By Terrance Turner
Jan. 24, 2021
It was a game for the ages.
The Green Bay Packers were playing their second straight NFC Championship Game. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were battling to become the first team ever to play a Super Bowl in their home stadium. The match was played at Green Bay’s Lambeau Field. The Super Bowl they were aiming for will be played at Raymond James Stadium – the Bucs’ home turf. And it was the Bucs who would prevail. They won, 31-26.
The score was tied 7-7 at the start of the second quarter, after Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw a touchdown to WR Marques Valdez-Scantling. Tampa Bay took over. They caught fire with a 52-yard catch by WR Chris Godwin. Then running back Leonard Fournette turned what looked like a nothing play into pure gold. Fournette hurdled a player, scooted away from one tackle, spun out of another, and found the end zone for the touchdown. That put Tampa Bay up 14-7.
Green Bay’s offense ran down the field to 1st and goal. WR Davante Adams had a rare drop on 1st and goal, and 2nd and 3rd down plays also failed. Green Bay settled for a field goal. That 24-yard field goal was good. That made it 14-10, and the Packers also played deftly on defense. Tampa Bay had a big play-action play on 3rd and 2, with a 19-yard catch by Godwin. But the Green Bay defense forced a stop.
Green Bay had a big play on 3rd down, but then Rodgers was sacked by Bucs defender Jason Pierre-Paul. Then Rodgers got picked off by Bucs cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting. Tampa Bay took over and were unable to convert on third down.
It looked like the Buccaneers were going to punt. But then, on 4th down, the Bucs called a timeout. They decided to go for it on 4th and 3; Brady found Fournette for a first-down catch. After another timeout, the Bucs made a huge play with just eight seconds left. Brady hurled the ball to wide receiver Scotty Miller for the touchdown. That stunning 39-yard TD made it 21-10 at the half.
The second half began in equally stunning fashion. Green Bay got the ball to start the half, but then Aaron Jones fumbled the ball. The Bucs defense recovered, taking the ball to the 10-yard line. Their offense immediately cashed in. Brady threw another touchdown to tight end Cameron Brate. Tampa Bay took a commanding 28-10 lead.
But Green Bay put up a fight. They launched a successful scoring drive, evading the Bucs defense with both running and passing plays. Before the third quarter was halfway done, they’d reached 1st and goal. Rodgers threw to wide-open tight end Robert Tonyan for the touchdown. It was 28-17.
Tampa Bay continued to struggle on its drive. Brady got picked off by Adrian Amos, and then Tampa Bay’s defense got flagged for offsides. Green Bay had the ball and the momentum. They continued streaking down the field as the third quarter went on. Then Bucs cornerback Carlton Davis got flagged for a helmet-to-helmet hit, setting up 1st and goal for Green Bay. On 3rd and goal, Brady threw to Adams for the touchdown, capping a drive in which Tampa Bay’s defense was badly outplayed. The Packers went for a two-point conversion but failed. That made it 28-23.
Tampa Bay’s drive got off to a promising start but was foiled. Brady got picked off by Packers cornerback Jaire Alxander after WR Mike Evans failed to make a catch. But the Bucs got the ball right back after Rodgers was sacked on third down. They gave it back, too: Brady was again intercepted on a pass intended for Mike Evans. Then Rodgers was sacked again on 3rd and 11.
The mayhem finally ended with Tampa Bay’s next drive. The highlight was a 29-yard catch-and-run by Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski. The Bucs managed to get within field-goal range. Kicker Ryan Succop drilled a 46-yard field goal to extend the lead. The Bucs led 31-23.
The Packers advanced once again to 1st and goal. But the Bucs defense stymied Green Bay’s offense. On 3rd and goal, Rodgers got mobile, running a few yards before throwing to Adams. But the pass was incomplete. The Packers settled for a field goal instead of going for it on 4th down. The field goal was good, and the score was now 31-26.
Back to a five-point lead, the Bucs got the ball with just over two minutes remaining. The Packers defense was flagged for encroachment. Tampa Bay picked up the first down. (The play may have been strategic, according to announcers Joe Buck and Troy Aikman.) But that strategy was soon overshadowed by a late flag. The Packers defense got called for pass interference after an incomplete pass by Brady. Then, after a lengthy review, it was determined that the Packers had 12 men on the field. That 5-yard penalty put the Bucs at 1st and 5.
The Buccaneers finally returned to play with little more than a minute left. On 3rd and 5, Godwin took off for a first-down slide. And that first down sealed the game. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won, becoming the first team ever to play the Super Bowl at home.
Super Bowl 55 will be played on Feb. 7, 2021, in Raymond James Stadium. It will be Tom Brady’s 10th Super Bowl appearance. It is head coach Bruce Arians’ first Super Bowl as coach. “We’re comin’ home, and we’re comin’ home to win,” Arians said after the game.