It's safe to say that the Tom Brady investment was well worth it for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After defeating the Washington Football Team on Super Wild-Card Weekend, finally getting over the New Orleans Saints in the divisional round and edging out the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field, the Bucs find themselves in Super Bowl LV. This all is occurring under the first season that Brady has arrived in Flordia, as he brought his winning ways with him to Tampa from New England.
While getting to this point can be qualified as a largely successful season, the job isn't completely finished for Bruce Arians and his club. They'll now have to go toe-to-toe with the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs, who sport arguably the best quarterback in the NFL at the moment in Patrick Mahomes. If the Bucs are able to get a win over K.C., it'll be their first championship since 2002.
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, however, let's take a look back at how Tampa Bay got itself in this position. Below, we're going to dive into how this 2020 version of the Buccaneers was created and highlight a number of signature moments that have them on the doorstep of a Super Bowl title.
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The obvious one is Tom Brady, of course. After 20 years with the New England Patriots, Brady dipped his toes in the free-agent waters for the first time in his career and decided to ink a two-year deal with the Buccaneers and head down to Tampa. Judging by the roster that was already in place (strong weapons, sturdy O-line, and a top-five defense), it was a rather compelling situation that Brady could surround himself in with the Bucs. That has only been proven right as the season went along. While there were a few bumps as Brady tried to mesh with Bruce Arians' system and vice-versa, the 43-year-old quarterback still put up impressive numbers.
More importantly, Brady's arrival shifted the culture with Tampa Bay to an environment that puts winning at the utmost importance. With Jameis Winston in 2019, these Bucs were a 7-9 squad. When you inject Brady, the greatest quarterback of all-time, into that equation, however, Tampa is now a double-digit win team and nearing a Super Bowl appearance. This was also the first playoff berth for the Bucs since 2007. That's the Brady difference even at age 43.
Along with Brady, Tampa Bay capitalized on a few high-profile weapons shaking loose from their former teams. Tight end Rob Gronkowski came out of retirement and forced a trade to the Bucs, receiver Antonio Brown re-joined Brady once he was free to do so, and running back Leonard Fournette signed a one-year deal with the club after being released from the Jaguars.
While those pieces were the cherry on top of an already lethal offense with Brady under center, the Buccaneers being able to retain pass rushers Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul along with defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh were critical in keeping Tampa Bay's front-seven one of the better units in the league.
While the interior of the Buccaneers O-line was strong in 2019 and remained so heading into 2020, Tampa Bay still needed to address the tackle spot to further create a wall for their new quarterback. They wasted no time doing so targeting and selecting Iowa offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs with the No. 13 overall pick at the 2020 draft. That selection has proven to provide immediate dividends for the Bucs as Wirfs has more than lived up to his first-round billing. He's played (and started) in every game for the Bus this season and has been particularly strong in the playoffs. According to PFF, he's allowed just one pressure and zero sacks in 77 pass-blocking snaps coming into the NFC Championship. He then proceeded to shut down a Green Bay pass rush that had come alive in recent weeks. Wirfs was also tremendous against Saints star defensive end Cameron Jordan in the divisional round.
In the second round, the Bucs helped themselves on the defensive side of the ball by adding safety Antoine Winfield Jr. out of Minnesota. Winfield is another rookie who has jumped right into the starting total for Tampa Bay and has proven to be a strong selection. In 16 games, he totaled 94 tackles, four quarterback hits, six passes defended, two forced fumbles, and an interception. Winfield did miss the NFC Championship due to an ankle injury and his status will be worth monitoring leading up to the Super Bowl.
Both Winfield and Wirfs were recently named to the Pro Football Writers of America All-Rookie team for 2020. While those were the two big hits from last year's draft, the Bucs have also gotten some contributions from running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn (third round) and wide receiver Tyler Johnson (fifth round) this season in spot situations.
The Week 13 bye proved beneficial for the Buccaneers. They limped into the week off losing three of their previous four games and were teetering at a 7-5 record on the season. While the schedule wasn't exactly a gantlet to finish up the regular season, the Bucs took advantage of inferior opponents in a rather convincing fashion. Over the final month, they were 4-0 to push themselves into the postseason at 11-5 as the offense was averaging 31 points per game over that stretch and holding opponents to just 18.7 points per game.
Tom Brady particularly flipped a switch as the calendar turned to December. Over the final four weeks of the regular season, Brady was playing as well as any quarterback in the league, completing nearly 70% of his passes while averaging 333.3 yards passing. He also had 12 touchdowns to just one interception over that stretch to give him a 126.9 passer rating.
Tampa Bay was able to take that momentum from that strong finish into the regular season going into the postseason as they've now won seven-straight since the bye and find themselves knocking on the door of a Super Bowl title.
The game that got the entire NFL to turn its head and start viewing the Bucs as a legit contender in the NFC was the 38-10 shellacking of the Green Bay Packers in Week 6. Of course, that began especially fitting given that Tampa Bay ended up facing the Packers at Lambeau Field for the NFC Championship. At the time, Green Bay was 4-0 to start the season as they traveled to Raymond James Stadium and, for a moment, looked like they were going to breeze to 5-0 after going up 10-0 in the first quarter. In the second, however, Jamal Dean was able to pick off Aaron Rodgers and return it 32-yards to the house for a touchdown. On the next Packers drive, Rodgers was picked off again and the Bucs capitalized with another touchdown. That was the start of a 28-point second quarter that not only helped give the Bucs the win but flashed their potential once they were moving on all cylinders.
That game began the change the narrative surrounding Tampa, who did continue to struggle at times throughout the season. However, if they were able to rekindle that level of play and find a way to consistently play at that pace, folks all around the league knew they'd be a tough out in the postseason. That has ultimately proved to be true and come full circle from that Week 6 affair during the NFC Championship as the Bucs were able to get out to an early lead, bait the Packers into a number of turnovers and edge out the win to punch their ticket to the Super Bowl.
Complete 2020 season recap
Week 1: at New Orleans
Week 2: vs. Carolina
Week 3: at Denver
Week 4: vs. L.A. Chargers
Week 5: at Chicago
Week 6: vs. Green Bay
Week 7: at Las Vegas
Week 8: at N.Y. Giants
Week 9: vs. New Orleans
Week 10: at Carolina
Week 11: vs. L.A. Rams
Week 12: vs. Kansas City
Week 14: vs. Minnesota
Week 15: at Atlanta
Week 16: at Detroit
Week 17: vs. Atlanta