Whoever said records were made to be broken didn’t have Tom Brady in mind.
Tampa Bay’s ageless marvel captured a record-extending seventh Super Bowl championship on Sunday night, helming the underdog Buccaneers to a 31-9 rout of the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs and further bolstering his claim as the greatest quarterback ever in the epilogue of a storied career that shows no sign of winding down.
Brady, who is two weeks older than John F Kennedy when he was elected president, continues to recalibrate our expectations of what’s possible on a football field. The 43-year-old’s seventh Vince Lombardi trophy – after six during a two-decade run with the New England Patriots – effectively places him out of reach of any foreseeable challenger. No other quarterback in NFL history has won more than four Super Bowls – or even played in more than five.
The game at Raymond James Stadium, where the Bucs became the first team to play in a Super Bowl in their home venue, was billed as a quarterback matchup for the ages: the first ever title game between the winning signal-callers of the previous two. But it was the elder statesman who stole the show from Patrick Mahomes, the Chiefs’ 25-year-old star who was compromised by a toe injury and injury-racked offensive line. Given ample time all night by Tampa Bay’s stout line, Brady completed 21 of 29 passes for 201 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions, leading the Buccaneers to the team’s second championship in franchise’s 45-year history and winning the game’s Most Valuable Player award for a record fifth time.
Mahomes, who was a six-year-old Texas kindergartener when Brady won his first title back in the foggy wake of 9/11, found himself under heavy duress from the opening series behind a line that had been compromised by injuries and slumped to the worst game – by far – of his four-year professional career. Harried, hassled and hounded by Tampa Bay’s front four all night, Mahomes completed 26 of 49 attempts with no touchdowns and two interceptions for a 52.3 passer rating – with the lion’s share of his 270 passing yards coming when the outcome was long beyond doubt.
Tampa Bay’s edge rush tandem of Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul dined out on the inexperienced tackles Andrew Wylie and Mike Remmers, helping silence and ultimately overwhelm a Kansas City offensive juggernaut that went off as three-point favorites and had lost exactly once in 23 meaningful games over the past 454 days. The winning game plan was a feather in the cap of 68-year-old Bruce Arians, the football lifer who became the oldest head coach to win a Super Bowl.
Brady has traditionally been a slow starter in Super Bowls and Sunday’s game was no different as both defensive units dug in for most of the first quarter. The Bucs went three-and-out on the game’s first possession after the Chiefs won the coin toss and deferred, while the Chiefs only managed one first down on their first series.
The Bucs came up empty again on their second possession, then fell behind 3-0 when Harrison Butker kicked a 49-yard field goal after Kansas City’s second drive stalled.
But Brady came to life on Tampa Bay’s final series of the first quarter, marshaling an eight-play, 75-yard drive capped by an eight-yard touchdown pass to former Patriots teammate Rob Gronkowski.
The Chiefs went three-and-out again on their next drive and Brady picked right back up where he left off, engineering a 69-yard march down to the one-yard line. Kansas City rallied to make a heroic goalline stand, stuffing Tampa Bay running back Ronald Jones II on fourth-and-goal to keep the Bucs from adding to their lead – for the time being.
Less than three minutes later, Brady again found Gronkowski in the end zone for a 14-3 lead, but the six-play scoring jaunt was helped mightily by a pair of Kansas City errors: a potential Tyrann Mathieu interception erased by a holding call, then a fourth down turned into a fresh set of downs when Antonio Hamilton lined up offside on a field goal attempt.
Gronkowski, who came out of retirement to reunite with Brady after the quarterback signed a two-year, $50m contract with the Buccaneers in March, caught his 13th and 14th career postseason touchdowns from Brady, eclipsing the record of 12 they had shared with Jerry Rice and Joe Montana.
As Kansas City took over for their final possession before intermission, Mahomes was 3-of-12 for 23 yards. He completed six quick passes in succession but Kansas City were stopped short of the red zone and the Chiefs settled for another Butker field goal that closed the margin to 14-6 with 1:04 remaining in the first half.
But those 64 seconds were more than enough for Brady, who led a five-play, 71-yard drive capped by a one-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Brown. Again, error-strewn play by Kansas City made it possible: this time a pass interference penalty on Bashaud Breeland, who was beaten deep by Mike Evans down the left sideline.
The big-play Chiefs can never be counted out, not after becoming the first team in NFL history to overcome three double-digit deficits during their run to last year’s Super Bowl crown. They immediately showed signs of life on their opening drive of the third quarter, starting with a 26-yard scamper by rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire that was their longest play of the game. But Tampa Bay’s swarming defense locked down again, forcing Kansas City to settle for a third field goal.
It unraveled quickly from there. Tampa Bay running back Leonard Fournette, who was cast aside by the Jacksonville Jaguars before the season, ran untouched 27 yards to paydirt to give Tampa Bay a 28-9 lead, joining Terrell Davis (1997 Denver Broncos) and Larry Fitzgerald (2008 Arizona Cardinals) as the only players to score touchdowns in four playoff games in a single postseason. He would finish the night with a game-high 89 rushing yards on 16 carries.
When Mahomes, given no quarter by Tampa Bay’s ravenous front seven and desperate to make something happen, threw an interception on the ensuing drive, the outcome was all but a handshake away.
Brady becomes only the second quarterback to win titles with two different teams, joining Peyton Manning, who earned one apiece with the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos.
“I’m not making any comparisons,” he said. “Experiencing it with this group of guys is amazing.”