TAMPA, Fla. – The cell phones usually started chiming or buzzing late at night.
Tom Brady wanted to further solidify the mental fortitude of his teammates during their march to the Super Bowl, so the quarterback — the six-time champion in search of No. 7 — would send an inspirational text blast to the rest of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“All week, he was making us believe we could win,” running back Leonard Fournette explained. “He was texting us at 11 o’clock at night, ‘We will win this game.’”
And if Brady said it, the Bucs players would take it to heart. The 43-year-old had that kind of credibility, both because of his accomplishments during 20 years in New England, but also because of the way they saw him go about his business during their last six months together.
“Knowing his resume, understanding why he wins … He made us believe,” Fournette said.
The belief was evident throughout the Buccaneers’ 31-9 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl 55.
The Bucs took the field at Raymond James Stadium brimming with confidence. As the first team to host a Super Bowl, they had extra motivation to dethrone the Chiefs, who won last year’s Super Bowl and whom many analysts had crowned as the NFL’s next dynasty.
But they could have played Super Bowl 55 in Kansas City, in some scorching desert or even Mars and Tampa’s players would have believed.
Each day, they studied the quarterback who last spring shocked the sports world, choosing their organization over the comforts of Foxborough. And each day, they learned another lesson about the commitment and discipline that separates champions from other “good’ teams.
Sunday represented the culmination of those lessons, the work put in and the resilience required to navigate an obstacle-filled season. Because Tampa didn’t just beat the defending champion Chiefs. The Bucs flat out dominated them with an all-around display of excellence in every phase of the game.
Brady threw three touchdown passes and completed 21 of 29 passes for 201 yards and no turnovers to lock up the fifth Super Bowl MVP of his career.
He didn’t run the ball or block. He didn’t tackle or break up passes. His greatest and most defining contribution to the Buccaneers’ championship run wasn’t even physical. It was all mental. And that’s exactly what Tampa Bay needed this season.
Bruce Arians said it repeatedly this season and in the days leading up to the Super Bowl. The Buccaneers may have gone 7-9 in 2019, and they may have missed the playoffs for a 12th consecutive year. But the coach fully believed he and his staff had the makings of a championship-caliber roster. They had young, rising defensive playmakers who complemented veterans. They had stars at the skill positions on offense and a quality line. They had the explosive playbook and talented offensive coordinator.
They just needed a quarterback who could elevate them; a leader who could show them the way.
Brady brought instant credibility, and from the time he started organizing player workouts at Tampa area parks when COVID-19 kept Buccaneers headquarters closed, to the way he worked tirelessly in training camp and during the season, his new teammates watched and felt inspired to match Brady’s effort and commitment. It became infectious. The Bucs didn’t want to let their leader down.
Brady’s leadership proved extremely important during a midseason funk after a 6-2 start. While losing three of four, Tampa’s offense looked disjointed, and Brady looked like a poor fit with what Arians and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich wanted to do.
But one of the most important traits Brady learned in New England was the importance of patience, discipline and consistency. Each unit, each player was charged with focusing on his job and finding ways to perfect his craft, and if he did that, improvement would come.
That commitment kept the Patriots grounded and focused despite slow starts, and it paved the way for them to peak at the right time so they played their best down the stretch of the season, then carried that momentum into so many deep postseason runs.
Brady remained unflinching during this time, even while confronted with questions about friction with his new head coach, who didn’t shy away from publicly saying the team needed better from the quarterback.
Brady knew that patience, attention to detail and a commitment to hard work would see them through. He knew he and Leftwich had to keep tinkering, keep communicating and searching for that ideal balance that would blend the Bucs’ aggressive tendencies with the rhythmic offensive flow Brady found most comfortable during the first 19 seasons of his career.
Arians, Leftwich and Brady’s willingness to compromise proved invaluable for Tampa, because as they continued to better understand each other and learn new ways of doing things, success followed. Tampa exited its Week 13 bye with its offense reborn and its defense as formidable as ever. The Bucs ripped off four straight victories to cap the regular season. They extended that win streak to seven games, including the postseason march to the Super Bowl.
“Really, all year, we believed in ourselves,” Brady said. “Our coaches believed in us, we believed in ourselves. We were going up against a great team tonight, and (I’m) just happy we got the job done.”
Tampa got the job done after opening the game with a pair of three-and-outs but eventually found its offensive rhythm. Leftwich got the run game going, and that helped the play-action passing attack, opening things up downfield, and from there, it was a mix of short passes, misdirection, more run plays. The offense clicked.
It was vintage Brady, connecting with Rob Gronkowski throughout the first half and twice for touchdown passes. (The duo’s 13th and 14th postseason scores broke the record previously held by Joe Montana and Jerry Rice.) His third touchdown pass went to Antonio Brown, another player Brady was instrumental in bringing to Tampa. He also had the backing of a strong defense.
On Sunday — and really through the playoffs — Tampa Bay followed a similar script. Todd Bowles’ unit kept the pressure on Patrick Mahomes, victimizing a Chiefs line missing both starting offensive tackles, and denied Kansas City on 10 of 13 third downs.
A Chiefs offense that had averaged 30 points per game in the postseason and 29.6 per game in the regular season mustered just nine points, and Mahomes, who boasts a 108.7 career passer rating, posted a career-low rating of 45.2 Sunday night.
“They stepped up to the challenge,” Brady said. “You go up against a guy like Pat, incredible player, Aaron (Rodgers) – MVP – two weeks ago, they played incredible. Drew (Brees in the divisional round) they played great. They stepped up. They rose to the occasion. We needed it because we were playing extremely talented offenses. Just so happy we all came to play tonight.”
The effectiveness on offense and the dominance of Tampa’s defense gave Brady something else: a blowout victory in a Super Bowl. Until Sunday night’s 22-point margin, his teams had won by three, three, three, four, six and 10 points in Super Bowls.
And he gave the franchise the second Super Bowl victory it had sought for the better part of two decades.
As he clutched the Lombardi Trophy during the trophy presentation, basking in the victory, Buccaneers owner and co-chairman Joel Glazer said, “My father had an expression: you wanna know the road ahead, ask the person who’s been there. We found that person. Ten Super Bowl appearances, seven victories! Tom Brady!”
Mission accomplished. Brady delivered. He showed the Bucs how to win, gave them reason to believe and together, they prevailed.