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A game-by-game look at the Bucs’ Super season

How the Bucs ended a playoff drought and won the franchise’s second world title.
Bucs wide receiver Antonio Brown celebrates a touchdown in the second quarter of Super Bowl 55 against the Chiefs.
Bucs wide receiver Antonio Brown celebrates a touchdown in the second quarter of Super Bowl 55 against the Chiefs. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Feb. 11
Updated Feb. 11

The Bucs’ momentous Super Bowl 55 run was filled with ups (Scotty Miller’s touchdown at Green Bay) and downs (one of the worst home losses in franchise history). Here’s a game-by-game look at how the Bucs went from 0-1 in New Orleans to world champions at Raymond James Stadium.

Week 1: Saints 34, Bucs 23

Bucs quarterback Tom Brady, right, argues for a pass interference call during the final seconds of the second quarter.
Bucs quarterback Tom Brady, right, argues for a pass interference call during the final seconds of the second quarter. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Sept. 13

The defeat in New Orleans wasn’t exactly a sign of what was to come. In his Bucs debut, Tom Brady looked more like Jameis Winston than the eventual Super Bowl MVP. Brady’s three touchdowns (two passing, one rushing) were overshadowed by his two turnovers, including a costly pick-six. “I’ve got to correct that,” he said afterward.

The Bucs had plenty else to correct, too. They had a field goal blocked, fumbled a kickoff return and jumped offsides on fourth down to keep a Saints drive alive. The defeat looked even worse considering what happened elsewhere; Brady’s former team, the Patriots, beat Miami in their opener.

Week 2: Bucs 31, Panthers 17

Bucs quarterback Tom Brady, left, celebrates with running back Leonard Fournette after Fournette rushes for a 46-yard touchdown against the Panthers.
Bucs quarterback Tom Brady, left, celebrates with running back Leonard Fournette after Fournette rushes for a 46-yard touchdown against the Panthers. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Sept. 20

Tom Brady’s home debut was all about a defense that helped him avoid the first 0-2 start of his career. The Bucs forced four turnovers and needed the last one desperately to avoid blowing a 21-0 lead.

Up seven in the fourth quarter, Carlton Davis — playing with two fingers taped together after dislocating one earlier in the game — intercepted Teddy Bridgewater to end the Carolina drive and set up a Bucs field goal. Leonard Fournette iced the win with a 46-yard touchdown run with 1:48 left. He finished with 103 yards for his first (and only) 100-yard rushing day with the Bucs.

Week 3: Bucs 28, Broncos 10

Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans makes a catch in the end zone for a touchdown as Broncos free safety Justin Simmons defends.
Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans makes a catch in the end zone for a touchdown as Broncos free safety Justin Simmons defends. [ JACK DEMPSEY | AP ]

Sept. 27

This performance in Denver showed the Bucs’ mile-high potential. Tom Brady had his best game so far, throwing for 297 yards and three touchdowns (including two to Mike Evans). After spending the first two games as a blocker, tight end Rob Gronkowski emerged as a receiver with a team-high six catches.

And the defense, again, dominated, allowing only 226 yards. Former Bronco Shaquil Barrett had two of the Bucs’ six sacks; one of them was a safety. Patrick O’Connor blocked a punt. Mike Edwards intercepted a pass in the end zone.

Week 4: Bucs 38, Chargers 31

Bucs running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn celebrates a touchdown during the fourth quarter against the Chargers.
Bucs running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn celebrates a touchdown during the fourth quarter against the Chargers. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Oct. 4

If anyone still doubted whether Tom Brady’s game was slipping, they weren’t after this one. He threw a pick-six early as the Bucs fell behind 24-7 late in the first half but rallied for one of his best performances in Tampa Bay. Brady passed for 369 yards and five touchdowns (to five different receivers). His biggest came with 11:05 left when he hit rookie Ke’Shawn Vaughn for a 9-yard score and a 35-31 lead.

“We all know his track record, and his resume speaks for itself,” said Mike Evans, who had seven catches for 122 yards and a touchdown. “We need him to play like that week in and week out if we want to be the special team we’re capable of being.”

Week 5: Bears 20, Bucs 19

Bucs nose tackle Vita Vea is driven off the field after being injured in the second half at Chicago.
Bucs nose tackle Vita Vea is driven off the field after being injured in the second half at Chicago. [ CHARLES REX ARBOGAST | AP ]

Oct. 8

This Thursday night in Chicago was one of the lowest points of the season. Starting defensive lineman Vita Vea was carted off the field with a broken ankle that sidelined him until the NFC championship. To add insult to injury, Tom Brady became a national punchline during the final minute.

