What a magical year it’s been for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers... Last March, they decided to move on from their 2015 No. 1 overall pick, Jameis Winston. And to replace him, all they did was sign the greatest quarterback of all time. From the moment Tom Brady signed with Tampa Bay, expectations were immediately high for him and his new team. The roster continued to get even more star-studded as the spring and summer went on and now, in this moment, the Bucs are preparing to play for the Lombardi Trophy in their home stadium on Feb. 7.
Leading up to the Super Bowl LV matchup between the Bucs and Chiefs, we’re going to take a look back at Tampa Bay’s journey to this point. Today, we wrap up with the playoff run that has led to Sunday’s game.
After an 11-5 regular season finish that earned them the No. 5 seed in the NFC, the Buccaneers went to the nation’s capital for a first-round matchup against the 7-9 NFC East champion Washington Football Team. Tampa Bay opened the game hot, driving 70 yards in nine plays to set up a 29-yard field goal by Ryan Succop. Then, after Sean Murphy-Bunting intercepted Taylor Heinicke, the Bucs cashed in with a 36-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Antonio Brown. But despite the visitors taking an 18-7 lead into halftime after a Chris Godwin touchdown catch and another Succop field goal, Heinicke—in his first career start—kept Washington in the game.
A big third quarter for Heinicke and the Washington offense cut the Bucs’ lead down to 18-16 heading into the fourth quarter, but then Brady led a couple more scoring drives. A 55-yard drive set up a 38-yard field goal from Succop, then a 69-yard drive was capped by a Leonard Fournette touchdown run from three yards out. Yet again, the home team wouldn’t go away. An 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive led by Heinicke made it a five-point game. Luckily for Tampa Bay, though, it was able to hold off the rally. Another Succop field goal with 2:49 to go made it an eight-point game, then the defense got one last stop thanks in large part to a third-down sack from Lavonte David, who was finally playing in the postseason in his ninth NFL season. By the time the dust settled on Sunday’s Wild Card Round action, that 31-23 win for the Bucs earned them a shot at redemption in the second round as they would head to New Orleans for a contest against the Saints.
Top Performers: Tom Brady (22-of-40, 381 yards, two touchdowns); Leonard Fournette (19 carries, 93 yards, touchdown, four catches, 39 yards); Mike Evans (Six catches, 119 yards), Cameron Brate (Four catches, 80 yards); Lavonte David (Nine tackles, eight solo, sack, pass defended), Carlton Davis (Nine tackles, eight solo, two passes defended), Antoine Winfield Jr. (Six tackles, all solo, two tackles for loss); Ryan Succop (4-of-4 on field goals)
After 34-23 and 38-3 losses to the Saints during the regular season, Tampa Bay facing an NFC Divisional Round matchup in New Orleans appeared to many like a recipe for the end of the season. But the Bucs came out with something to prove against the NFC South champions. Despite falling behind 6-0 after one quarter, there was no panic. A 26-yard field goal by Ryan Succop cut the deficit to 6-3 before a Sean Murphy-Bunting interception of Drew Brees set the Bucs up to take their first lead. A three-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Mike Evans made it 10-6. The Saints struck right back with some razzle-dazzle, running a trick play that ended with former Buc Jameis Winston firing a 56-yard touchdown pass to Tre’Quan Smith. A 37-yard Succop field goal tied the game at 13-13 as time expired in the first half, though, setting the stage for a tense second half.
Another Smith touchdown catch—this one from Brees—gave New Orleans a 20-13 lead to start the third quarter, but from there, Tampa Bay’s defense turned the game around. After a Buccaneer punt, Antoine Winfield Jr. forced a Jared Cook fumble on the ensuing possession. That turnover led to a six-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Leonard Fournette that tied the game. An early fourth quarter field goal by Succop gave Tampa Bay a 23-20 edge and the defense did the rest. A Devin White interception was turned into an insurance touchdown run by Brady that brought the score to 30-20. Then, with the Saints needing to score for any hopes of a comeback, Brees threw his third interception—this time, it was Mike Edwards taking the ball away. A short while later, it was official: The Bucs had exorcised their demons to beat the Saints and work their way into the NFC Championship Game.
