GREEN BAY, Wis. — Tom Brady is headed back to the Super Bowl in his first season with the Bucs. He’s taking another page from the NFL history book with him.
Brady helped Tampa Bay build a 28-10 lead, then overcame three second-half interceptions to beat the Packers 31-26 in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game. The Bucs (15-5) will become the first team to play a Super Bowl in their home stadium.
Brady was victimized by six dropped passes and threw three interceptions in as many possessions in the third and fourth quarters. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers led a valiant comeback attempt thanks to former Lakewood High and USF receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who had 115 receiving yards and a 50-yard touchdown.
The Packers had first and goal at the Bucs’ 8-yard line. But Rodgers was unable to complete a pass on three attempts and they elected for a 26-yard field goal with 2:02 left in the game.
One of the biggest plays of the game came when the first half essentially was over. The Bucs punt team was on the field. A four-point lead at halftime wouldn’t be the worst outcome for the Bucs at Lambeau Field.
But coach Bruce Arians and Brady wanted more.
Arians put the offense back on the field and on fourth down, Brady connected with receiver Scotty Miller on a 39-yard touchdown pass with one second left in the half. The play gave the Bucs a 21-10 halftime lead.
The touchdown was set up by Sean Murphy-Bunting’s third interception in as many playoff games. He stepped in front of a pass intended for receiver Allen Lazard. Last week, it was Murphy-Bunting’s interception of Drew Brees that sparked the Bucs’ comeback win over the Saints.
Miller, who was playing for injured receiver Antonio Brown, ran past Packers defensive back Kevin King and cradled a perfectly thrown pass from Brady in the end zone.
The Bucs defense produced another turnover when Jordan Whitehead put a huge hit on running back Aaron Jones after a short reception, forcing a fumble that was returned by Devin White to the Packers’ 8.
On the next play, Brady used play-action to free up tight end Cameron Brate for a touchdown pass in the back of the end zone. But the 28-10 lead was short-lived.
Rodgers came back firing and needed only eight plays to get the Packers in the end zone. His 8-yard touchdown to tight end Robert Tonyan made it a two-score game with the Bucs lead cut to 28-17.
Brady, who had only one interception in his last seven games, was picked off by Packers safety Adrian Amos.
That led to another touchdown pass by Rodgers, this time to Adams. But the two-point conversion pass was dropped in the end zone by Equanimeous St. Brown and the Bucs lead was 28-23 with 24 seconds still remaining in the third quarter.
The Bucs were driving until two drops by Evans, the second of which resulted in an interception by Jaire Alexander. Brady’s second interception on a pass that bounced off Evans’ hands gave the Packers a chance.
The Bucs pass rush was effective. They sacked Rodgers four times and the second one by Barrett gave the ball back to the Bucs.