As Brady tried to lead the Bucs on the winning drive, he threw an incompletion, then held up four fingers, apparently signifying that it was fourth down. Except the last play was actually fourth down.

A meme was born, but the Bucs’ comeback attempt was over.

Week 6: Bucs 38, Packers 10

Bucs inside linebacker Devin White sacks Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers during the fourth quarter.
Bucs inside linebacker Devin White sacks Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers during the fourth quarter. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Oct. 18

The Bucs quickly turned around a 10-0 deficit by scoring 38 unanswered points for their largest margin of victory all year. There were stars all over the field — Jamel Dean returning an interception 32 yards for a score, Ronald Jones recording his third consecutive 100-yard game, and Lavonte David and Devin White combining for 5 ½ tackles for a loss and four quarterback hurries.

How complete was the demolition of a Super Bowl contender led by NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers? The Bucs didn’t commit a penalty, didn’t lose a turnover and didn’t allow a single sack.

Week 7: Bucs 45, Raiders 20

Bucs wide receiver Chris Godwin celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Raiders during the second half.
Bucs wide receiver Chris Godwin celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Raiders during the second half. [ DAVID BECKER | AP ]

Oct. 25

Tom Brady delivered another vintage Brady performance, rushing for a score and tying his season high with 369 yards by spreading the ball around the field. Scotty Miller had his first career 100-yard game. Chris Godwin caught nine passes for 88 yards and a score. Rob Gronkowski and rookie Tyler Johnson both had touchdown catches, too, as the Bucs topped former coach Jon Gruden.

“They have an arsenal of weapons…” Gruden said.

And they were in the process of adding one more: former Steelers star Antonio Brown.

Week 8: Bucs 25, Giants 23

The Bucs' Antoine Winfield Jr., right, breaks up a two-point conversion attempt to the Giants' Dion Lewis during the fourth quarter.
The Bucs' Antoine Winfield Jr., right, breaks up a two-point conversion attempt to the Giants' Dion Lewis during the fourth quarter. [ COREY SIPKIN | AP ]

Nov. 2

A secondary that was regarded as the worst in the league by at least one preseason prognosticator was the reason the Bucs improved to 6-2 with a Monday Night Football triumph at MetLife Stadium.

Carlton Davis picked off a Giants pass on the second play of the second half to set up a field goal. Early in the fourth quarter and with New York already in field-goal range, Sean Murphy-Bunting dove for an interception. His only pick of the regular season set up the Bucs’ go-ahead score — a touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Mike Evans.

The secondary sealed the win, too, with Antoine Winfield Jr. knocking away a two-point conversion pass that would have tied with 28 seconds left.

Week 9: Saints 38, Bucs 3

Bucs quarterback Tom Brady heads out onto the field to greet Saints players after being defeated 38-3 at Raymond James Stadium.
Bucs quarterback Tom Brady heads out onto the field to greet Saints players after being defeated 38-3 at Raymond James Stadium. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Nov. 8

This Sunday Night Football debacle passed the Chicago defeat as the worst showing of the season. By far.

New Orleans jumped out to a 31-0 halftime lead — the first time Tom Brady has ever trailed by at least 30 points at halftime. As Brady threw three interceptions and took three sacks, Drew Brees hit 14 of his first 16 passes, finishing with four touchdowns. The end result was a complete annihilation that tied for the most lopsided home loss in franchise history.

“This was pretty embarrassing from the start of the game…” Shaquil Barrett said. “It was just a collapse. A total team collapse.”

Week 10: Bucs 46, Panthers 23

Bucs running back Ronald Jones runs for a 98-yard touchdown against the Panthers during the second half.
Bucs running back Ronald Jones runs for a 98-yard touchdown against the Panthers during the second half. [ GERRY BROOME | Associated Press ]

Nov. 15

This was a complete turnaround for the team (which outgained Carolina 544-187 on the road) and for Ronald Jones.

Jones fumbled on the Bucs’ second play from scrimmage, losing the ball for the second week in a row. He responded with a historic run that broke open a 20-17 game in the third quarter. Pinned deep, the former USC sprinter took a handoff, moved left and dashed 98 yards into the end zone for the longest rush in Bucs history.

“I’ve put on a little weight since college,” Jones said. “(But) the top-end speed is still there.”

