7th Super Bowl Victory by Tom Brady Ends N.F.L.'s Most Frustrating Year
In order to achieve a familiar end, the N.F.L. season continued despite difficulties created by the coronavirus pandemic, political discord and a national race estimate.
Each experiment is intended to prove a theory, and last March, Tom Brady formulated an outrageous one when he decided to leave the empire he helped create in New England to sign with the Buccaneers of Tampa Bay.
Brady claimed that, at the age of 43, he could master a new offense, acclimate to a new team and conquer a new league, all while the coronavirus pandemic restricted in-person participation. Moving from a franchise with which he had won six championships to one that had won a total of six playoff games.
The Super Bowl ring is the most valuable of N.F.L. baubles, and each of Brady's seven, the latest secured on Sunday night, confirms an indomitable truth: he is just about unbeatable when he has something to prove.
Brady led the Buccaneers to a 31-9 romp that recalibrated his own level of dominance in front of a partisan crowd at their home field, Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., flicking away the dynastic ambitions of the Kansas City Chiefs and the quarterback who presents the most plausible challenge to equal him someday.
For Brady, this Super Bowl victory was almost definitely his hardest, his sweetest and his strangest, too, caught at the end of N.F.L. history's most unexpected season. The final game is always an exhausting, exhilarating conclusion to the N.F.L. schedule, but never before had so many events threatened to pause the most famous sport in the nation around the field of play.
The decision to play the regular season on time, as planned, was met with pushback and frustration after the pandemic gripped the world last spring. The N.F.L. plowed forward, setting up and improving health procedures as the virus revised rosters, delayed games and affected more than 700 players, coaches and staff members, as well as the parents of Brady, Tom Sr. and Galynn.
The nation was roiled by civil protests over racial discrimination, prompting athletes, coaches and owners to protest structural racism, with some players meeting to defy the commissioner, Roger Goodell, to proclaim Black Lives Matter.
"Brady left behind New England and did not comment on the red Make America Great Again hat seen in his locker there in 2015 this season, but he said his relationship with President Donald J. Trump became "uncomfortable." When the term of Trump came to an end, with some of his backers leading an armed assault on the U.S. Capitol, Patriots Coach Bill Belichick refused to accept a Presidential Medal of Freedom from him, citing his "social justice, equality and human rights" discussions with the team.
It was as if the N.F.L. struck a cosmic bargain for this untidy heap of a season even to hit Sunday's capstone: in return for plowing through a complete 256-game schedule without producing a closed atmosphere in which to play, the most tantalizing quarterback showdown in the Super Bowl era will be given, Brady versus Patrick Mahomes, the best of all time against the best of this time.
The last two Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks had never met each other, and the game had been distilled in somewhat crude, and imprecise, terms in certain circles as a vote on each of their legacies, as though Brady's were tarnished with a loss, or if Mahomes's was somehow related to the result, four seasons into a glorious career.
Brady joined Peyton Manning as the only starting quarterback to win Super Bowls with multiple franchises by giving Tampa Bay the second to win his seventh, more than any N.F.L. franchise, more than John Elway and his boyhood hero, Joe Montana, combined, more than Michael Jordan in the N.B.A.
"We came together at the right time," Brady, who went 21 of 29 for 201 passing yards and was chosen for the fifth time as the most valuable player of the Super Bowl, said afterwards on the field. We knew, I suppose, that this was going to happen now, didn't we? ”
Mahomes had earned 16 out of 17 starts this season, but he and his team collapsed amid a deluge of penalties, drops and pressure from the Buccaneers, who reveled in it, inflicted it, even welcomed it, manipulating the diluted offensive line of the Chiefs. At halftime, Mahomes had 67 yards, and according to Pro Football Reference, Kansas City trailed by 21-6, its 15-point deficit tied for its highest during his three seasons as a starter.
"They beat us pretty well," said Mahomes. "The worst I think in a long time I've been beaten."
