TAMPA, Fla. — Tom Brady made his seventh Super Bowl title look familiar — despite moving south to a new team and conference during a pandemic.
Brady threw two touchdown passes to old friend Rob Gronkowski and one to good pal Antonio Brown, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City 31-9 on their home field in Super Bowl 55 on Sunday.
Brady earned his fifth Super Bowl MVP award and extended his Super Bowl titles record in his 10th appearance, his first without Patriots coach Bill Belichick. The 43-year-old Brady broke his own mark for oldest player to win a Super Bowl and joins Hall of Famer Peyton Manning as the only quarterbacks to win one with multiple franchises.
“I’m not making any comparisons,” Brady said. “Experiencing it with this group of guys is amazing.”
The Buccaneers (15-5) won their second NFL title and first in 18 years while becoming the first team to play the big game at home, capping an unusual and challenging season played through the novel coronavirus. They won three road games as a wild card team to reach the Super Bowl, and joined the NHL’s Lightning as a 2020 season champion. The Rays also went to the World Series but lost to the Dodgers.
“I’m so proud of all these guys,” Brady said. “We had a rough November, but we came together at the right time. We knew this was gonna happen. We played our best game of the year.”
Tampa’s victory prevented Mahomes and the Chiefs (16-3) from becoming the first repeat champions since Brady’s Patriots did it in 2003-04.
The NFL completed its 269-game season on time without any cancellations, a remarkable accomplishment that required nearly 1 million COVID-19 tests for players and team personnel.
Due to the virus, only 25,000 mask-wearing fans were allowed in, including approximately 7,500 vaccinated health care workers who were given free tickets by the NFL. About 30,000 cardboard cutouts made the stadium look full.
A streaker wearing a hot-pink onesie eluded security and slid into the end zone with 5:03 left in the game. Mahomes and Kansas City’s high-powered offense never got that far against Tampa’s ferocious defense.
Bruce Arians became the oldest coach at age 68 to win the Super Bowl. His mom, 95-year-old Kay Arians, witnessed it in person. Brady, Gronk and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles helped Arians get that Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Bowles devised a masterful plan to frustrate Mahomes and shut down the Chiefs, the complete opposite of Kansas City’s 27-24 win in Tampa in Week 12, when the Chiefs jumped to a 17-0 lead in the first quarter. Tyreek Hill had 269 yards receiving and three TDs in that one. He was held to 73 yards on seven catches.
After the Chiefs took a 3-0 early lead, it was all Brady and the Bucs.
Brady accomplished a career-first when he tossed an 8-yard TD pass to Gronkowksi to give the Buccaneers a 7-3 lead with 37 seconds left in the first quarter. Brady’s nine Super Bowl teams in New England produced just three points total in the first quarter. Gronkowski, who came out of retirement to play with his buddy, caught his 13th and 14th postseason TDs from Brady. That broke the record they shared with Jerry Rice and Joe Montana, who combined for 12.
Despite playing at home, the Buccaneers weren’t allowed to fire the cannons from their famed pirate ship after touchdowns and big plays. They did it soon after the clock expired as red, white and black confetti fell onto the field.
Fans still enjoyed the thud of Gronk’s thunderous spike after his first score.
Tampa missed an opportunity to extend the lead when Brady’s 2-yard pass to offensive lineman Joe Haeg was knocked out of his hands by Anthony Hitchens in the end zone. Ronald Jones was stopped short on consecutive carries as Arians stuck to his “No risk it, no biscuit” philosophy and went on fourth down.
But the Chiefs didn’t gain any momentum off the stop. Instead, they made one costly mistake after another.
First, All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce dropped a pass that would’ve been a big gain on third down. Then punter Tommy Townsend shanked a 29-yarder after a penalty forced him to kick again. The Bucs started at Kansas City’s 38 instead of their 27.
A holding call on Chiefs cornerback Charvarius Ward negated an interception by All-Pro safety Tyrann Mathieu. Kansas City’s defense held but an offside penalty during Ryan Succop’s successful field goal gave the Buccaneers a first down. Sarah Thomas, the first woman official in a Super Bowl, threw that flag.
Brady needed one play, firing a strike to Gronkowski for a 17-yard TD and a 14-3 lead. Gronk hesitated before spiking the ball, waiting to make sure the flag on the play was again against the Chiefs.
Mahomes drove the offense for a 34-yard field goal by Harrison Butker that cut it to 14-6, but Kansas City’s defense fell apart in the final minute of the first half — allowing 42 yards on two pass interference penalties. One against Mathieu in the end zone set up Brady’s TD pass to Brown for a 21-6 halftime lead.
It was Brady who convinced his new team to give Brown a chance after the troubled former All-Pro came off suspension. His TD toss to Brown was his 50th of the season, including 10 in the postseason.
Mathieu took an unsportsmanlike penalty after the TD pass for getting into it with Brady as he ran to the sideline.
Leonard Fournette, like Brown an in-season addition, ran 27 yards untouched for a touchdown in the third quarter, extending Tampa’s lead to 28-9. Arians pumped his fist after that score and pointed toward offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, who made the call.
Succop’s 52-yard field goal increased the lead to 31-9.
Last year, Mahomes rallied the Chiefs from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter against San Francisco and earned MVP honors in leading Kansas City to its first NFL championship in a half-century. But Tampa’s pass rush gave him no chance in this one.
Shaq Barrett had one of three sacks on Mahomes, who spent most of the game trying to escape Jason Pierre-Paul, William Gholston and a relentless group.
Brady was 6-3 in Super Bowls during 20 seasons in New England before he signed a $50 million, two-year contract with Tampa in March. The Buccaneers hadn’t reached the playoffs since 2007 and hadn’t won a postseason game since Jon Gruden led Tampa over Oakland in Super Bowl 37.
Despite the home-field advantage, it wasn’t until Brady hooked up with Gronkowski for a 21-6 lead that fans chanted: “Let’s Go Bucs!” They were roaring in the fourth quarter.
There were plenty of red-clad Chiefs fans doing the tomahawk chop for part of the first half until the Bucs made it a rout.
Brady avenged his loss against Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who held the same position for the Giants when New York stifled the Patriots in the 2008 Super Bowl, preventing New England from a perfect season.
Brady’s New England teams won their titles by a combined 30 points, an average margin of five per victory. A 13-3 win over the Los Angeles Rams two years ago had been the most lopsided score until this one.
The warmer climate suited Brady perfectly. He passed Michael Jordan for more championships and it doesn’t seem he’s ready to slow down. He already said he might play past age 45.