Apparently. According to the NFL’s NextGen stats, Jones peaked at 21.19 mph.

Week 11: Rams 27, Bucs 24

Rams safety Jordan Fuller (32) and linebacker Troy Reeder (51) celebrate Fuller's interception of Tom Brady during the fourth quarter of a Monday Night Football game.
Rams safety Jordan Fuller (32) and linebacker Troy Reeder (51) celebrate Fuller's interception of Tom Brady during the fourth quarter of a Monday Night Football game. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Nov. 23

The secondary couldn’t rescue the Bucs and Tom Brady in this Monday Night Football letdown. Brady had a chance to complete the 48th game-winning drive of his career but was intercepted by rookie Jordan Fuller with 1:49 to clinch the loss.

Brady’s two-touchdown, two-interception performance was one of his worst of the year. He averaged a season-low 4.5 yards per attempt and missed on eight of his nine downfield passes, sparking public criticism from coach Bruce Arians.

Rams kicker Matt Gay — released by the Bucs two months earlier — rubbed it in by drilling the winning 40-yard field goal with 2:36 left.

Week 12: Chiefs 27, Bucs 24

Bucs cornerback Carlton Davis gets burned as Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill catches a 75-yard pass for a touchdown, his first of two in the first quarter.
Bucs cornerback Carlton Davis gets burned as Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill catches a 75-yard pass for a touchdown, his first of two in the first quarter. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Nov. 29

Although the final score was respectable, the Bucs’ performance at Raymond James Stadium was not. The reigning Super Bowl champions led 17-0 in the first quarter behind an embarrassing defensive performance.

Tyreek Hill had 203 receiving yards in the first 15 minutes and finished with 269 — the most the Bucs have ever allowed. Among the lowlights: Hill flashing a peace sign on his way to a 75-yard score. The Bucs’ third loss in four games dropped them to 7-5 heading into the bye week.

Week 14: Bucs 26, Vikings 14

Bucs linebacker Shaquil Barrett celebrates a sack on Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins during the first quarter.
Bucs linebacker Shaquil Barrett celebrates a sack on Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins during the first quarter. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Dec. 13

Snapping a two-game losing streak with a double-digit win was the performance the Bucs needed to prove their identity.

“We can do any damn thing we want to do,” Bruce Arians said.

They wanted to pass the ball downfield (a 48-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Scotty Miller). They wanted to establish the run, rushing 26 times as Brady threw his fewest passes (23) in five years. And they wanted to pressure the quarterback, sacking Kirk Cousins six times (including two by Shaquil Barrett).

Mostly, the Bucs wanted to show that their swagger was finally back.

Week 15: Bucs 31, Falcons 27

Bucs wide receiver Antonio Brown, left, gets past Falcons cornerback Tyler Hall for what proved to be the winning touchdown in the final minutes.
Bucs wide receiver Antonio Brown, left, gets past Falcons cornerback Tyler Hall for what proved to be the winning touchdown in the final minutes. [ CURTIS COMPTON / CURTIS.COMPTON@AJC.COM | AP ]

Dec. 20

The Bucs signed Tom Brady for performances like this one, when he rallied the Bucs back from a 24-7 second-half deficit for his 38th career comeback victory. But they signed Antonio Brown, despite his troublesome history, for performances like this, too.

Brown had 25 catches but no touchdowns through his first five games. Then he took off on a go route with six minutes left. Forty-six yards later, he had his first touchdown in 15 months and the Bucs had the lead for good.

“It’s been a long journey for me,” Brown said afterward.

It wasn’t over yet.

Week 16: Bucs 47, Lions 7

Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans runs into Lions cornerback Tramaine Brock during the first half.
Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans runs into Lions cornerback Tramaine Brock during the first half. [ LON HORWEDEL | AP ]

Dec. 26

By ending weeks of first-half futility, the Bucs snapped a decade’s worth of horrific history. Tampa Bay set franchise records in first-half yards (410) and points (34) to blow out the lowly Lions in Detroit.

There were noteworthy performances on this Saturday, of course. Tom Brady completed 22 of his 27 passes for 348 yards, four touchdowns and a perfect 158.3 passer rating. Mike Evans caught 10 passes for 181 yards and two scores. Devin White had another 10-tackle day.

But remember this game as the victory that clinched the Bucs’ first playoff appearance since 2007.

“We’re happy to finally have accomplished it, but that’s just where it starts,” Evans said. “We want to go as far as we can.”