As the start of Kansas City took place in October 2018, in a loss to Brady in New England, the only other time Mahomes's team was behind by so many points over his three seasons. Brady spent two decades there, where he and Belichick became the postseason's immovable objects, winning six championships as this generation's most famous quarterback-coach duo.
What Belichick must have thought about as New England wept on Sunday night, watching Brady throw every touchdown to a former Patriots teammate—two to Rob Gronkowski, who came out of retirement for the chance to play with his old pal again, and one to Antonio Brown just before halftime.
Brady's time in New England will be a part of him forever, but now he wears a skull and crossbones on his helmet, will dress in winter practice shorts, and reports to a 68-year-old mentor, Bruce Arians, who reflects the stylistic antithesis of Belichick, coming out of retirement to coach the Buccaneers. "Arians replied with a rhetorical question when asked recently about pursuing Brady during the off-season: "Do you sit and live in a closet trying to be healthy, or are you going to have some fun? "He said, "I think I'd smoke something illegal in order to really picture it."
The arrival of Brady in Tampa embodied a certain harmonic fusion, a confluence of foresight, audacity and serendipity that was largely foreign to the Buccaneers, who had not won a playoff game since steamrolling the Raiders after the 2002 season for their only win. "Their search was nicknamed Operation Shoeless Joe Jackson, a nod to the "Field of Dreams" film prophecy: "If you create it, he'll come." Brady valued how General Manager Jason Licht had built a team around him that solved problems rather than challenging him to solve them himself. "Gronkowski said of the Buccaneers, "They were an organisation ready to win. "The players were ready for a win here."
As the season progressed, the Buccaneers loaded up on playmaking receivers, linebackers who excelled in coverage and physical defensive backs who matured. Their cornerbacks coach, Kevin Ross, wrote on a board all the quarterbacks they would face before it even began, Matt Ryan, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Mahomes, who torched them for 462 yards and three touchdowns in Week 12. But for the Buccaneers, who had moonwalked through the first three months, going 7-5, shuffling forward at the same time as they drove backward, the setback proved to be an inflection point.
In order to progress to their first Super Bowl in 18 seasons, they closed the season by winning their last four, then beat three straight division champions and two of Brady's top quarterback peers, Brees and Rodgers. That squad, like this one, was full of defensive talent and needed to be synthesized into a champion by an outsider, Coach Jon Gruden. Brady gave optimism, prestige and possibility to the Buccaneers.
"Outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett, who had four tackles and a sack, said, "Brady, there is nothing he can't do. First year, new team, new scheme, going to the Super Bowl and winning it all. For sure, he's a GOAT.
Consider that he has now quarterbacked not only the most recent team to win consecutive Super Bowls with New England after the 2003 and 2004 seasons, but also the last two to ruin repeat bids in a measure of Brady's sustained excellence. After the 2014 season, if a classic defensive play foiled Seattle, then it was a systematic effort that smothered the Chiefs.
Mahomes had completed 14 drives this postseason going into Sunday, except kneel-downs, and only once did the defense keep Kansas City from scoring a touchdown or trying a field goal. The defensive coordinator of Tampa Bay, Todd Bowles, formulated a masterly strategy to neutralize Mahomes while employing a four-man rush, erasing the sideline and deep zones.
The Buccaneers forced two turnovers, held the Chiefs until the third quarter without a play longer than 14 yards and stopped the team from scoring even a touchdown. Mahomes backed up Alex Smith in Week 11 in 2017, the last time the Chiefs didn't breach the end zone.
Arians said of Bowles, "I think that he got a little tired of hearing how unstoppable they were."
During this championship run, Brady eliminated three Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks, but unlike Brees and Rodgers, Mahomes, 25, has plenty of seasons left to flaunt his exceptional ability. The league is now Mahomes's, and his time will undoubtedly come again with the imaginative coaching staff of the Chiefs and the core of bountiful young talent. Yet this championship belongs to Brady, who, 10 Super Bowls down, has already begun planning his off-season goal: he wants to get faster.
Brady said, as he grinned the other day, that he wanted to catch up with the younger quarterback generation. Really, however, it is they who, always and forever, are trying to catch up with him.