The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made history Sunday in one of the league's most venerable venues, setting up the most unique homecoming of the Super Bowl era.
The Buccaneers defeated the Green Bay Packers, 31-26, on Sunday in a 2020 NFC Championship Game thriller at Lambeau Field, earning a spot in Super Bowl LV. That game will be played at Raymond James Stadium on February 7, making the Buccaneers the first team ever to play in a Super Bowl on their own home field.
"We've had a lot of people work really hard over a period of time to get to this point," said quarterback Tom Brady, who threw three touchdown passes in the win and will now play in his 10th Super Bowl, extending his own NFL record. "It's a tough journey to get here. To win another road playoff game is just a great achievement, and now a home Super Bowl for the first time in NFL history puts a lot of cool things in perspective. Anytime you're the first time doing something, it's usually a pretty cool thing."
The Buccaneers will face the winner of the AFC Championship Game on Sunday evening between the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs. Tampa Bay is also just the fifth team to make it to the Super Bowl with three consecutive road playoff wins. Including their post-bye week run in the regular season, the Buccaneers have won seven straight as they head into the Super Bowl.
"We were at 7-5 seven weeks ago, not feeling great," said Brady. "We felt like we needed to find our rhythm. We played four great games down the stretch the last quarter of the season, and then after that it was just all bonus and we just had to go play well. We played well in Washington, played well all the way around in New Orleans against a great football team and then came up here knowing that we needed to play great. The guys came through, everybody stepped up to the challenge. Football's the ultimate team sport and it takes everybody. Everybody plays a role and I'm just so proud of this whole team. I'm just blessed to be a part of it."
The last of those three road victories was a nail-biter to the end, with the five-point victory not secured until a critical goal-to-go stop against the NFL's best red zone offense and a six-yard end-around by Chris Godwin to kill the final seconds on the clock and keep the ball out of Aaron Rodgers' hands.
Brady's three touchdown passes, which set a new single-game Buccaneer playoff record, included a 39-yarder to Scotty Miller with one second left in the first half to help the Buccaneers take a 21-10 lead into halftime. Brady's third TD toss was an eight-yarder to TE Cameron Brate one minute into the second half after Jordan Whitehead forced a fumble by Green Bay RB Aaron Jones. The Bucs took an 18-point lead and then hung on for dear life as Rodgers threw a pair of touchdown passes and got his team into position for a potential game-tying touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
"The resiliency of the crew, the defense just gritted their teeth and got it back for us, and then we made some big, big plays," said Head Coach Bruce Arians. "Chris made the big play at the end and a couple other big plays on first-down plays."
View photos of Tampa Bay's NFC Championship Game vs. the Green Bay Packers.
The Packers led the NFL with an 80.0% touchdown rate on red zone drives in 2020, the best mark by any NFL team since at least the 2000 season. However, the Buccaneers got one big stop on first-and-goal in the second quarter and a much bigger one at the game's end. Andrew Adams, in for an injured Whitehead, broke up a third-down pass intended for Davante Adams in the end zone and the Packers elected to go for a field goal down by eight with just over two minutes left.
Obviously, Green Bay was banking on getting the ball back one more time but the Bucs were able to run out the clock thanks to a key third-down pass interference penalty drawn by rookie WR Tyler Johnson on CB Kevin King, plus Godwin's third-down run. That pass interference flag came at the end of a game that featured almost no penalties; neither team drew a single flag in the first half and the two squads combined for just six penalties for 38 yards. Brady kneeled down one final time after Godwin's run and the Bucs had the second Halas Trophy as NFC champs in team history. Now the 2020 squad will try to match the 2002 team that won Super Bowl XXXVII for the franchise's first title. It didn't feel real for Arians until the very end.
"I guess when I was holding the Halas Trophy," said Arians of when he realized the weight of the Bucs' accomplishment. "It was like, 'Oh, my gosh, we're actually going to do it.' We can dream about looking across the street for two weeks."
The Buccaneers scored on the game's opening possession and never trailed, though the Packers did tie it at 7-7 in the second period. Brady's 15-yard touchdown pass to Mike Evans converted a third-and-seven, the third third down on that march, and the Bucs finished with nine conversions in 14 attempts on the day, plus one successful fourth-down attempt. After Rodgers' 50-yard touchdown pass to WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling tied the game, the Buccaneers went back on top on an incredible 20-yard touchdown run by Leonard Fournette that included multiple broken tackles and spin moves. Godwin set up that score with an act of will on a 52-yard leap-ball catch, part of his five-catch, 110-yard day.
