Bruce Arians coaches football and lives life by the very same five-word mantra: no risk it, no biscuit.
He isn’t afraid to take chances, whether it’s going for it on fourth-and-4 like he did late in the first half of the Bucs’ NFC championship game victory over the Green Bay Packers, or pursuing 43-year-old quarterback Tom Brady when he became a free agent last March.
“You can’t hit a home run unless you swing for one,” Arians said. “You can’t do anything special in life sitting on the fence. Do you sit in a closet and try to be safe? Or do you go and have some damn fun?”
Nobody is having more fun right now than the 68-year-old Arians. He became the oldest coach in history to win the Super Bowl Sunday night when his Bucs defeated Andy Reid’s Kansas City Chiefs, 31-9.
Asked whether he ever could have imagined this two years ago after retiring from coaching and taking an analyst’s job with CBS, he said, “I think I would’ve had to have been smoking something illegal to imagine this. I can’t thank (Bucs general manager) Jason (Licht) and the Glazer family (which owns the Bucs) enough for giving me this opportunity.
“And my coaching staff. They’re just outstanding. I don’t do anything, man. They do it all. And we have great, great players. I just try to get out of the way and not screw it up.”
The bold decision by Arians and Licht to sign Brady to a two-year, $50 million deal 11 months ago paid off in a huge, huge way.
Brady completed 21 of 29 passes for 201 yards and three touchdowns against the Chiefs as he won his seventh Super Bowl title and fifth Super Bowl MVP award.
“He just played outstanding the whole game,” Arians said. “He protected the football. We had great protection.”
This was supposed to be a quarterback battle for the ages between Brady, the G.O.A.T., and the Chiefs’ 25-year-old Patrick Mahomes, the future G.O.A.T. But Todd Bowles’ Bucs defense did a terrific job of stifling Mahomes and the Chiefs offense.
Mahomes threw two interceptions and was held without a touchdown pass for just the second time in his last 30 starts. His 52.3 passer rating Sunday was the lowest of his career.
“I can’t give him enough credit,” Arians said of Bowles. “I think he got a little tired of hearing how unstoppable [the Chiefs] were. I thought he came up with a fantastic plan. Just keep them in front of us and tackle real well. Patrick wasn’t going to beat us running. We’d let him run all day. We just kept chasing him around and tried to make some plays.”
Running back Leonard Fournette, whom the Bucs signed in September after he was released by the Jacksonville Jaguars, had 135 rushing and receiving yards against the Chiefs, including a 27-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter that gave the Bucs a 28-9 lead. Fournette and Ronald Jones combined for 150 rushing yards on 28 carries against the Chiefs
This was the Bucs’ first Super Bowl title since 2002. They had finished 7-9 last year in Arians’ first season as the team’s head coach.
When they signed Brady in mid-March, they had no idea the impact the COVID-19 pandemic was going to have on the NFL. No OTAs. No preseason. An abbreviated training camp. Hardly an ideal situation for a quarterback to get acclimated with a new team, even if the quarterback is Brady.
But he stepped in and threw for 4,633 yards, his most in five years. His 40 touchdown passes were the second most of his career.
But after a 27-24 Week 12 loss to the same Chiefs they soundly beat on Sunday, the Bucs were only 7-5 and staring at the possibility of not even making the playoffs.
Then everything started to click. They won their final four regular-season games by a combined 73 points. Brady had 12 touchdown passes and just one interception in those four wins.
“It was slow, steady progress every week,” Arians said. “Really, in the second half of the Chiefs game, we made a nice comeback (from a 17-0 first-half deficit). Then we put 31 points on Atlanta in the second half (of a 31-27 Week 14 win). We just started attacking more. We haven’t stopped attacking since.”
Brady only completed 55 percent of his attempts in the Bucs’ first three playoff wins, as the Bucs leaned on their ground game and Bowles’ takeaway-happy defense to beat Washington, New Orleans and the Packers. But on Sunday, in his 10th Super Bowl, Brady rose to the occasion and was, well, he was Brady.
Two of his three touchdown passes were to his longtime friend, tight end Rob Gronkowski, who came out of retirement this season to play with him. Gronkowski finished with six catches for 67 yards.
The Chiefs got on the board first with a 49-yard Harrison Butker field goal with 5:10 left in the first quarter after Bucs safety Antoine Winfield Jr. knocked away a Mahomes pass for Tyreek Hill in the end zone.
In the Chiefs’ 27-24 Week 12 win over the Bucs, Hill had 207 receiving yards in the first quarter. On Sunday he had zero. Hill finished with seven catches for 73 yards. But five of those receptions and 63 of those receiving yards came after the Bucs took a 31-9 lead.
After Butker’s first-quarter field goal, the Bucs responded with an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, taking advantage of Fournette’s running (26 yards on four carries) and three impressive play-action screens by Brady, including one for an eight-yard touchdown to Gronkowski.
Penalties hurt the Chiefs all night, and particularly in the first half. An interception by Tyrann Mathieu off a batted Brady pass was wiped out by a hold on safety Charvarious Ward.
After a second-quarter Bucs drive stalled at the Kansas City 22, Ryan Succup came on and booted a 40-yard field goal. But the Chiefs’ Micole Hardman was flagged for lining up in the neutral zone, giving the Bucs a first down. On the very next play, Brady and Gronkowski connected again, this time for a 22-yard score that gave Tampa a 14-3 lead with six minutes left in the half.
“Gronk made a great adjustment on that second touchdown catch,” Arians said. “And the protection on the play was unbelievable. Tom was able to hold on to the ball for a long time.”
Gronkowski had just two catches in the Bucs’ first three playoff games. He had five, including the two TD receptions, in the first half along on Sunday.
Mahomes, who completed just three of his first 11 passes, was under constant pressure as Bowles’ defense took advantage of the fact that the Chiefs were without both of their starting offensive tackles.
The Bucs also constantly doubled Hill, who had just two catches for 13 yards in the first half. But Mahomes finally started to get the ball to tight end Travis Kelce late in the second quarter. Kelce had 11-, 12- and 13-yard catches as the Chiefs drove down to the Tampa 18.
But a screen to Hill lost a yard, and linebacker Shaquil Barrett, who was a thorn in Mahomes’ side most of the night, forced a throwaway on a third-and-6. The Chiefs, who were 0-for-3 in the red zone Sunday, had to settle for a second Butker field goal.
Brady and the Bucs followed with a 71-yard touchdown drive that again was aided by costly penalties by the Chiefs.
Kansas City used a pair of timeouts early in the Tampa possession in the hopes of getting the ball back before the end of the half. But that strategy backfired when Brady hit Gronkowski for a five-yard completion on a third-and-2 with 24 seconds left in the half.
Two plays later, Chiefs cornerback Bashaud Breeland was called for pass interference on a deep pass to Mike Evans, giving the Bucs a first down at the Kansas City 24.
Two plays after that, Brady went to Evans again, this time in the end zone. The pass was incomplete, but Mathieu was called for pass interference, giving the Bucs a first down at the one-yard line with 10 seconds left.
Wide receiver Antonio Brown beat Mathieu on an inside route in the end zone on the next play, and Brady delivered a low strike to him for his third touchdown pass of the game to give Tampa a 21-6 halftime lead.
“That was a huge drive for us, that two-minute drive at the end of the half,” Arians said. “Antonio’s touchdown, like Gronk’s second one, were improv plays Tom made a terrific throw to him.”
Brady completed 16 of 20 passes for 140 yards in the first half. Mahomes was just 9-for-19 for 67 yards.