Week 17: Bucs 44, Falcons 27

Bucs cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting celebrates with strong safety Antoine Winfield Jr. after retrieving a Falcons loose ball and turning it over to the Bucs offense.
Bucs cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting celebrates with strong safety Antoine Winfield Jr. after retrieving a Falcons loose ball and turning it over to the Bucs offense. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]

Jan. 3

The win that clinched the No. 5 seed in the NFC was defined by a record and, eventually, relief. Mike Evans’ 20-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter moved him past 1,000 yards for the year, making him the first player in NFL history to hit that milestone in each of his first seven seasons.

But Evans hyperextended his left knee on the play and did not return. The relief came a few days later when tests showed no significant damage to Evans’ leg. He was back at practice that Thursday.

Wild-card round: Bucs 31, Washington 23

Bucs running back Leonard Fournette finds a hole during the opening drive.
Bucs running back Leonard Fournette finds a hole during the opening drive. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Jan. 9

Tampa Bay’s first playoff victory since Super Bowl 37 was a shaky performance against the seven-win NFC East champs that didn’t exactly make another Lombardi Trophy look like a given.

Playing on the road without Devin White, the Bucs defense allowed former XFL backup Taylor Heinicke to pass for 306 yards and rush for 46 more. Tampa Bay’s better surrounding cast eventually pulled through. Leonard Fournette amassed 132 yards from scrimmage to begin the hype for “Playoff Lenny.” Mike Evans recovered from his tweaked knee for a team-high 119 receiving yards. And Lavonte David had a pivotal third-down on Washington’s final drive to seal his first postseason triumph.

Division round: Bucs 30, Saints 20

Bucs safety Mike Edwards celebrates his fourth-quarter interception at New Orleans.
Bucs safety Mike Edwards celebrates his fourth-quarter interception at New Orleans. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Jan. 17

In what likely was the final duel between future Hall of Famers Drew Brees and Tom Brady, Brees looked ready for retirement. Brady looked ready for another ring.

The Bucs intercepted Brees three times, including twice in the fourth quarter — one by Devin White and another by Mike Edwards. Brees finished with 134 yards (the worst of his playoff career) and didn’t even have New Orleans’ best throw; that was a 56-yard touchdown pass by Jameis Winston on a trick play.

Brady, however, made it clear the Bucs made the right choice by ditching Winston. He threw for 199 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for another in the fourth quarter to send Tampa Bay to the NFC championship.

NFC championship: Bucs 31, Packers 26

Bucs wide receiver Scotty Miller makes a touchdown catch at the end of the first half of the NFC Championship Game at Green Bay.
Bucs wide receiver Scotty Miller makes a touchdown catch at the end of the first half of the NFC Championship Game at Green Bay. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Jan. 24

The final 13 seconds of the first half were the perfect display of Bruce Arians’ no risk it, no biscuit philosophy. Facing fourth and 4 from the Green Bay 45, Arians went for it.

“We didn’t come here to not take chances to win the game,” Arians said.

The first chance paid off. Tom Brady converted with a 6-yard pass to Leonard Fournette. The second chance did, too. Instead of opting for a short pass to set up a field goal, Brady threw a 39-yard touchdown to Scotty Miller with one second left for a 21-10 halftime lead.

Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul combined to sack Aaron Rodgers five times. Sean Murphy-Bunting added his third interception in three playoff games to make the Bucs the first team to play a Super Bowl in their home stadium.

Super Bowl 55: Bucs 31, Chiefs 9

Bucs quarterback Tom Brady celebrates with his family as he hoists the Lombardi Trophy after the Bucs win Super Bowl 55.
Bucs quarterback Tom Brady celebrates with his family as he hoists the Lombardi Trophy after the Bucs win Super Bowl 55. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Feb. 7

The momentous season culminated with an all-out domination at Raymond James Stadium. On offense, the three former Patriots starred. MVP Tom Brady threw three touchdown passes — two to Rob Gronkowski and a third to Antonio Brown just before halftime.

The defense was even more dominant. Ndumakong Suh and Shaquil Barrett led a pass rush that pestered superstar Patrick Mahomes into one of the worst performances of his career. Devin White and Antoine Winfield Jr. both recorded interceptions, and Winfield even flashed a peace sign back at Tyreek Hill to avenge their first meeting and celebrate an unforgettable season.

“It is hands down one of the greatest accomplishments in sports history,” Gronkowski said.

And certainly one of the best ever in Tampa Bay.

• • •

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