April 11, 2021

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The Lombardi Trophy that almost wasn’t (looks can be deceiving)

6 min read

Image Credit: Ashley Landis | Associated Press

A realist

I tend to more often than not be a realist of the highest order. Coming from the land of real, the Buccaneers’ chances of another Super-Bowl Title on paper pre-season 2020 looked as good as any of the other favorites. As the season got underway, though, the Bucs ran into a familiar bump in the road. A road trip to NOLA and our biggest division rival, the Saints, loomed largely; and was considered a measuring stick on how far the Bucs had come since the addition of the GOAT Tom Brady, and his good buddy Rob Gronkowski, among others. Fans were ready for Jameis Winston’s new team to receive a beat-down. A long-coming beat-down, for that matter. If people expected a big change in results, they were disappointed in this first week of the 2020 NFL Season. The Saints, once again, easily defeated the Bucs yet again 34-23. Coming out of that game, I can remember being greatly disappointed in the outcome. It didn’t take long for thoughts of no pre-season, no camp, etc., settled inwhich made me feel a little better. But these guys have had no time together to even begin to gel as a team. “Things would get better for sure as the season progressed,” I told myself.

Season started on the downside in NOLA

In the next three games against the Panthers, Broncos, and Chargers, we faced teams that we should beat, and we did so; fairly easily. Next up was a sticky matchup with the Monsters of the Midway in the Windy City. The Bears game was another one that we were expected to win. Not so fast, a Brady mistake on which down it was late in the fourth quarter doomed the comeback, and we fell to 3-2. Certainly not where most expected us to be at that point, but all the same, a record that could have been worse and better at this stage. Looming next was a game against the high-flying Packers. Nobody was playing as well as the Packers, and Aaron Rodgers was at that stage of the season. I remember feeling that this game would be another measuring stick to see how far we had come since the Saint’s loss. How would they respond coming off that loss in Chicago the week before? A very deflating loss to a Bears team that was still trying to find itself; as much as we were.

Packers game brought false security

Very early in that Packers game at Ray-Jay, I remember thinking, “wow! We were heading backward, not forward.” Then it happened. The Bucs turned that game around fast and made the Pack look silly bad. They were all over Rodgers, forcing him into mistakes. He finished 16/35 for 160 yards and two interceptions. By far, what would be his worst outing of the season? Coming out of that Packer’s game, I felt like: This was it. The bell cow ringer that announced to the rest of the league that the Bucs had arrived and were ready for prime-time. Get in line to be vanquished! We were taking no more prisoners. Next up was a Vegas team coached by our first Super-Bowl Coach Jon Gruden. It was no contest with the Bucs walking away with a 45-20 dismantling of the Raiders.

Feeling pretty good going into the 2nd Saints game

Moving forward at 5-2 felt pretty good. I remember thinking, “we were truly on our way.” Next up a battle with a team that has given us fits over the years, the Giants. Having lost to them the season before, I wasn’t taking the game lightly at all. We luckily scraped by the Giants and got the W. I was concerned that, once again, a team that we should have beaten pretty well; just about took us down for the second season in a row. It was just a hiccup, I thought. We just got caught looking ahead to a prime-time rematch with the dreaded Saints at home. We would be fine. There is no reason to panic. Out of nowhere, it hit us, a blind overhand bullet that caught us straight on the chin. To say we went down hard was truly an understatement. We were knocked out and laying on the ground with slobber all over our mouths. The Saints had embarrassed us on our own National Prime-time home stage. We went down in flames in that game. I remember thinking, “how do we come back from this one?” A field goal was all we could muster, and we took one of the worst beat-downs the franchise had ever endured: 38-3 (6-3). We went on to lose two of the next three, barely limping into our bye week in week 13, we were battered, and it was getting ugly as we limped into a much-needed week of rest, with a very less than impressive 7-5 record.

A less than impressive 7-5 record going into the bye week

Getting back to that, “me being a realist thing.” I really felt like at this point that there was no chance at a Super-Bowl, or really even the playoffs, for that matter. We would be lucky to get into the postseason and, more than likely would be eliminated in the first round. Oh, I held out hope for the best, of course. My reality at that juncture, though, was to stick a fork in us. I used to be more of a believer in the impossible, but my beloved favorite team has pretty much beaten that out of me after being a staunch fan since 1979. To further cement how bad things were at that point, I have some numbers for you that I obtained from the Lakeland Ledger in a sports page I saved from that time frame last season. They are as follows, and everything applies going through week 12 of this past season.

16 – the number of sacks on Brady going into the bye. Only four starters have taken fewer.

27 -Times Brady was hit in 2019 with Pats, full season.

44 – Times Brady has been hit so far this past season in Tampa through twelve weeks.

64.8 – Brady’s completion percentage ,  as of week 12, ranks 24th

95 – Bad throws by Brady (per Pro Football Reference) which leads the NFL.

95.1- Brady’s quarterback rating so far ranks 15th in the NFL.

3 – Brady’s multi-interception games in the last four contests.

4 – multi-interception games in entire season with Pats (2019)

Consider the numbers above and put that with a 7-5 record and you probably would be hard-pressed to find anyone not a Bucs fan to believe this team was going to the Super-Bowl, and win it. The season so far for me up to this point had been torture. At this juncture it was hard to find anyone in the national press that believed these Bucs could make a run at the Lombardi trophy either. By this point let’s face it, most had jumped off of the bandwagon where it was standing room only not so long ago. This just wasn’t the season that leads up to most Super-Bowl Championships.

For the next 8 games the Bucs were clearly the best of the best

Then the most miraculous thing happened. Offense, Defense, all came together and started playing like it was second nature to them. The O-Line protected Brady like they had never protected anyone else, and opened running lanes like it was old hat. The Defense started making people look stupid and were again a quarterback’s nightmare. It’s almost like tales from two separate seasons. Coming out of the bye week the Bucs reeled off  8 straight strong wins and manhandled the Trophy away from the Chiefs, again blowing away an AFC rep in convincing fashion for our second title, and at home no less. Whatever it was that happened during that bye week, we may never know. So we will just call it magic. What looked like an almost impossible feat after 12 games, became the only thing that could possibly be after week 13. It was a Championship season that looked lost at one point. Looks can be deceiving folks, what is one way at one point becomes something altogether different in just a weeks time. It was ours to lose the entire time, and we refused to go that route. Thank you to the entire team for being who we hoped you were. Super-Bowl Champions, once again. Go Bucs!!

 

 

 

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