Tom Brady winning his seventh Super Bowl overall and first as a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers didn’t feel like it was capping off a brilliant career as much as it felt like the start of a second act.
Brady has one more year left on his contract with the Bucs, and he’s said throughout the season that he signed that deal intending to play both years. But even at 43-years-old, what he accomplished in his first season in Tampa Bay feels like it could launch something bigger, and the reasons go beyond Brady.
First and foremost, the team is full of weapons, many of whom are young and just now entering their primes. Eight players on the team had 28 or more catches this season. Receivers Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Scotty Miller are all still young, as is tight end Cameron Brate. Veterans Antonio Brown and Rob Gronkowski should both be expected back. Tampa Bay has two young running backs in Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones who are both threats in the running or passing game. Jones was the primary ball carrier most of the season, then a rested Fournette helped propel Tampa through the playoffs.
Brady threw 40 touchdown passes and passed for more than 4,600 yards, but more importantly for him, Tampa’s offensive line kept him upright. He was sacked just 21 times during the regular season, was barely touched during the Super Bowl, and was sacked just five times in the playoffs.
Beyond that, the Bucs have a young, stingy defense that just completely shut down one of the most prolific offenses in NFL history. Rookie cornerback Antoine Winfield Jr picked up a late unsportsmanlike conduct penalty by mocking Tyreek Hill’s “peace sign” celebration usually reserved for when he’s flying by a helpless safety or corner on the way to a touchdown. Winfield’s celebration was perhaps misguided but definitely earned – he and the Tampa secondary prevented Hill, Travis Kelce, and Mecole Hardman from taking the top off the defense all game, and the team’s front seven had Patrick Mahomes running for his life.
Brady was universally considered the greatest quarterback of all-time after winning his sixth Super Bowl, so his seventh only cements that legacy. But he could accomplish greater things.
The Athletic posted a viral tweet before the Super Bowl that asked a provocative question: is Brady the greatest athlete, regardless of sport, of all-time?
The question is unfair and impossible to answer in any sort of satisfactory way – other people in the conversation include Serena Williams and Tiger Woods, who play individual sports. Brady plays a team sport, and though his production has no doubt been a critical aspect of Tampa’s success, the team wouldn’t have won without their collection of skill position players and top defense. He’s played with exceptionally talented players throughout his career, and has often won championships where he hasn’t actually been required to do that much beyond let his defense or running game win.
But he’s also won a remarkable number of championships. He did so this year with a completely different franchise and coach than the only one he’s known for his entire career. He went to a team that hasn’t had any recent success and immediately turned them into winners. Several athletes in team sports have tried to do what he did — go to new teams late in their careers hoping their past success will carry them. Sports history is full of examples of that sort of move not going well – Michael Jordan as a Washington Wizard and Joe Montana as a Kansas City Chief immediately come to mind.
Brady showed some signs of his age during the regular season. He had a mini-slump where he struggled with throwing the ball deep. But Tampa Bay also improved significantly as the season went on. His chemistry with the team’s weapons got better and better with each game.
And, above all, the team showed remarkable toughness. Before becoming the first team in NFL history to play in and win a Super Bowl in their home stadium, they had to take a difficult path to get there. They won their last eight games in a row. They played three straight road games, including beating future Hall of Famer Drew Brees in what could be his final game and winning in the always difficult to play Lambeau Field in the winter. They also did it all playing through an unprecedented global pandemic.
Brady is still playing at a high level at age 43. Bruce Arians became the oldest coach to win the Super Bowl. Their ages might make turning this into a prolonged run unlikely, but the supporting talent in Tampa makes the thought of Brady adding an 8th or 9th championship to his collection before he retires a possibility…something NFL odds buffs should take notice off next season.