When Tom Brady left the New England Patriots after 20 years, questions were raised whether or not the star quarterback was a product of the system and would have as much success without head coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.
After the six-time Super Bowl champion and three-time NFL MVP signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in March, concerns about his age surfaced; at 43, Brady is the oldest player in the NFL. Even at various points during the season, Brady was criticized for playing erratic football and for struggling with deep passes as the Bucs lost three of four during a stretch in November to drop to 7-5 on the season.
Yet as he’s done his entire career since being selected in the sixth round (No. 199 overall) of the 2000 NFL Draft, Brady silenced any doubters while guiding the Bucs to an 11-5 record, their first playoff appearance since winning the NFC South in 2007, three consecutive road playoff wins, and their second Super Bowl appearance in franchise history.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs meet in Super Bowl LV at 6:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, February 7, from Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.
“When you’ve had as much success as he’s had and what the Patriots had, people look for excuses,” former New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning said. “They’ll say, ‘Well he’s had Bill Belichick or home-field advantage playing in Foxborough,’ and they’re trying to make those accomplishments sound easier. Now he’s on a new team, they won three road (playoff) games, and it still comes down to him playing at an extremely high level, having so much talent and getting the best out of the people around him. And to do that at 43, eventually you’d think time would catch up to him and his arm strength would diminish or he wouldn’t be able to move in the pocket as much, but he still looks the same and makes all the throws.
“It’s hard to put in words how impressive it is and what he’s been able to accomplish.”
Playing amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic in 2020, Brady continued to defy Father Time as well as opposing defenses, ranking third in the NFL with 4,633 passing yards and second with 40 TDs.
Following consecutive 27-24 losses to the Los Angeles Rams on November 23 and Chiefs six days later, Brady and the Bucs buckled down to rattle off four straight victories—defeating the Minnesota Vikings (26-14), Atlanta Falcons (31-27), Detroit Lions (47-7) and Falcons again (44-27).
During that four-game stretch, Brady threw for 1,333 yards and 12 TDs, including a season-high 399 yards in the regular-season finale against Atlanta, announcing “I’m still here” to the rest of the NFC as he was hitting his stride, as he seemingly always does, just in time for the postseason.
As the wild-card, the Bucs won three straight road games, becoming just the fifth team in NFL history to accomplish the feat, joining the 1985 Patriots, 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers, 2007 New York Giants, and 2010 Green Bay Packers. Tampa Bay is also the first team in league history to play in a Super Bowl in its home stadium.
“It’s very impressive considering the fact that he leaves a team where he’s had so much success in New England after 20 seasons, changes teams, has all new coaches and players and still creates the same results and gets back to the Super Bowl at age 43, let alone during a pandemic,” Manning said. “He’s got some special ability to lead, influence others and get the best of everyone around him. It will be a great Super Bowl and we’ll see if he can put those final touches on this great season he’s had.”
While Brady will have his hands full preparing for his 10th Super Bowl appearance, and first representing the NFC, Manning, who retired in January 2020, will have his hands full of hot sauce bottles through a promotion with Frank’s RedHot. Manning plans to dump 100 gallons of hot sauce on YouTube and social media personality David Dobrik while raising $100,000 for Tackle Kids Cancer, a charity he’s been involved with since its launch in 2015.
As for Super Bowl LV predictions? Manning didn’t have any secrets on how he and the Giants were able to topple Tom twice, beating the Patriots 17-14 in Super Bowl XLII and 21-17 in Super Bowl XLVI, or who he thinks wins on Sunday. But Manning seemed fond of the Chiefs’ offensive prowess, which led the NFL at 415.8 yards per game.
“The Chiefs have been playing great and have so many explosive players with (Patrick) Mahomes, (Travis) Kelce and Tyreek (Hill),” he said. “I think it will be a great game and I think it will be close, but I think the Chiefs have too much firepower to be contained.”