Photograph: Mark J Rebilas/USA Today Sports
Seven. You almost have to roll it over in your mind a couple of times before it even starts to make sense.
In helping guide the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a comprehensive 31-9 win over the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, Tom Brady clinched an unprecedented seventh Super Bowl title.
In a sport that traffics in hope and unpredictability, Brady is a droning, brilliant constant.
In the immediate afterglow of a blowout victory, it is easy to forget that Brady and the Bucs started slow on Sunday. And then it clicked, Brady turned to the same player he has turned to so many times before: the part-man, part-polar bear Rob Gronkowski. A slip screen here. A crossing route there. Gronkowski rumbling into the secondary in a way we’ve not seen since his final fling in New England over two years ago.
To think, the Bucs kept Gronkowski stored away for much of the season, like a sports car kept under its cover until the perfect day. After bringing him out of retirement (via a trade) at Brady’s behest, they opted to tweak his game and to hold some elements in reserve until playoff time. The greatest two-way tight end threat in the history of the game was converted into a pseudo lineman. He no longer galloped down the middle of the field. Instead, he stood in and blocked. And he blocked. And he blocked some more.
What has always elevated Gronkowski to a level beyond the merely very good is that he is both the most dominant pass-catching tight end of his era and the best blocker. On the biggest stage of all, the old Gronk was finally unleashed. Seven targets, six catches, 67 yards, two touchdowns, and another all-pro blocking performance, Gronkowski helping to lead the way as the Bucs’ rushing attack mauled Kansas City’s defensive front off the ball.
It was a performance that was indicative of the Bucs’ whole approach. Tampa were bigger, smarter, faster. They ran hard and hit harder. The tone was set throughout the night on defense. Everywhere Patrick Mahomes turned, there was a blitzing Buccaneer in his face.
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No quarterback, no matter how gifted, can thrive with a steady diet of pressure in his face. Not even this quarterback, the one who can deliver throws while parallel to the ground.
Facing less pressure than Mahomes, Brady was better able to manage the game, toggling between tempos to keep the Chiefs off balance. One series it was all run. Then it was the play-action game. Then there was a dropback pass sequence. At his best, Brady was able to blend all three. “He has been making the game easy,” Tony Romo said on the CBS broadcast.
At the age of 43, in his 21st season, Brady remains in full bloom.
While winning a Super Bowl is the ultimate team achievement, it’s hard not to get drawn into the tantalizing quarterback v quarterback narratives, however flawed they might be.
Mahomes entered the game on a unique trajectory, winning and dominating at a pace that even Brady could not match. But Brady has no time for the new kids on the block. He has seen them all off. He outlasted Peyton Manning – that Manning was announced as a Hall of Fame inductee on the same weekend Brady is still winning Super Bowls is fitting. Manning wore down; Brady has not.
Brady saw off the upstart Seattle Seahawks, too. He beat back their fire-breathing brand of defense-oriented, schematic innovation; another mountain climbed. Now, the age of dual threat quarterbacks is here, guys who can throw like Brady and run like Usain Bolt. And yet here Brady remains, standing on the podium, the Lombardi trophy in one hand, the Super Bowl MVP award in the other, running his traditional rhythm-based, dropback passing style to get there.
At this point, his legacy is insurmountable. To think: in just one season with Tampa Bay, he has matched the winning accomplishments of two other great quarterbacks of his era, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. One Super Bowl appearance, one win.
For so long Tampa was a joke of a franchise, one of the league’s many outposts where careers – on the field, in the front office, on the sideline – went to die. But then they built an excellent core over a short span. They added head coach Bruce Arians, he of family-over-football fame. That culture attracted Brady. And from there: lift-off. Not the Patriot Way, evidently, the Brady Way.
It’s hard not to think about Brady’s long-time coach, Bill Belichick, and his former team, the Patriots. The public point-scoring will begin in earnest. For the rest of our lifetime, Brady or Belichick will be the argument that rages stronger even than Jordan or LeBron.
It is a nonsense discussion, of course. Their success – and six NFL titles – were about the unique marriage of the best coach to ever do it and the greatest quarterback. At some points, Belichick carried Brady. At others, the quarterback carried his coach.
Still: this one, his one, will feel all the sweeter to Brady for doing it outside of Belichick’s shadow.
It is important to note that moving to Tampa was not an easy choice for Brady. Yes, the roster was superior. Yes, the Bucs bent over backwards to acquiesce to all Brady’s demands: Want us to trade for Gronk out of retirement? Of course! Want us to bring over your doctor who is not a doctor? What could go wrong! Need us to add Antonio Brown, just a year after Bruce Arians said he would never, ever go near Brown following an allegation of sexual assault and myriad off-the-field controversies? Whatever you want Tom!
But what Brady did in uprooting to Florida was a true gamble. Sticking in New England, riding it out with Belichick, would have been easy. In moving to Tampa, he risked being Jordan on the Washington Wizards, a sad vessel of his former self playing for a loser franchise, ageing before our eyes. He risked becoming a laughing stock.
But that’s not the Brady way. He’s always the one smiling on the podium.
Death, taxes and Tom Brady in the Super Bowl, that’s how the cliché goes. But that’s not really fair. Some people try to dodge taxes; there is no dodging Brady. He has played in 10 Super Bowls and won seven of them.
And here’s the thing about this competitionaholic. As we sit here discussing title No 7, his mind will already be firmly on No 8. “I’m coming back,” Brady said as soon as he got his hand on the trophy. Standing on a podium, draped in confetti, like Brady himself, will never get old.
Published: 2021-02-08 08:30:34
Tags: #neverending #nagging #brilliance #Tom #Brady