TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — So grand of it looked familiar — from the heartfelt rendering of the national anthem, to the silvery, star-studded halftime repeat, to Tom Brady standing there at the finish with a mile-broad smile, awash in confetti.
So grand of it looked strange — from the masked-up coaches on the sideline, to the cardboard cutouts in the half-empty stands, to Brady — what? — wearing pewter-and-pink pants and a helmet with a Buccaneer, now not a Patriot, on the aspect.
History was made, accurate as it always is, on a image-ideal Sunday evening at the Mountainous Bowl. Brady and his unusual team, Tampa Bay, sliced and diced their way to a 31-9 thumping of Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs to back the NFL assign the final exclamation mark on a season that many view may by no means happen.
But this kind of history? Brady adding to his file with a seventh Mountainous Bowl title, but with the lengthy-suffering Bucs, now not the front-running Contemporary England Patriots? And with 7,500 of essentially the most beneficial tickets in sports given to health-care staff — the sector’s unsung heroes — who mingled in with these cardboard cutouts, and simplest a few thousand stay, hard-core fans?
This is the way football appears to be like as the sector veers into the second year of a deadly global pandemic.
Twelve months ago, the Chiefs stood on top of the podium, a few hundred miles away in South Florida, with Mahomes being touted as the quarterback of the lengthy gallop and the virus now known as COVID-19 view by many to be scary, but successfully bottled up, a world away in China.
As the pandemic raged across the globe, and into the United States, the place it has now killed more than 440,000 americans, the sector recoiled and tried to contain the damage, with each nation and each state enjoying varying degrees of success.
The NFL faded its offseason to feature and plan and attempt to find a way to retain football alive. Its mission — applauded by some, derided by others — was to provide a sense of normalcy, to give fans of America’s most popular sport a diversion from the frightening routines and existence-and-death selections that now confronted them on a daily basis.
The league performed almost 1 million COVID exams and assign its 32 franchises by way of a few of essentially the most stringent protocols of any industry, all in an effort to retain players safe whereas also making the season happen.
That the Chiefs waded by way of all that to make it back to the Mountainous Bowl was now not all that grand a surprise. This was a team with a young quarterback and a coach, in Andy Reid, who thinks young. They were loaded with offensive talent, to say nothing of the discipline to navigate the ever-changing protocols that the pandemic brought about.
And Tampa Bay? While many teams were trying to advance up with an answer for — or clone of — Mahomes, the Buccaneers went after Brady, whose lengthy-running partnership with the Patriots and Bill Belichick finally ran out of steam. The quarterback had been to nine Mountainous Bowls and received six, each records. But at 43, he wasn’t ready to quit — certain, in fact, that there was nonetheless more than a dinky gas left in the tank.
After Brady led the Bucs to the win that took them back to their home in Tampa for the Mountainous Bowl, coach Bruce Arians said there was an easy explanation for the resurgence of a franchise that had been all but dormant for the past decade: “It simplest took one man,” he said.
On Sunday, that man finished with a modest 201 yards passing to trail along with three touchdowns, including two to tight finish Capture Gronkowski, the veteran Contemporary England teammate who No. 12 coaxed out of retirement for a gallop at the title.
It was a elegant performance, crammed with dinks and dunks — and masses of back from a Kansas City protection that imploded with eight first-half penalties, all of them critical, as Tampa Bay rolled to a 21-6 lead.
“He has the resume, he understands the game,” said running back Leonard Fournette, who joined Gronkowski among the handful players who signed temporary contracts with the Bucs, finding the trap of playing with Brady too grand to withstand. “He’s played against every protection you may ever throw at him.”
At 25, Mahomes isn’t fairly as far along, but most folk seek information from him to earn there soon.
On this evening, although, he didn’t have grand of a chance. Playing with out his starting suitable and left tackles, who were out with injuries, Mahomes was on the gallop from beginning to finish, by no means able to dictate to opposing defenses, or exhaust his pace to create something out of nothing.
His receivers didn’t back. Of his 21 incompletions in 49 attempts (he also threw two interceptions), more than a half-dozen were flat-out drops.
Essentially the most telling play of the evening came at the desperate finish. Running for his existence, Mahomes was falling to the ground as he aspect-armed a pass at around the Bucs 28-yard line. The ball hit running back Darrel Williams in the hands near the goal line. But Williams couldn’t hang on, and the Chiefs’ last-gasp drive ended with a turnover on downs.
This was the primary time Kansas City hasn’t scored a touchdown in the three seasons since Mahomes took over as the starter.
“The receivers were running routes now not exactly the place I view they were going to be,” Mahomes said. “The offensive line, they were accurate at some occasions and occasionally they let guys by way of. In the event you’re playing a accurate protection care for that you have to be on the same page as an offense. We weren’t today and that’s why we played so bad.”
Brady wasn’t grand into reflecting or dissecting or ranking the place this title falls among his ever-growing list of championships and success. He did promise, on the alternative hand, that he’d be back.
“We were fortunate our team stayed disciplined, with all the protocols in place, and ended up getting the job performed,” he said.
It was, as grand as anything, a nod to the unusual normal — existence with coronavirus — meshing with the veteran normal — Tom Brady holding a Mountainous Bowl trophy.
Even supposing it all may have appeared a dinky strange at occasions.