Tom Brady came through a turbulent second half to edge his first playoff duel with Aaron Rodgers and lead the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the Super Bowl with a 31-26 victory over the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.
The Bucs defense sacked Rodgers five times on the day, and three times in the first half, while the offense saw two potentially costly interceptions going unpunished by the Packers, who lacked their usual conviction in the redzone throughout the game.
Vital exchanges favoured the Bucs in the first half as Brady capitalised on a Rodgers interception with a 39-yard touchdown pass to Scotty Miller in the final seconds after the Packers were limited to a field goal at the end of a 15-play drive that had seen them squander a first-and-goal opportunity.
Momentum leaned towards the Packers after the break, though, when Robert Tonyan and Davante Adams touchdowns either side of Adrian Amos’ interception made it a five-point game at 28-23, only for interceptions from Jaire Alexander on back-to-back drives to be followed by successive three-and-outs.
Trailing 31-26 just short of the two-minute warning, the Packers opted against going for it on fourth down, paving the way for Brady to run down the clock as he booked his return to a remarkable 10th Super Bowl.
The Bucs screeched out the blocks as Brady floated a 15-yard touchdown pass to Mike Evans over a flailing Kevin King to convert on third down for the third time on a nine-play opening drive, to which Rodgers responded with a 50-yard strike to Marquez Valdes-Scantling having escaped on third-and-15 from his own five with a 23-yard pass to Allen Lazard.
Brady was fortunate to avoid being intercepted when he took a deep-shot in the direction of Chris Godwin, who managed to juggle the catch for a 52-yard pickup. Leonard Fournette capitalised on the next play with a 20-yard touchdown run that included a stunning spin move to leave Amos in his wake.
The Packers were dealt a setback when they could only turn a 15-play drive into a 24-yard Mason Crosby field goal, the usually-unflinching Adams first failing to haul in a would-be score after evading Carlton Davis, before finding himself wide-open on the next play only to see Lavonte David bat down Rodgers’ pass. The pair did finally connect on third-and-six, but Adams was unable to get his feet down at the back of the end zone.
A Rodgers interception late in the half was then punished ruthlessly as Brady targeted Packers cornerback King again on a perfectly-weighted 39-yard touchdown pass to Miller having converted on fourth-and-four the previous play.
Brady was on hand to reward another takeaway early in the second half as he lofted an eight-yard touchdown pass to Cameron Brate after Devin White had returned an Aaron Jones fumble to the eight-yard line following a bruising hit from Jordan Whitehead.
The Packers issued an immediate reply through Rodgers’ eight-yard laser to tight end Tonyan in the endzone followed by a timely interception from Amos on a pass intended for Evans, which they marched downfield to turn into a two-yard touchdown catch from Adams. It would have been a three-point game were it not for Equanimeous St. Brown’s drop on the subsequent two-point conversion attempt.
Tampa Bay had their defense to thank for two straight three-and-out stops after Brady had been intercepted by Alexander on successive drives.
Ryan Succop’s 46-yard field goal made it an eight-point game with under five minutes to play, before the Packers settled for a 26-yard Crosby kick as opposed to going for it on fourth down just shy of the two-minute warning – a decision that would allow the Bucs to see out the job and clinch a famous win.
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