Tampa, Florida – One year ago at this time, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers knew they were at a quarterback crossroads.
With former No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston ending his fifth year with the NFL’s first-ever 30-30 season — 33 touchdown passes, and an NFL-high 30 interceptions — and the 7-9 Bucs missing the playoffs for the 12th straight season, it was time for a major move.
According to head coach Bruce Arians, once six-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady became available for the first time in his career, it was time for the Buccaneers to put all their chips on the table.
As Arians reflected on how far the franchise has come in 12 months on Thursday — just over a week before facing the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV — the subject shifted to why the Bucs took the gamble of putting the organization in the hands of a player who would turn 43 during the 2020 season — even if he is arguably the greatest quarterback in NFL history.
“You can’t hit a home run unless you’re going to swing for one,” Arians said. “You can’t do anything special in life sitting on a fence.”
In hindsight, no one would question the signing of the oldest free-agent starting quarterback the league has seen, not after Brady defied Father Time again by throwing for 4,633 yards and 40 touchdowns while leading Tampa Bay to 11 wins and its first Super Bowl appearance since 2002 – the year after Brady won the first of his six titles with the New England Patriots.
Despite his championship pedigree, Brady’s performance had dipped, with decreases in both yards and touchdowns in consecutive seasons. Yes, he led the Patriots to a win over the Los Angeles Rams in the Super Bowl but the offense only put up 13 points that day. Then came last year when Brady looked (gasp) older and slower in a playoff loss against Tennessee.
But according to Arians, once Brady became available, the Bucs didn’t hesitate.
“The question back then was, ‘If there was a quarterback that was a free agent, who would you want?’ ” Arians recalled. “Of course, it was Tom Brady, not thinking he’d become a free agent.
“Once he did, it was a pursuit that we wanted to make and knew he had some interest.”
When asked about the Buccaneers’ supposed gamble on him, Brady displayed the confidence of a man who had no doubt a record 10th trip to the Super Bowl was entirely possible.
“I’d like to think that I wasn’t that much of a chance after a lot of years,” Brady said. “Becoming a free agent and then having the opportunity to continue my playing career. … I love the opportunity that presented itself here, which is ultimately why I chose here. I really love the coaching staff, I loved the players that they had. I looked at those players and thought, ‘Wow, these are really great players. This would be a good opportunity for me.’ “
The ride hasn’t always gone smoothly.
Brady’s Bucs began the season with a loss against Drew Brees, a fellow star QB, and the New Orleans Saints. When they met again later in the season, in a matchup on Monday Night Football, the Saints routed the Bucs 38-3.
Tampa Bay looked wonky at times on the way to a 7-5 record to start the season. Since a Week 13 bye, however, the team has peaked, winning seven straight and becoming the first team to play a Super Bowl in its home stadium.
“It just ended up being a great fit and as it’s played out, I’ve just thought, ‘Wow, this has really been a magical year.’ ” Brady said. “For me as a player to switch teams, that takes a lot. To move my family, to go to a different conference, to keep building the way we did and develop a rapport with the guys that we have here — so much of football is about the relationships that you get with your teammates (and your) coaches. The fact that we’re still playing feels really good for me and understand that we’ve put a lot into it.
“Hopefully we can go finish the job.”
The final step won’t be easy.
To win the title, the Bucs will have to beat the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs, winners of 25 of their last 27 games, and quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Arians was asked if Kansas City’s young star could chase down Brady’s records one day, and replied, “There’s no doubt that if there was a player who could do it, it would be Patrick.”
He also hinted the Bucs would always go down swinging, regardless of the odds or the challenge.
“That’s how you live life. Do you sit and live in a closet trying to be safe, (or are) you going to have some fun?
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