Top Performers: Tom Brady (18-of-33, 199 yards, three total touchdowns); Leonard Fournette (17 carries, 63 yards, five catches, 44 yards, touchdown); Devin White (11 tackles, 10 solo, tackle for loss, fumble recovery, interception); Antoine Winfield Jr. (Six tackles, five solo, forced fumble); Sean Murphy-Bunting (Five tackles, all solo, tackle for loss, interception, two passes defended); Ryan Succop (3-of-3 on field goals, 3-of-3 on extra points)
Facing the Packers—the NFC’s No. 1 seed—at Lambeau Field with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, the Bucs had their work cut out for them. But as they were the previous week, they were up to the task. Tom Brady marched Tampa Bay right down the field on the game’s opening drive, finishing it off with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Mike Evans. Green Bay’s offense finally struck early in the second to tie the game at 7-7, but a 52-yard Chris Godwin catch then set up an electric 20-yard touchdown run by Leonard Fournette that allowed the Bucs to retake the lead. The Packers then got back within 14-10, but the Bucs stunned the home crowd right before halftime. After a Sean Murphy-Bunting interception—his third in his first three career postseason games—Tampa Bay gambled on a late fourth down and picked it up. Then, instead of a long field goal try, the Bucs risked it—and they got the biscuit. Brady dropped in a 39-yard touchdown pass to Scotty Miller, giving the visitors a 21-10 lead at the break.
Jordan Whitehead forced an Aaron Jones fumble to open up the third quarter, which led to an eight-yard scoring pass from Brady to Cameron Brate that pushed Tampa Bay’s lead to 28-10. But instead of cruising the rest of the way, the Bucs let the Packers back in the game. Green Bay got within 28-23 by the start of the fourth quarter before a Ryan Succop field goal made it 31-23 with 4:42 left. The Packers worked their way down the field in response, but instead of going for it on fourth down at the 8-yard line, they chose to kick a field goal and trust their defense to get the ball back. That gamble backfired, though, with the Tampa Bay offense running the clock out to finish off a 31-26 win. The victory was the team’s seventh straight, and it meant a trip home to Raymond James Stadium for a home Super Bowl against the Chiefs.
Top Performers: Tom Brady (20-of-36, 280 yards, three touchdowns, three interceptions); Leonard Fournette (12 carries, 55 yards, touchdown, five catches, 19 yards); Chris Godwin (Five catches, 110 yards); Mike Evans (Three catches, 51 yards, touchdown); Devin White (15 tackles, nine solo, fumble recovery); Shaquil Barrett (Five tackles, four solo, three sacks, four quarterback hits); Jason Pierre-Paul (Five tackles, three solo, two sacks)
It’s been quite the postseason for Tampa Bay. In their first playoff appearance since the 2007 season, the Bucs first picked up their first playoff win since their Super Bowl victory in January of 2003. From there, they went on to silence the Saints, sending their rivals home for the offseason. And finally, in the NFC Championship Game, the team won a classic in the cold weather at Lambeau Field. All three games were a bit different from each other, with different guys stepping up over three weeks. The defense has largely been the catalyst for Tampa Bay’s biggest moments, while the offense has done enough to survive and advance. Now, the Bucs face yet another monumental test in the form of the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs. If they can get the job done, it would be the perfect ending to a magical year. Brady would have his seventh ring and the Buccaneers would finally have their second Lombardi Trophy. There’s a lot on the line come Sunday, but regardless of what happens, it’s been a memorable journey for Tampa Bay.
Thanks for joining us throughout the week for our Road to Super Bowl LV series! In case you missed any of the previous installations, you can find them below: