By: Michelle Sabin
Sports Talk Florida – Bucs Reporter
Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Green Bay Packers 31-26 and earn their first NFC Championship title in 18 years.
The first half of the game was lights out, with the team playing strong on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Tom Brady and the Bucs offense put up 21 points. There was a 15-yard touchdown pass to receiver Mike Evans in the first quarter and a hard-fought 20-yard touchdown run by running back Leonard Fournette in the second.
However, the biggest play of the half was a 39-yard touchdown pass to receiver Scotty Miller with only seconds left on the clock. Just one play earlier, the Bucs were 4th and 3 and about to punt the ball away when Head Coach Bruce Arians called a time out.
Arians explained, “I sent the punt team out and went through a couple scenarios in my mind.” He added, “the clock was stopped, I said ‘no we’re going back out, we’ve got a good play, we’re going back out and try to get some points.’”
Brady took the field and completed a short pass to Fournette to convert the first down. On the next play, Miller darted down the field, broke off from his defender and caught the deep pass. Miller said, “it was a special moment . . . I don’t even know if I could have dreamed of it as a kid.”
Miller admitted, “it was a risk at the time, but there was only 13 seconds left so if we ran a play and didn’t get it . . .then they’d probably have to throw a Hail Mary as well, so why not us do it.” Arians explained, “we didn’t come here to not take chances to win the game.”
The Bucs were down one of their starting receivers Antonio Brown, but with a team full of playmakers Brady had no shortage of options to execute the game plan.
Brady targeted seven different receivers including Chris Godwin with 5 receptions for 110 yards. Godwin went up for a 52-yard pass that Arians described as an “incredible catch” on 3rd and 9 in the second quarter. Cameron Brate came away with 3 receptions including a touchdown pass in the third quarter.
Despite the win, the offense did have its fair share of struggles, including Brady’s three interceptions, and several dropped and missed passes. However, after the game, linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul said “it don’t matter how many picks Tom throws, the defense has his back.”
It is that balance between the offense, defense and special teams that led the team to the playoffs and now to the Super Bowl. Bucs linebacker Shaquil Barrett explained, “when we need help they bail us out, and when they need help we bail them out, and that’s why we’re playing so good right now.”
Fortunately for the Bucs, their defense has been playing outstanding in the post-season, and Sunday was no exception. Linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul had two sacks, including one in the second quarter that pushed Green Bay back to 2nd and 18. It was followed by cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting’s interception on the next play, for his third pick in the post-season.
Jordan Whitehead had two forced fumbles, including one in the third quarter recovered by Lavonte David that led to the touchdown pass to Cameron Brate. Shaquil Barrett, who landed three sacks on Aaron Rodgers, said, “there’s no better time to be great, there’s no better time to be the defense that we want to be than right now.”
The Bucs were down two starting safeties, with Antoine Winfield Jr. out due to an ankle injury and Jordan Whitehead leaving during the game due to a shoulder injury. However, their second string stepped up and helped the defense hold off Green Bay, who did manage to put up 16 points on the board in the second half.
It was a tremendous feat to win three playoff road games as the underdog wild card, and secure the NFC Championship title. In their final game, the Buccaneers will face the Kansas City Chiefs on February 7 in Super Bowl LV.
This is a momentous occasion for the Bucs nation and a historic homecoming for the team, as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers become the first NFL team to play the Super Bowl in their own stadium.
According to Arians, “getting to the Super Bowl wasn’t what our goal was, our goal was to win it.” The Super Bowl banners are up and Tampa Bay is ready.
The video used in this story was provided by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Youtube Channel.