TAMPA, Fla. — Tom Brady made the Buccaneers, their fans and their city believe from the moment he arrived in Tampa Bay.
With help from old friend Rob Gronkowski and a ferocious defense, Brady and the Buccaneers are Super Bowl champions.
Brady threw two touchdown passes to Gronkowski and one to good pal Antonio Brown, and the Buccaneers routed Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City 31-9 on their home field in Super Bowl 55 on Sunday.
"You get this far and you wanna get the job done and we did it," Brady said. "We just believed. I"m so proud of the guys."
Despite moving south to a new team and conference during a pandemic, Brady didn't slow down at age 43.
The GOAT earned his fifth Super Bowl MVP award and extended his Super Bowl titles' record in his 10th appearance, nine with New England. Brady broke his own mark for oldest player to win a Super Bowl and joined Hall of Famer Peyton Manning as the only quarterbacks to win one with multiple franchises.
"I think they're all special," Brady said. "I'm not making any comparisons. Experiencing it with this group of guys is amazing."
Stunningly, it was easier than any of his previous Super Bowl victories, which came by an average margin of five points. Mahomes lost by double digits for the first time in his four-year career.
The Buccaneers (15-5) took their second NFL title and first in 18 years as the first team to play the big game at home, capping an unusual and challenging season played through the novel coronavirus. They won three road games as a wild card to reach the Super Bowl, and joined the NHL's Lightning as a 2020 season champion. The Rays also went to the World Series but lost to the Dodgers.
Mahomes and the Chiefs (16-3) failed to become the first repeat champions since Brady's Patriots in 2003-04.
"I didn't see it coming at all," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. "I thought we were going to come in and play these guys just like we've been playing teams, and it didn't happen that way. I give them credit on that."
The NFL completed its 269-game season on time without any cancellations, a remarkable accomplishment that required nearly 1 million COVID-19 tests for players and team personnel.
Due to the virus, only 25,000 mask-wearing fans attended, including approximately 7,500 vaccinated health care workers given free tickets by the NFL. About 30,000 cardboard cutouts made the stadium look full.
A streaker wearing a hot-pink onesie eluded security and slid into the end zone with 5:03 left in the game. Kansas City's high-powered offense never got that far against Tampa's fierce defense.
"Obviously I didn't play the way I wanted to play," Mahomes said. "What else can you say? All you can do is leave everything you have on the field. I feel like the guys did that. … They beat us pretty good, the worst I've been beaten in a long time."
Bruce Arians became the oldest coach at age 68 to win the Super Bowl. His mom, 95-year-old Kay Arians, witnessed it in person. Brady, Gronk and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles helped Arians get that Vince Lombardi Trophy.
"This really belongs to the coaching staff and our players. I didn't do a damn thing," Arians said after he was handed the trophy.
Bowles devised a masterful plan to frustrate Mahomes and shut down the Chiefs, the complete opposite of Kansas City's 27-24 win in Tampa in Week 12, when the Chiefs jumped to a 17-0 lead in the first quarter. Tyreek Hill had 269 yards receiving and three TDs in that one. He was held to 73 yards on seven catches Sunday.
"Coach Bowles is a mastermind," Bucs cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting said.
After the Chiefs took a 3-0 early lead, it was all Brady and the Bucs.
Brady accomplished a career-first with an 8-yard TD pass to Gronkowski for a 7-3 lead with 37 seconds left in the first quarter. Brady's nine Super Bowl teams in New England produced just three points total in the first quarter. Gronkowski, who came out of retirement to play with his buddy, caught his 13th and 14th postseason TDs from Brady. They had been tied at 12 with Jerry Rice and Joe Montana.
"To come here and be Super Bowl champs, it's surreal, man," said Gronkowski, who came out of retirement to play with Brady. "We have so many superstars on this team but nobody's head was too big. Whoever got the ball got the ball. That's what was so great about being on this team. There was no one who was selfish on this team. No one selfish in the organization. It just happened to be me this time getting the touchdown passes."
Despite playing at home, the Buccaneers weren't allowed to fire the cannons from their famed pirate ship after touchdowns and big plays. They did it soon after the clock expired as red, white and black confetti fell onto the field.
Fans still enjoyed the thud of Gronk's thunderous spike after his first score.
Tampa missed an opportunity to extend the lead when Brady's 2-yard pass to offensive lineman Joe Haeg was knocked out of his hands in the end zone. Ronald Jones was stopped short on consecutive carries as Arians stuck to his "No risk it, no biscuit" philosophy and went on fourth down.
But the Chiefs didn't gain any momentum off the stop. Instead, they made one costly mistake after another.
First, All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce dropped a pass that would've been a big gain on third down. Then punter Tommy Townsend shanked a 29-yarder after a penalty forced him to kick again. The Bucs started at Kansas City's 38 instead of their 27.
A holding call on cornerback Charvarius Ward negated an interception by All-Pro safety Tyrann Mathieu. Kansas City's defense held but an offside penalty during Ryan Succop's successful field goal gave the Buccaneers a first down. Sarah Thomas, the first woman official in a Super Bowl, threw that flag.
Brady fired a strike to Gronkowski for a 17-yard TD and a 14-3 lead. Gronk hesitated before spiking the ball, waiting to make sure another flag on the play was against the sloppy Chiefs.
Mahomes drove the offense for a 34-yard field goal by Harrison Butker that cut it to 14-6, but Kansas City's defense fell apart in the final minute of the first half — allowing 42 yards on two pass interference penalties. One against Mathieu in the end zone set up Brady's TD pass to Brown for a 21-6 halftime lead.
It was Brady who convinced his new team to give Brown a chance after the troubled former All-Pro came off suspension. His TD toss to Brown was his 50th of the season, including 10 in the postseason.
Mathieu took an unsportsmanlike penalty after the TD pass for getting into it with Brady as he ran to the sideline.
Leonard Fournette, like Brown an in-season addition, ran 27 yards untouched to extend Tampa's lead to 28-9. Arians pumped his fist after that score and pointed toward offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, who made the call.
Succop's 52-yard field goal increased the lead to 31-9.
Last year, Mahomes rallied the Chiefs from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter against San Francisco and earned MVP honors in leading Kansas City to its first NFL championship in a half-century. But Tampa's pass rush gave him no chance in this one.
Shaq Barrett had one of three sacks on Mahomes, who spent most of the game trying to escape Jason Pierre-Paul, William Gholston and a relentless group.
"There was nothing that was gonna stop us from winning this game," Barrett said. "I knew we were going to keep the pressure up. Coach Bowles had a great game plan. We had the guys up there to make it work and we made it work, baby."
After 20 seasons in New England, Brady signed a $50 million, two-year contract with Tampa in March. The Buccaneers hadn't reached the playoffs since 2007 and hadn't won a postseason game since the 2002 title season.
There were plenty of red-clad Chiefs fans doing the tomahawk chop for part of the first half until the Bucs made it a rout. Then it was the hometown fans chanting "Let's Go Bucs."
Before kickoff, 22-year-old poet laureate Amanda Gorman recited a poem honoring three people chosen as honorary captains for the game and all teachers, military veterans and frontline healthcare workers.
Brady avenged his loss against Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who held the same position for the Giants when New York stifled the Patriots in the 2008 Super Bowl, preventing New England from a perfect season.
The warmer climate suited Brady perfectly. He passed Michael Jordan in championships and it doesn't seem he's ready to slow down. He already said he might play past age 45.
"I'm coming back," Brady said with a smile.
There was never any doubt he's going for No. 8 next season.