An interception by CB Sean Murphy-Bunting gave the Buccaneers a chance to score again before halftime and Arians coached the situation extremely aggressively. First he went for it on fourth-and-four at the Green Bay 45 with 13 seconds to go, with Brady converting on a quick toss to Fournette, then he eschewed a quick pass and a field goal attempt to go deep to Miller. Arians initially sent out the punt team on fourth down but then called a timeout and went for the jugular.
"We didn't come here to not take chances to win the game," said Arians. "With the timeout and then the interception, I wanted to come out of there with points. I loved the play we had, got a great matchup and the touchdown. I thought it was huge."
Miller said the Bucs originally thought the final play of the first half would be a Hail Mary but the Packers' defensive alignment led them to adjust to a more direct approach. Miller had man-to-man coverage on the left side and the defensive back was playing relatively tight.
"That play was an awesome play," said Miller. "The coach made a great decision going for it there. Tom put a great ball on me like he always does. It was just a special moment. I don't know if I could have dreamed about it as a kid. The coaches told us, [Offensive Coordinator] Byron [Leftwich] told us all week we were going to be aggressive, we were going to be aggressive, we were going to go at them, we were going to take chances with the guys we've got. That's what we do."
Turnovers helped the Buccaneers forge their 18-point lead but three straight second-half drives ended in interceptions on Brady passes meant for Evans, forcing the Tampa Bay defense to work extra hard to hold onto the lead. Fortunately, edge rushers Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul combined for five sacks of Rodgers, matching the most times the Packers QB had been dropped all season. Barrett tied Warren Sapp's single-game postseason sack record with 3.0 of his own; Sapp's record also came at Lambeau Field against Brett Favre in the 1997 playoffs.
"We knew that Aaron Rodgers was going to give us a chance to get to him and he was going to try to make the big play," said Barrett. "So our secondary did a great job of holding them up, taking away his first and second read and we were able to get there.
"It was big for us. We knew there was no better time to be great, no better time to be the defense that we want to be right now. We just took the challenge. We knew our offense was going to do what they needed to do. When we need help, they bail us out. When they need help, we bail them out. That's why we're playing so well right now."
That secondary was a bit depleted by game's end. The Bucs were playing without standout rookie safety Antoine Winfield, Jr. due to an ankle injury, and Whitehead left the game in the third quarter with a shoulder injury after a hard hit on RB Jamaal Williams. Mike Edwards and Andrew Adams played much of the game at the back end of the defense. Tampa Bay's secondary has now played a key role in limiting two of the NFL's best offenses in New Orleans and Green Bay in back-to-back weeks.
"I think, really, Sean [Murphy-]Bunting started it in the first playoff game getting a pick, kind of setting the tone in our DB room," said Whitehead. "Then he got one last week, and now everybody's like, 'We gotta catch up with Sean, gotta catch up with Sean. I think coming into this game we just had confidence. Coming off last week, being underdogs again, just put a chip on our shoulders."
Murphy-Bunting's interception was his third in as many games and he is the first player in franchise history to pick off a pass in three straight playoff games. He is also just the fourth player in NFL history to intercept a pass in each of his first three postseason outings, joining Aeneas Williams, Ed Reed and Jason Sehorn.
"Sean played that thing perfectly," said Arians. "I thought he was going to get another one later when they hit that same ball on him. But Sean has been playing outstanding. He's got all his confidence back, as the whole secondary does, and should because they're playing really, really well."
The Buccaneers will now have two weeks to prepare for either the Chiefs or Bills, and they won't have to make any additional travel plans for the big game. Next up is Super Bowl LV in their very own home. The Buccaneers will fly back to Tampa on what will surely be a raucous flight Sunday evening, and they won't have to leave home again this season.
"It's crazy that we're the first team to do it, making history," said Barrett. "But that's not the way history has to end. We can be the first team to win it as well. We've got to get back ready to work, but it's crazy. It's never been done before and we're doing it. It's an amazing feeling. I'm happy to be a part of it."
Additional game details (scoring plays in bold):
Jaydon Mickens took a short kickoff 30 yards out to the Bucs' 34 to start the game and the offense started with two Fournette runs got six yards to make it third-and-four. Brady went for a big gain on third down, lobbing it over CB Chandon Sullivan and into the arms of a sliding Evans for 27 yards. The Bucs then faced a third-and-nine at the Packers' 32 and Brady converted again with a deep out to Godwin for 14 yards. Tampa Bay faced one more third down on the drive, needing seven yards from the 15, but Brady got more than that, lofting it to Evans over the nearest defender in the end zone for the game's first score.
