Brady’s time in New England will forever be a part of him, but now he wears a skull and crossbones on his helmet, can dress in shorts to practice in the winter and reports to a 68-year-old coach, Bruce Arians, who, coming out of retirement to coach the Buccaneers, represents the stylistic antithesis of Belichick. When asked recently about pursuing Brady during the off-season, Arians responded with a rhetorical question: “Do you sit and live in a closet trying to be safe, or are you going to have some fun?” He added, “I think I’d have been smoking something illegal to really imagine this.”
Brady’s arrival in Tampa reflected a certain harmonic convergence, a confluence of foresight, audacity and serendipity largely alien to the Buccaneers, who hadn’t won a playoff game since steamrollering the Raiders for their only title after the 2002 season. Their quest was nicknamed Operation Shoeless Joe Jackson, a wink to the prophesy from the movie “Field of Dreams”: “If you build it, they will come.” Brady valued how General Manager Jason Licht had assembled a team that solved problems around him instead of asking him to solve them himself. “They were an organization ready to win,” Gronkowski said of the Buccaneers. “The players here were ready to win.”
The Buccaneers loaded up on playmaking receivers, linebackers who excelled in coverage and aggressive defensive backs who matured as the season progressed. Before it even started, their cornerbacks coach, Kevin Ross, wrote on a board all the quarterbacks they would be facing — Matt Ryan, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Mahomes, who torched them in Week 12 for 462 yards and three touchdowns. But that defeat proved to be an inflection point for the Buccaneers, who had moonwalked through the first three months, going 7-5, shuffling forward at the same time as they drifted backward.
They closed the season by winning their last four, then defeated three consecutive division champions — and two of Brady’s elite quarterbacking peers, Brees and Rodgers — on the road to advance to their first Super Bowl in 18 seasons. That team, like this one, teemed with defensive talent and needed an outsider, Coach Jon Gruden, to synthesize it into a champion. Brady conferred the Buccaneers with hope and credibility and possibility.
“Brady, there’s nothing that he can’t do ,” said defensive end Shaquil Barrett, who had four tackles and a sack. “New team, new scheme, first year, going to the Super Bowl and winning it all. He’s the G.O.A.T. for sure.”
In a measure of Brady’s sustained excellence, consider that he has now quarterbacked not only the most recent team to win consecutive Super Bowls, with New England after the 2003 and 2004 seasons, but also the last two to ruin repeat bids. If a classic defensive play foiled Seattle after the 2014 season, then it was a comprehensive effort that smothered the Chiefs.
Heading into Sunday, Mahomes had finished 14 drives this postseason, excluding kneel-downs, and only once did the defense prevent Kansas City from scoring a touchdown or attempting a field goal. Tampa Bay’s defensive coordinator, Todd Bowles, devised a masterly plan to neutralize Mahomes, erasing the sideline and deep areas while deploying a four-man rush.