Late in the third quarter of Sunday’s NFC Championship Game at Lambeau Field, Tom Brady could be seen glowering on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ bench.
He’d had just thrown the first of his three second-half interceptions, and the Packers had cut the Bucs’ 18-point lead to five. The momentum was shifting, and Brady was visibly perturbed.
An hour later, the 43-year-old quarterback was sporting the widest of smiles as he stood before an on-field microphone. Tampa Bay had withstood a second-half Packers comeback to win 31-26 and send Brady back to the Super Bowl for the 10th time in his unparalleled NFL career.
“It’s been a long process for the whole team, and today was just a great team effort,” the former New England Patriots star said in a postgame interview on FOX. “We played sporadically a little bit, but the defense came up huge, and we’re going to need it again in a couple weeks.
“I know it’s a big game coming up, but we get to enjoy this for a little bit and then get ready to go against whoever we play. It’s going to be a great game.”
Later, in a video conference with reporters, Brady called his latest Super Bowl run “an incredible journey for all of us.”
“I’m just proud to be a part of it,” he said.
Brady threw two first-half touchdown passes — including a 39-yard bomb to Scotty Miller seconds before halftime — and another a minute after halftime. He then proceeded to throw interceptions on three consecutive possessions, however, the first time he’d done that since 2001.
Brady’s first three-pick playoff performance since 2009 helped Green Bay remain within striking distance, but a baffling late-game decision by Packers head coach Matt LaFleur prevented them from closing the gap.
Facing fourth-and-goal from the 8-yard line with just over two minutes remaining, LaFleur opted for a field goal rather than trying for a potential game-tying touchdown. The Bucs drained the remaining clock on the ensuing possession.
Tampa Bay, the No. 5 seed in the NFC, is the first team since the 2010 Packers to win three consecutive playoff road games to reach the Super Bowl. The Bucs also will be the first team ever to play a Super Bowl in their home venue, as Super Bowl LV will be held at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium.
Brady is seeking his seventh championship. He’s reached the Super Bowl in nearly half of his 21 NFL seasons.
“(The Packers are) a good football team,” said Brady, who signed with Tampa Bay last offseason after two decades in New England. “They played well all season, and to come beat them at home — there were 9,000 fans (in the stadium); it felt like a little more than 9,000 — it’s just great to get another road win. And now we’ve got a home game. We’ve got a home Super Bowl for us. We did it.”
The Bucs will face the winner of Sunday evening’s AFC Championship Game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills.