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Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31-26 Green Bay Packers

Tom Brady is headed to his 10th Super Bowl after his Tampa Bay Buccaneers triumphed over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship game. After all the critics over the last 20 years attributed all of his success to Bill Belichick, Brady took his team to the big game in his first year away from New England. Hate him or love him, you must applaud that achievement.

The future Hall of Famer had far from a perfect game, throwing three second half interceptions on consecutive drives to give the Packers several chances to take the lead. However, Aaron Rodgers could not capitalise on those mistakes, going three and out after two of those interceptions. The Wisconsin outfit also had a chance to score an equalising touchdown on their final drive of the game, but after Rodgers failed to find Davante Adams in the endzone on third and goal, Matt LaFleur decided to kick a field goal to shrink the gap to five points instead of going for the game-tying touchdown.

Tampa Bay built up their lead with a dominant first half performance. Brady put together an incredible opening possession, making two big conversions on third down to keep the drive moving before hitting Mike Evans in the endzone for a 15-yard score. Although Rodgers returned with a 50-yard touchdown down the right sideline to Marquez Valdez-Scantling, the Bucs retook the lead on the very next drive. Chris Godwin beat Darnell Savage to a 50-50 ball inside the red zone to set up a rumbling Leonard Fournette run which ended with him diving into the endzone to put his side 14-7 up.

The Packers put up a field goal on their next drive by leaning on their running backs Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams. They also had a chance to take the lead with two minutes to go in the first half and seemed to be putting together a nice drive. However, Sean Murphy-Bunting managed to get in front of Alan Lazard to intercept a Rodgers pass at midfield, giving the ball to the Buccaneers with 25 seconds to go.

It looked like the Bucs were going to be unable to capitalise on the turnover when Brady’s pass to Cameron Brate on third down fell incomplete. However, Bruce Arians took the risk to go for it on fourth down with 13 seconds left in the half, and that decision paid off as Brady threw to Fournette who got just enough to move the chains. On the very next play, Scotty Miller outpaced Kevin King down the left-hand side and got on the other end of a bomb in the endzone to score only his fourth touchdown of the season. The Buccaneers went into halftime with an 11-point cushion.

The Packers seemed to be heading in the direction an embarrassing defeat to the Florida outfit once again, as the poor end to the first half carried on into the second half when Jones fumbled the ball on their opening possession of the third quarter. Of course, Brady once again took full advantage of the turnover and scored a touchdown on the very next play by finding Brate wide open in the endzone.

However, Rodgers was not done yet. He responded with an almost flawless eight play, 75-yard drive, capping it off with a bullet to Robert Tonyan in the endzone. That seemed to switch up the momentum in favour of the home side, as the Green Bay defence then came up with the three consecutive interceptions, two of which came from their young lockdown cornerback, Jaire Alexander. While the Rodgers was able to turn the first of those into points by hitting Adams on a slant route in the endzone to make it a one score game, he failed to do anything with the next two.

Brady eventually managed to put a drive together without throwing a pick with just under five minutes left on the clock, getting inside Ryan Succop’s field goal range to extend their lead to eight points.

Rodgers got the ball back, needing a touchdown and a two-point conversion to tie. He started the drive with a big 29-yard pass to Valdez-Scantling to set himself up in opposition territory, and a few plays later he was inside the ten-yard line. However, he threw an inaccurate pass intended for Lazard on first and goal, and couldn’t find Adams on second and goal after he was chased out of the pocket by Ndamukong Suh. On third down, Rodgers was again chased out of the pocket, and he looked to have a clear path to run into the endzone. However, instead he tried to force it to a double-covered Adams, and the ball was knocked away.

After LaFleur made the decision to kick the field goal, the Buccaneers knew all they needed to do was run out the clock to secure their spot in the Super Bowl. After a nine-yard pickup from Evans on first down, Kenny Clark purposely moved offside to stop the clock and reset the downs. This was a smart tactical move, as the Bucs now needed ten yards to pick up a first down instead of one, and needed to move the chains twice instead of one. Two runs from Fournette set up third and four, and Brady tried to hit Tyler Johnson across the middle of the field to move the sticks, but the receiver fell down after his shirt was pulled back by King. Flags came flying in, and pass interference was called, giving the visiting side the first down.

Now just needing to pick up one more first down, Godwin took the ball on an end around, strolled passed the first down markers and slid down to seal the game and send Tampa Bay to their first Super Bowl since 2003.

The Buccaneers will become the first team in NFL history to play in a Super Bowl at their home stadium when they take the field in two weeks’ time. They will face the reigning champions Kansas City Chiefs in one of the most anticipated Super Bowl quarterback showdowns of all time. Tom Brady versus Patrick Mahomes, old school versus new school. The two star signal callers have faced off four times now, and they have split the series with two wins each. This fifth matchup will be the biggest yet…

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Sub-edited by George Overhill

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