No Risk It, No Super Bowl Biscuit
Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes performed magic to give us a Tampa Bay Buccaneers against the Kansas City Chiefs Super Bowl. The Chiefs were in charge of their AFC Championship game over the Buffalo Bills, a game with a big billing which flattered to deceive. Patrick Mahomes underhand forward pass for a touchdown to Travis Kelce was a sign of the Chiefs ability to pioneer novel plays, while pressing cruise control. They won 38-24. Buffalo’s explosive offensive never got going.
Tampa Bay’s win over the Green Bay Packers was a strange, if thrilling affair. The game seemed over early in the third quarter only for the Packers to mount a comeback. A terrible decision to kick a field goal rather than go for a touchdown on fourth and goal destroyed their chance and daggered their season. Packers head coach Matt LaFleuer conceded the mistake post game. I’ll focus on the NFC Championship as the standout game before looking ahead to Tampa Bay’s date with destiny at home to Kansas City. Swashbuckling Tampa Bay Head Home For The Big Game A combination of touchdowns from Tom Brady’s aerial bombardment and the Bucs defense picking Aaron Rodgers off was enough to send Tampa Bay to the Super Bowl in their own house. The Green Bay Packers lost the game in the first half and will be kicking themselves that when they had a chance at redemption after a second half comeback, they blew it. With the season on the line, head coach Matt LeFleur put his trust in Mike Pettine’s defense over Aaron Rodgers. The Packers had a chance to tie the score, down eight points with the ball at Tampa Bay's 8-yard line on fourth-and-goal eight behind, but they decided to kick a field goal with just over two minutes to go in the game. They never got the ball back and went down 31-26. On the play beforehand, Rodgers had the running lane towards the goal line but threw instead of backing himself to win the foot race.
I wrote last week that if the Bucs had the edge at the line of scrimmage, having a power back like Leonard Fournette could do irreparable damage. He looked like a journeyman earlier in the season but he has come alive as a threat in the playoffs. He ran for the kind of score that had many of his doubters straining their eyes in disbelief. Master of All He Surveyed Speaking of life in the trenches, the Packers missed injured All-Pro lineman David Bakhtiari so badly in this game. Rodgers was sacked early and off by a dominant Bucs defensive line. Losing star running back Aaron Jones during the second half was a body blow. The decision to hide A.J. Dillon in the second half after he made so many hard yardage carries was perplexing, especially when the offense struggled to get going after a succession of Green Bay interceptions.
In the first half, Tom Brady had great protection from his offensive line and put on a throwing clinic. With the ease at which he hung passes up in the air for receiver Mike Evans and threw deep balls, Brady was the master of all he surveyed. The Packers give up big plays at will in the passing game.
The touchdown on the stroke of half time was a killer. Tampa had the punt team out and then went for it on fourth down. What followed was the world's worst ever defensive play design with the offense facing eight seconds left on the clock and no timeouts. All the Packers had was to play zone and protect the sidelines and end zone. Brady was able to arc a pass to Scottie Miller who ghosted past the hapless Kevin King - in man coverage - to make the touchdown catch. It was classic Bucs head coach Bruce Arians going for it with his quarterback as his co-conspirator. Tampa Bay went in 11 points up. Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine showed the defense film of last season’s NFC Championship Game, where they were decimated by the San Francisco 49ers to tell them what not to do this time. It looked like they did exactly the same in the first half. Another post-mortem is underway on an NFC Championship game loss in Green Bay- was their fourth Championship game loss in seven seasons. It should start with the cold reality of what happened in the first half. They fumbled. They threw interceptions. They gave up an absurd end of first half touchdown. They did it to themselves. The final straw was LaFleur’s decision to take the ball out of the league MVP’s hands, and kick a field goal with time running out. Afterwards, Rodgers said the finality of the season is one of the toughest things he’s dealt with. There are a lot of unknowns going into the off-season for this team. Leading lights on the offense, running back Aaron Jones and center Corey Linsley are free agents and, with the Packers struggling for cap space, they have almost certainly played their last game in green and gold. Rodgers spoke like a man who knew his last chance to win a Lombardi Trophy in Green Bay had gone. It begs the question: how much time does he have left in Titletown? Super Bowl Race of Their Lives Tampa Bay is the first team to play a Super Bowl game at home. That they’ve managed to get there in their first season with Tom Brady in town is truly impressive. They’ve sculpted the offense together with Brady at the helm with no off-season and a pandemic raging. Head coach Bruce Arians and general manager Jason Licht deserve huge credit. They’ll face the defending champions, moving inexorably towards retaining their title. It's hard to look past the Chiefs offensive juggernaut and a defense capable of making just enough key stops. But with Brady and a Todd Bowles-run defense full of imagination, the Bucs are in with a good shot of lifting the Lombardi Trophy. Patrick Mahomes versus Tom Brady. You can be assured the NFL is doing back flips at this story line. There’s also the small matter of a defense that loves takeaways against the league’s unstoppable offense. We have to wait two weeks but a barnstorming Super Bowl is in store.