by: Martin Fennelly
TAMPA, Fla. – Can we start the playoffs Monday?
“We played a pretty good first half today,” Tom Brady said.
Saturday in Detroit, the Bucs left no doubt that they were a playoff team. After 15 minutes, we knew. By halftime, it was forgone. The final was 47-7 and it wasn’t that close.
Yes, for the first time since 2007, 13 long years, there will be postseason football around here, and don’t even begin to wonder why.
It’s the quarterback.
It was always the quarterback.
Can we start the playoffs today?
Tom Brady rewarded the Bucs on Saturday, from GM Jason Licht to head coach Bruce Arians, from coaches to players to anyone else the man has lifted into winners since he arrived.
Brady is the reason. At age 43, allegedly well past his prime, Brady made this team a winner. He brought a winning pedigree and it stuck here. The Bucs’ 10th win of 2020, Brady’s 300th career game, was stark proof. Silenced was the talk about slow Bucs starts and Brady’s occasional effectiveness, whether he fit here or not, whether he could still hit the long ball or not, whether he still had it.
Brady jumped the Lions, two touchdown throws in his team’s first two drives, to Rob Gronkowski and Mike Evans, then two more, to Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown, for a 33-0 halftime lead. Brady didn’t even play the second half. There was no need. He threw for 348 yards before halftime. The Bucs became the first NFL team to put up 400 yards in a first half this season. The Chiefs hadn’t done it. Merry Christmas, Bucs fans.
Remember when people wondered if Brady could cut it without Bill Belichick? Well, the Bucs are going to the playoffs. Belichick and Patriots aren’t.
“The guys were making playing for me all over the field,” Brady said.
Can we start the playoffs in an hour?
We have no idea who the Bucs will play in the postseason. If they overtake the Rams for the first wild card, they’ll play at the loser Washington football team. If the Rams hold the Bucs off, a likelihood since Los Angeles owns the tiebreaker, the Bucs will play at the Seattle football team.
But does it matter if they play as they did Saturday? Anything looked possible, no matter who, no matter where. The Super Bowl home game lived. And we all know why.
Tom Brady made his teammates believe they could do this, could do anything. And that mattered. He mattered.
The Bucs haven’t won a playoff game since they won the Super Bowl that January night in 2003. They hadn’t made the postseason since 2007. They have had six head coaches since then: Gruden, Morris, Schiano, Smith, Koetter, and Arians. They have had 13 starting quarterbacks, including first-round wonder Josh Freeman and No. 1 pick Jameis Winston. But only now have they arrived back in the postseason.
It was Brady. It is Brady. He doesn’t just give the Bucs a puncher’s chance. He gives them a real chance. His last 60 minutes of football (the second-half comeback in Atlanta and the first half Saturday), disciplined, mistake-free, tell you this team is capable of anything.
“If we can keep Tom standing, he’s going to deliver for us,” Arians said.
Arians thought of Brady and his fellow New England traveler, Rob Gronkowski (two touchdowns Saturday).
“’We know how to win,’’ Arians said. “That’s what they brought.”
These Bucs, so many of them approaching their very first postseason, might be getting the hang of it at just the right time.
“When we play the way we’re capable of playing, we’re pretty tough to beat,” Brady said.
It starts with No. 12.
Can we start the playoffs right now?