The Packers also started out on the ground, but after Jamaal Williams was stopped after three yards Rodgers moved the chains with a 14-yard completion to TE Marcedes Lewis up the right numbers. After White dropped Jones after a one-yard gain and Pierre-Paul kept Jones from getting anything on a second-down swing pass, Barrett completed the game's first stop with a sack of Rodgers on third down.
A good bounce on the ensuing punt gave the Bucs a new drive starting at their own 27. Jones came in to replace Fournette and was able to power over right guard for two yards to convert and early third-and-one. The next third down was a lot tougher, with 13 yards to go, but the Bucs converted that one, too, on a well-blocked screen over the middle to Godwin for 14 yard to the Tampa Bay 49-yard line. The drive stalled there, however, as the Bucs finally failed on a third down thanks to a five-yard sack by DL Kenny Clark.
The resulting punt was fair caught at the Packers' 10. On second down, Pierre-Paul fired around left tackle Billy Turner and dropped Rodgers for a loss of seven. However, Rodgers scrambled right across his end zone on third-and-15 and was able to line a pass straight down the sideline for a 23-yard completion to WR Allen Lazard. Adams took a short pass around the corner on the left side for 15 yards on the next play, and a five-yard catch by TE Robert Tonyan brought the quarter to an end. Green Bay tied the game two plays into the next period, with Rodgers getting it just past the hand of a diving Carlton Davis and to Valdes-Scantling. With Davis on the ground after his attempt to break it up, Valdes-Scantling trotted the last 20 yards into the end zone.
Godwin couldn't hang on to a second-down slant pass but more than made up for it on third-and-nine with a remarkable 52-yard catch of a jump ball over S Darnell Savage. On the very next play, Fournette made his amazing 20-yard touchdown run, sliding over two Packers on his back over the goal line.
Williams was trying to signal for a touchback on the ensuing kickoff when the ball landed near the goal line and bounced into his arms, forcing him to return to it to the 13. However, the Packers challenged the ruling and were rewarded when replay showed the ball landing partly on the goal line, making it a touchback. Green Bay then got the ball across the field on a 12-yard catch by Valdes-Scantling and a 12-yard scamper around left end by Williams. Jones got it down to the Bucs' 30 with another run to the edge, taking a pitch around the right end for another 12. Whitehead forced a fumble by Jones at the 15 after a short pass but Tonyan fell on it for Green Bay at the 18. Two Jones runs made it third-and-two and the Packers went back to him up the middle to convert it, making it first-and-goal at the Bucs' six. A hustling pass breakup by ILB Lavonte Davis forced the Packers into a third-and-goal and tight coverage eventually forced Rodgers to try to fit a pass into Adams in the back of the end zone. Adams caught it but couldn't get his feet inbounds and the Packers settled for Mason Crosby's 24-yard field goal to make it 14-10.
A play-action fake sprung Godwin into the open field for a gain of 19 on third-and-two at the beginning of the next drive. However, the drive stalled just across midfield and the Bucs punted down to the Green Bay 13. Rodgers kept the drive alive on third-and-six when he found Lazard over the middle for a gain of 23 out to the Packers' 40. However, Pierre-Paul sacked Rodgers on the next play and Murphy-Bunting got his pick on the following snap, as he got his hands in front of Lazard deep down the middle and plucked the ball out of the air clean. That gave the Bucs the ball at midfield with 28 seconds left, which proved to be enough time to tack on seven more points.
Arians went very aggressive, choosing to go for it on fourth-and-four at the Green Bay 45 and it paid off when Brady got the ball to Fournette at the 39. With eight seconds and no timeouts left, the Bucs choose a deep pass over a 57-yard field goal try and Brady somehow dropped in a perfect deep pass down the left sideline to Miller for a touchdown with one second to go. That allowed the Bucs to take a 21-10 lead into halftime.
Green Bay got the ball first to start the second half but it was the Bucs who scored again just over a minute into the action. Rodgers hit Jones on a short pass in the left flat on third-and-five but Whitehead came up quick and knocked the ball loose. White picked up the loose ball and returned it 21 yards to the Green Bay eight. The Bucs only needed one play to punch it in from there, as Brady faked a handoff on first down and threw over the middle to a wide-open Brate for the eight-yard score and a 28-10 Buccaneer lead.
The Packers got across midfield on the next drive with a 24-yard completion to Valdes-Scantling down the right sideline then moved it down to the Bucs' 24 on Rodgers' 10-yard strike to Equanimeous St. Brown. Two plays later, Rodgers scrambled forward and bought time to get off a dart to Lazard down to the Bucs' eight. Rodgers had plenty of time to throw on first-and-goal and was able to wait for Tonyan to come wide open just across the goal line for a touchdown catch that made it 28-17.
Two Fournette runs opened the next drive with 14 yards and a first down at the Bucs' 38. A play-action deep shot to Godwin just missed, and then Brady took another downfield shot to Evans that was intercepted by S Adrian Amos near the right sideline.
The Packers got the ball back at their 32 and got a free five yards on the game's first penalty, an offsides call against Ndamukong Suh. That led to an easy first down three yards shy of midfield and Rodgers threw over a corner blitz to rookie RB AJ Dillon for an easy 13. Rodgers handed it off to Dillon on the next play and carried Buccaneer defenders for six more. A short out to Tonyan made it first down at the Bucs' 32. A quick dump-off to Williams was good for 11 down to the 13. A personal foul call on Davis for helmet-to-helmet contact on Adams made it first-and-goal at the two. The Bucs' defense got it to third-and-goal but an all-out blitz on third down didn't work as Rodgers hit Adams on an easy slant for the two-yard touchdown. The Packers went for two but failed when St. Brown dropped an on-target throw in the end zone.
Mickens gave the Bucs great field position for their next drive, returning the kickoff 43 yards to Tampa Bay's 45. The quarter came to an end on a two-yard Jones run. After the teams flipped sides, Brady threw deep to Evans but the receiver couldn't quite haul it in. On third-and-eight, Brady look down the middle to rookie WR Tyler Johnson, who made a dazzling diving catch for 16 yards and a first down at the Green Bay 37. The Packers' first penalty of the game, for having 12 men on the field, gave the Bucs another first down at the 27. However, two plays later Brady's pass down the middle to Evans tipped off the fingers of the leaping receiver and was intercepted by CB Jaire Alexander at the three-yard line. Alexander got it back to the Packers' 19 with 12 and a half minutes left.
In desperate need of a stop, the Bucs' defense got into a third-and-five and Barrett forced the punt by collapsing the pocket (with help from Vita Vea) and dropping Rodgers for a loss of 10. Mickens got seven yards on the punt return to make it first-and-goal for the Bucs at their own 38.
The Bucs didn't have the ball for long. On third-and-two, blitzing S Darnell Savage forced Brady to heave it downfield as he was falling backward and Jaire Alexander was able to pick it off at the Green Bay 24. Fortunately Barrett sacked Brady with a perfectly-timed edge rush on first down and Murphy-Bunting broke up a third-down pass intended for Lazard. After the punt, the Bucs started anew at their own 28 with a little over eight minutes left.
A crossing-route catch by Godwin gained 11 yards and a first down at the Bucs' 42. Two plays later, a tricky and well-executed misdirection screen to TE Rob Gronkowski gained 29 yards and put the Bucs in scoring range. C Ryan Jensen and RT Tristan Wirfs both got out near the sideline to give Gronkowski key blocks. The drive stalled at the 28 but Ryan Succop came on to nail a 46-yard field goal to make it an eight-point Buc lead with just under five minutes to play.
The Packers got it back at their own 34 and two plays later were at the Bucs' 28 after a 29-yard catch down the middle by Valdes-Scantling. Two Adams catches made it first-and-goal at the Bucs' eight. Tampa Bay's defense held, forcing three rushed Rodgers incompletions, and the Packers settled for a 26-yard field goal to make it a five-point game with just over two minutes left in regulation.
The Bucs' next drive started at their own 17 with 2:02 left. The Packers had three timeouts left to go with the two-minute warning. The first-down play was a nine-yard curl by Evans and, after the break, the Packers committed an offsides penalty, perhaps on purpose to preserve a timeout. Two Fournette runs drained two Green Bay timeouts and made it third-and-four, and a pass interference call on CB Kevin King made it first down at the Green Bay 48. A 12-men on the field penalty made it first-and-five and a Fournette run lost a yard but took out the Packers' last timeout with 1:32 left. After one more Fournette run the Bucs faced a third-and-five at the Green Bay 43 with 48 seconds left. A brilliant call sealed the win, with Brady faking it to Fournette and then pitching it to Godwin on an end-around. Godwin got past the sticks and slid to the ground, leading to one more kneel-down to bring the game to an end.