It wasn’t the defense that won this game for the Bucs.
It wasn’t the awful special teams play by the Packers that won this game for the Bucs.
It sure as hell wasn’t Tom Brady and his three interceptions that won this game for the Bucs.
It wasn’t even that “borderline” (it was only borderline because the refs decided to tuck their flags in their pockets the whole game) defensive pass interference call that gave the Bucs a first down at the end of the fourth quarter.
No, Bucs fans should be sending thank-you notes to Packers head coach Matt LaFleur. He decided—with a little over two minutes left in the fourth quarter, on fourth and goal, down eight—that the Packers defense should be more trusted to get a stop than Aaron Rodgers should be to throw a touchdown in the red zone.
You want to know who the best red zone team in the NFL was in the regular and postseason? Yeah, it was the Packers. They led the NFL in TD percentage in the red zone.
But, despite all logic, despite every example of coaches losing because they decided to play it safe on fourth down (the Titans and Mike Vrabel are the latest example), Matt LaFleur made the call to kick a field goal, making it 31-26, Bucs.
And now? The Bucs are headed to the Super Bowl to face Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, after one of the sloppiest, most stressful games I’ve ever seen.
Tom Brady had an absolutely amazing first half, throwing a pair of touchdowns and racking up over 200 yards through the air, but his second half should have been enough to gift-wrap the game for the Packers. He threw a trio of picks in three straight possessions, each one on deep throws that looked like they were thrown by a 43-year-old man.
Which, in case it hasn’t been mentioned enough, they were.
Despite all of my criticism and his horrible performance in the second half, Tom Brady threw 40 touchdowns this season. At 43 years old. And is now playing in a Super Bowl (his 10th). On a new team which had gone over a decade without making the playoffs. This is an impressive feat, no matter how much hype and hate he gets from everyone. Plus, like I said, he had an outstanding first half, capped off by another head-scratching gaffe by the Packers, who allowed Scotty Miller to get behind the defense and in the end zone for a TD catch with six seconds left in the first half and no timeouts for the Bucs.
But let’s focus on the real hero of the NFC Championship game for the Bucs: Shaq Barrett.
Last year’s sack leader had three on Aaron Rodgers, his last coming in a key situation in the fourth quarter that helped give the Bucs the ball back so that my man Ryan Succop could hit a big field goal that put the Bucs up by eight. Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul provided the pressure needed to throw Aaron Rodgers off his game just enough to win this game, as they combined for five sacks and led the charge defensively.
What a game. It had its ups and downs, and the ending was certainly chaotic and strange, but the Bucs are going to be playing in Tampa for the Super Bowl, the first team to play in its home stadium for a Super Bowl. Tampa Bay joins the Rays and Lightning in making it to the championship game this year, making it a pretty good time to be from Tampa.
Fire those damn cannons.
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