The Green Bay Packers are staying home in frustration while the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are going home to history.
With an upset of the Packers Sunday in the NFC championship game, the Buccaneers become the first NFL team to secure a home-stadium Super Bowl.
Leave it to Tom Brady to switch teams, and conferences, and still make his 10th Super Bowl in 20 seasons. The Bucs prepare for the biggest stage after a playoff win drought spanning 17 seasons.
“I couldn’t be any more elated for these guys,” coach Bruce Arians said. “We’re coming home, and we’re coming home to win.”
Tampa Bay upset the Green Bay Packers 31-26 at Lambeau Field in a game where the Buccaneers never trailed but gambled with their lead when Brady threw an uncharacteristic three interceptions on three consecutive drives in the second half. His defense notched a sack and three-and-out on consecutive drives to help Tampa cling to the lead it had jumped to in the first quarter.
Tom Brady celebrates with coach Bruce Arians and teammates after The Bucs beat Green Bay to reach the Super Bowl. (Photo: Stacy Revere, Getty Images)
“Today was a great team effort,” said Brady, who completed 20-of-36 passes for 280 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions. “We played sporadically a little bit but the defense came up huge. We’re going to need it again in a couple weeks.
“I know it’s a big game coming up but we get to enjoy this for a little bit.”
Bruce Arians on Buccaneers reaching first home-stadium Super Bowl: “We’re coming home and we’re coming home to win.”https://t.co/DCBcd86hAvpic.twitter.com/HWPm7qFFWP
The Bucs offense started hot with five straight third-down conversions including a 15-yard touchdown from Brady to receiver Mike Evans as he jammed Packers cornerback Kevin King in the left corner of the end zone.
The Packers would answer with a touchdown on 50-yard dime from Aaron Rodgers to receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling, to which Brady might as well have said “I see your 50-yarder, Aaron, and I’ll match it.” No matter that Chris Godwin had dropped a catch on the snap immediately preceding – Brady went back the next play to Godwin, who boxed out safety Darnell Savage Jr. for a diving 52-yard catch with 13:20 to play in the second quarter. Bucs running back Leonard Fournette finished what Brady and Godwin started, stutter-stepping out, spinning back in and barreled his way 20 yards for a go-ahead touchdown.
Add in a Rodgers interception – Bucs cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting picked off one ball in the regular season but has three now in the postseason – and Brady capped a 27-second, 51-yard drive with a 39-yard touchdown pass to shifty receiver Scotty Miller with one second left in the second quarter. Tampa entered halftime up 21-10.
Matters would get worse for Green Bay before they got better, Packers running back Aaron Jones losing a fumble on the third offensive play of the second half. Bucs linebacker Devin White, for a second straight week, recovered a loose ball. Brady, for a second straight week, turned that fumble recovery into 7 points and an 18-point lead.
Then the Packers kicked into high gear. Think: Rodgers’ touchdown drive, Brady interception, Rodgers’ touchdown drive, Brady interception. Brady threw interceptions on three straight drives in the second half, Green Bay’s defense electric but its offense unable to keep pace as Rodgers sacks gave way to consecutive three-and-outs.
The Bucs threatened one last time in the fourth quarter, Brady finding tight end Rob Gronkowski on a screen play he took 34 yards after the catch reminiscent of Brady-Gronkowski magic from their Patriots glory days. But the drive stalled, the Bucs settling for a field goal. Rodgers’ Packers trotted back out with four-and-a-half minutes to play, trailing by 8.
They marched 58 yards in nine plays but curiously settled for a field goal with 2:09 to play, 8 yards from the end zone. The decision cut Tampa’s lead to 5 points but also eliminated a chance for a touchdown on what would turn out to be the Packers’ last snap.
“That wasn’t my decision,” Rodgers said. “I understand the thinking above 2 minutes with all of our timeouts (left). But yeah, that wasn’t my decision.”
Rodgers finished 33-of-48 for 346 yards, three touchdowns and an interception in losing for the fourth time in a championship game. Valdes-Scantling, with 115 yards and a touchdown, led Packers receivers.
Brady finished 20 of 36 for 280 yards, three picks and three touchdowns.
The Bucs will face the winner of Buffalo-Kansas City in Super Bowl 55 on Feb. 7 — at home.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein
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