Tom Brady has officially won seven Super Bowls.
Seven. That’s more than any other player, or franchise, in NFL history. Brady earned that seventh ring on Sunday night, as his Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 31-9. Before Brady signed with Tampa Bay 324 days ago, the Bucs hadn’t achieved a winning record since 2016. They hadn’t reached the playoffs since 2007. Now the franchise has two titles to its name, and a legacy of its own with the greatest quarterback of all time.
Seven is considered a number of completeness or perfection, so it’s fitting that Sunday was the Bucs’ most well-rounded performance of the year. It didn’t matter how special Patrick Mahomes was on Sunday evening. Tampa Bay did more than enough to win, getting contributions from every position group and executing a sound game plan put together by a talented coaching staff.
Let’s start with Brady. After going three-and-out on the first drive of the game and stalling a second drive at the Tampa Bay 29-yard line, the 43-year-old threw two touchdown passes to tight end Rob Gronkowski, giving Tampa Bay an early 14-3 lead. After another Chiefs field goal, the Bucs got the ball back again with 55 seconds left in the half. While they seemed comfortable to go into halftime with their eight-point cushion, the Chiefs elected to call timeouts to perhaps get another possession before the break. Instead, Brady took advantage. The Bucs took an aggressive approach just as they did against the Packers in the NFC championship game. Brady flicked a deep sideline pass to Mike Evans that drew a pass interference call and pushed Tampa Bay just outside the red zone. Two plays and a penalty later, Brady tossed his third TD pass of the half, finding Antonio Brown from a yard out to take a 21-6 lead. The Bucs offense scored touchdowns on three of their final four possessions in the half—the lone drive that stalled resulted in a turnover on downs at Kansas City’s 1-yard line.
Tampa Bay carried its momentum into the second half. Leonard Fournette broke out for a 27-yard touchdown run midway through the third quarter to give the Bucs a 28-9 lead. And they didn’t relent from there. Brady finished the game 21-of-29 for 201 yards and three scores, and he connected with six different receivers on the night. He was sacked only once and was pressured on four of his 30 dropbacks, according to ESPN Stats & Info, the fewest number of sacks of his Super Bowl career. And as comfortable as he looked picking apart Kansas City’s secondary from behind center, his defense made the job all the more easier.
The Bucs defense took advantage of the Chiefs’ most glaring weakness: the offensive line. After losing starting left tackle Eric Fisher to a torn Achilles in the AFC championship game, Kansas City shifted right tackle Mike Remmers to that spot. The domino effect pushed starting right guard Andrew Wylie to right tackle, and forced journeyman veteran Stefen Wisniewski into the lineup at right guard. Meanwhile, as the Chiefs suffered subtractions, Tampa Bay got stronger up front. Star nose tackle Vita Vea looked like himself after returning from an ankle injury to play in the NFC championship game. Vea, Ndamukong Suh, and edge rushers Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul formed a game-breaking unit.
The secondary—which got cooked by Tyreek Hill in the teams’ Week 12 matchup—held strong too. Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowles found success deploying his safeties in two-deep pre-snap alignments, which prevented Hill from taking the top off his defense. Cornerback Carlton Davis, who had a rough first matchup against Hill in Week 12, rebounded in a big way on Sunday, allowing just two catches for 14 yards on four targets, according to Pro Football Focus. Tampa Bay’s linebacker tandem of Devin White (a team-high 12 tackles) and Lavonte David was immaculate, as both affected the line of scrimmage and showed up in the short passing game to limit Travis Kelce.
How did Todd Bowles & Co. design the perfect defensive game plan to limit the big-play ability of Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs' offense? A THREAD ⬇️— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) February 8, 2021
(I) Two-high safety shells
(II) Pressure w/o blitzing
(III) Take away the sidelines#SBLV | #GoBucs pic.twitter.com/BW4ruwwBkY
Tampa Bay neutralized Mahomes as much as a defense possibly can. The Chiefs QB still managed to keep plays alive—per Next Gen Stats, Mahomes ran a combined 497 yards before his passes or sacks—and he gave his receivers a chance, but nothing seemed to go right. The Chiefs, who are among the NFL’s elite at converting third-and-long situations, went 3-for-13 on third down against the Bucs. Mahomes finished 26-of-49 for 270 yards and two interceptions. The final stats will show he was sacked three times and was hit as he threw eight times, but those numbers mute how often he was under duress. The result was Mahomes’s first single-digit output in the NFL, and his first double-digit loss.
This was a complete team performance for Tampa Bay—a result of the efforts of coach Bruce Arians, his staff, and general manager Jason Licht, who assembled arguably the NFL’s most talented team and attracted the star quarterback needed to lift this team to a championship.
“This belongs to our coaching staff and our players,” Arians said Sunday night while holding the Lombardi Trophy. “I didn’t do a damn thing.”
But the thing is: He did. Arians deserves much of the credit for how far the Bucs have gone, as do Bowles and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich. Collectively, they managed to get their team to play its best football during the most important stretch of the season. Tampa Bay’s pathway to this Super Bowl required it to win a wild-card game, then defeat Drew Brees’s Saints and Aaron Rodgers’s Packers—all on the road—before facing Patrick Mahomes’s Chiefs. And they did it.
“The team had a lot of confidence,” Brady said after the game. “We came together at the right time. I think we knew this was gonna happen, right? We had our best performance of the year.”
Seven titles. It still doesn’t really resonate when you type it or read it or even think about it. And as both Brady and Arians said afterward, they plan to run it back. Tampa Bay is positioned to return most of its roster, which means Brady’s legend could continue to grow. For now, though, we can just appreciate the moment. Whether you think Brady is great, lucky, or a little bit of both, his status atop the pantheon of NFL legends was just firmly cemented.