown, whom he lobbied hard for the Bucs to sign following Brown’s eight-game suspension to start this season for violating the league’s personal-conduct policy.
(The suspension stemmed from his arrest in January 2020, when he was accused of attacking the driver of a moving van at his Hollywood, Fla., home.)
Brady was named the most valuable player of Super Bowl 55. But in truth, he should share it with defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and the entire defense.
Bowles had a better plan this time for Mahomes and receiver Tyreek Hill, who burned the Bucs with 13 catches for 269 yards and three touchdowns in the Chiefs’ 27-24 win at Raymond James Stadium in November.
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Using predominately a four-man rush that chased Mahomes all over the field and sacked him three times while keeping the safeties deep, the Bucs did not allow the Chiefs into the end zone.
“All the talk, all the outside noise, all the things the media was saying all week, they never paid attention to us,” cornerback Carlton Davis said. “We knew who we were.
“It was never about Tyreek Hill. He’s a really good player. Very talented. It was about us. It was never about them.”
The Bucs really put the game away with a last-minute drive for a touchdown, much like they did in the NFC Championship Game at Green Bay. In Green Bay, the drive ended with a deep ball to receiver Scotty Miller. This time it was a 1-yarder to Brown with six seconds left in the first half to make it 21-6.
The Chiefs hurt themselves with penalties, particularly on defense. They were flagged 11 times for 120 yards, most of them on the secondary for holding or pass interference. One negated an interception by Tyrann Mathieu, who wagged a finger in Brady’s face after the touchdown throw to Brown, and a shoving match between them ensued.
Mahomes couldn’t get anything going in the second half, either. The game essentially ended with Bucs linebacker Devin White intercepting a pass in the end zone with 1:40 left. Pump the brakes on the baby GOAT talk. Mahomes finished 26-of-49 for 270 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions.
“They stepped up to the challenge, and you go up against a guy like Pat, he’s an incredible player and Aaron (Rodgers), an MVP,” Brady said of the defense. “They played incredible. They stepped up. They rose to the occasion. We played some incredibly talented offenses, but we all came to play (Sunday).”
Brady will receive the credit for the Bucs’ Super Bowl championship. Rightfully so.
But this was also for 68-year-old coach Bruce Arians, who credited his coaches and players, saying “I didn’t do a damn thing.”
This was for players like linebacker Lavonte David, who has spent all nine years of his NFL career with the Bucs and had never experienced a postseason until this year. This was for Mike Evans, one of the best receivers in football in his seventh season, who had enjoyed only two winning seasons.
This was for general manager Jason Licht, who got it right when he talked Arians out of retirement to join the Bucs in 2019 and then led the recruitment of Brady.
“When Tom came to Tampa, I looked at the team, too,” Gronkowski said. “I saw the players they had. I saw the talent, and I was really shocked they didn’t go to the playoffs the year before with what they had. It was cool to see how much talent there was on the team, and they were ready to win.”
Who knows how many more rings Brady can win? He’s running out of fingers to wear them on.
“Yeah, we’re coming back (next season),” Brady said. “You already know that.”
“It took a lot for us to get to this point. I think everybody should be celebrating tonight.”
Tampa Bay Times Super Bowl 55 coverage
ON TOM BRADY: How the QB’s devotion to detail led the Bucs to Super Bowl 55
TUNE IN EARLY: If you want to see Super Bowl 55’s hero, watch the pregame ceremony
SUPER BOWL IN A PANDEMIC: How Tampa Bay is handling Super Bowl and coronavirus
WHO’S GOING?: Meet the fans who spend $20,000 on Super Bowl tickets
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