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Buccaneers: Brady beats Brees, sets up duel with Rodgers in 14th conference title game

He’s done it again.

In his 20th NFL season, at 43 years old, Tom Brady is heading to a 14th conference championship, this time in the NFC after Tampa Bay beat New Orleans 30-20 in the Super Dome on Sunday.

Brad has now won two road playoff games without a bye week. He’s done it against one of the best defensive fronts in the league and then against one of the top-10 quarterbacks of all time, Drew Brees. He’s done it with Bruce Arians and Byron Leftwich on the headsets, not Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels. Above all else, he’s made the entire Tampa organization believe they can win.

After everything he accomplished here, the six titles that brought this region memories and experiences that will last a lifetime, How can you not root for his run to continue as a Patriots fan?

If this is about the “who was more important, Brady vs. Bill?” argument for you, let it go, because the answer will always be both of them mattered equally. If you still need to keep score however, then you should be rooting for Brady for spite. Bill Belichick is still and will always be the greatest coach in NFL history, but he needs to be scrutinized forever for not swallowing his pride and acknowledging Brady was in fact bigger than the organization. It’s okay to admit that and still have control of the team.

If you still need convincing, how annoyed will the rest of the country be if the Patriots’ stench still hovers over the Super Bowl for two weeks while Brady gets all the attention?

If you were rooting for the Bucs then it actually felt a bit like the 2001-2004 era on Sunday night. The Buccaneers defense did most of the hard work in what was an extremely physical game a bit reminiscent of the 2009 NFC “bounty gate” title game between the Saints and Brett Favre’s Vikings. Thumping hits and small scrums after almost every play – initiated by the Tampa offensive line most of the time – led to the Bucs picking off Drew Brees three times and also forcing a huge fumble late in the game.

Brady threw for 199 yards and two touchdowns while not turning the ball over. Now, he’s got a chance to play in a 10th Super Bowl. Oh, and he’d also be the first QB to ever play at home in the Super Bowl as well, since this year’s game is at Raymond James Stadium. The only thing standing in his way is a matchup with Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau Field with snow in the forecast.

Giddy up.

“It feels great to obviously beat a great football team,” Brady said postgame. The Saints had throttled the Bucs in both regular season matchups and Brees had owned Brady throughout his career.

“That’s what feels best. It’s a team effort and again, I just speaks to the commitment level of everyone within the organization, the coaches, the players, everyone coming together. You don’t beat great teams like this, this team’s been one of the best teams in the league for a long time. 13-3 a few years ago, 13-3 last year, 12-4 this year, they do a lot of things the right way. I know for us this week we had to play a great game and our defense stepped up and played huge. The offensive line was incredible, just a hard fought game, a physical game, we need to get our rest the next couple days and then be ready to go for practice on Wednesday.”

The game changed with 4:41 left in the third quarter. The Saints led 20-13 and were driving after a Bucs punt. On 3rd-and-2 Jared Cook caught an 8-yard pass for a first down, but Antoine Winfield stripped him and Devin White recovered, taking it down to the New Orleans’ 40.

Five plays later Leonard Fournette hauled in a 6-yard TD pass from Brady and things were knotted up at 20-20. After a quick Saints punt, Brady led an 11-play, 61-yard drive that ended with a Ryan Succop field goal, making it 23-20 Bucs heading to the fourth quarter. Five plays later, White picked off Brees and set Brady up at the Saints’ 20. Brady snuck it in from 1-yard out with 4:57 to go to push the lead to 30-20.

A Mike Edwards interception and a few kneel downs capped things off.

“”It boosts the confidence for sure, but we went to (New Orleans) expecting to win,” Bruce Arians said Monday. “It was not a shock to us that we won – we went there expecting to win. We’re such a different team than when we played back in November. Same thing – Green Bay’s a different team than we played back then, so those games don’t really matter anymore.”

Will Lutz hit two field goals that put the Saints up 6-0 after one as both defenses set the tone early. Ryan Succop cut it to 6-3 early in the second quarter and the Bucs grabbed a 10-6 lead on a 1-yard TD catch by Mike Evans one play after a Sean Murphy-Bunting interception and return.

A trick play from the Saints allowed Jameis Winston to hit Tre’Quan Smith for a 56-yard TD to put the Saints back up 13-10. Another Succop field goal at the end of the quarter made it 13-13 at the half. Another Smith TD catch, this one from 16-yards out made it 20-13 Saints before Winfield’s game-changing strip moments later.

Sunday’s matchup in Green Bay is the definition of an all-timer. Both Brady and Rodgers have a chance to enhance their legacy. Add the snow element with a spot in the Super Bowl on the line and it should be one of the great “must watch” games in the past 25-30 years.

“You’ve just got to have some mental toughness and wear some warm clothes,” Brady said. “We’re going to be challenged and it’s going to be a great game. There’s only four teams left we’re one of them. It’s tough to get to this point, we need a great week, this is one of the best teams in the league. They’re the top seed and Aaron’s playing incredible. It’s going to be a great matchup.”

For those of us Patriots fans that are still fans of the team, but also on the right side of history when it comes to Brady this season, go Bucs.

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