Posted by: Mike Cornelius | February 8, 2021

Brady, With A New Bunch, Wins Again

It’s hard to say which was longer, the Reddit commercial or the period of time the outcome of Super Bowl LV was in doubt. The ad for the social networking and discussion website lasted all of five seconds. As for the game, there was that moment, midway through the first quarter, when a 49-yard field goal by Harrison Butker put Kansas City on the board first. With the CBS announcing team of Jim Nantz and Tony Romo reminding viewers that in his nine previous Super Bowl appearances Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady had never led a first quarter touchdown drive, some viewers might have thought the 3-0 margin would stand up long enough for Patrick Mahomes and company to build on it.

That notion, and the bit of Brady trivia, lasted all of eight plays, the number of snaps it took for the Buccaneers to drive 75 yards, the final 8 of which were covered by a toss from Brady to tight end Rob Gronkowski, who danced into the K.C. end zone for a Tampa Bay touchdown with 41 ticks remaining on the first quarter clock. It was the first of three TD passes by Brady, all in the first half and all to familiar faces from his years wearing a New England Patriots uniform. Before the teams made way for The Weeknd’s halftime show, which was itself preceded by the blink-and-you-missed-it Reddit promo, Gronkowski had hauled in another Brady throw for a 17-yard score and Antonio Brown had gone to his knees to collect a pass from 1 yard out. That touchdown, with less than a minute to play in the half, made it 21-6, and while CBS analyst Boomer Esiason kept insisting that Mahomes would lead a Kansas City comeback, little that had happened on the field supported his view.

Sure enough, the game’s final thirty minutes produced no dramatic Kansas City rally, just an ever widening Tampa Bay lead and Bruce Springsteen’s first ever Super Bowl commercial. By the time the Boss had made his plea for national unity and Jeep, not necessarily in that order, and Brady had taken a knee behind center one final time, the scoreboard at Raymond James Stadium read Tampa Bay 31, Kansas City 9. In addition to that most important top line, the game also produced a long list of numbers attesting to Brady’s postseason dominance. Super Bowl records for the most career games, wins, pass attempts, completions, passing yards, TD passes and, with Gronkowski, touchdowns by a quarterback-receiver tandem, all now belong to the one-time sixth round draft choice.

Yet while Brady was named the game’s MVP for the fifth time and Mahomes was left looking distinctly un-Super, the lopsided outcome was about more than just the two quarterbacks. He was not a player, but the most valuable contributor to the Bucs win was arguably Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. His play calling capitalized on the patchwork Kansas City offensive line, which was missing both starting tackles. Bowles called few blitzes, believing correctly that just four rushers would be enough to overwhelm K.C.’s front while leaving blanket coverage in the secondary. The result was a miserable night for Mahomes, the best measure of which is in a number not listed on the game’s official stat sheet. The Kansas City QB was forced to run almost 500 yards in the backfield trying to avoid the relentless pursuit of Tampa Bay’s defenders while waiting for a receiver to get free. No wonder he managed only 114 passing yards through three quarters, and finished with an anemic 52.3 quarterback rating.

Brady was also helped by the solid running of Leonard Fournette, who carried 16 times for 89 yards, including a 27-yard sweep around right end for a third quarter score that slammed the door on Kansas City’s comeback hopes. And as some fans insist is always the case where Brady is concerned, the fluttering of yellow flags gave timely boosts to Tampa Bay drives. Six of the Buccaneers first downs were achieved by penalty. While the notion of a grand conspiracy among NFL officiating crews in support of Brady is right up there with a second gunman on the grassy knoll, a staged moon landing, or rigged voting machines changing millions of ballots, there is no doubt that Kansas City’s sloppy play only made the formidable task of trying to repeat as Super Bowl champion even more difficult.

His performance this season, culminating in Sunday’s rout, just strengthens Brady’s already enormous legend. Whether by good genes, his approach to training and self-care, or simple luck, and most likely through a combination of all three, this year at the age of 43 he threw for the second highest number of touchdowns in his career. His most recent championship MVP award came nineteen years and four days after his first, the longest span for any athlete in all the major American team sports. But the least surprising news out of the Super Bowl was Brady’s postgame announcement that he’ll be back next season. He has long said that he plans to play until he is 45, and recently suggested that number was a floor, not a ceiling.

Before Kansas City won the coin toss and then nothing else, many pundits expected Super Bowl LV to play out as a symbolic changing of the guard, with 25-year-old Patrick Mahomes taking center stage away from his much older opponent. That didn’t happen Sunday, but only a fool or a sycophant would deny the inevitability of such a moment. Brady has clearly set a singular example of holding off its ravages, but time remains the implacable foe of every athlete. Whenever a hero decides to not go out on top, a different and unhappy ending remains viable. While it will do little to diminish his legacy, odds are that the final chapter of Brady’s NFL career will be less than glorious. No player beats Father Time. Just like no company runs a five second Super Bowl commercial.

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