Opinion: Even with six Super Bowl rings, Bucs’ Tom Brady still had something to prove to himself

GREEN BAY, Wis. —  Add another odds-defying chapter to the chronicles of Tom Brady.

And while you’re at it, we can probably take the whole "Tom Brady system quarterback" debate and bury it somewhere deep in the Frozen Tundra.

Going into what should have been hostile conditions on Sunday, the 43-year-old Brady looked right at home. It was, after all, a familiar setting: Brady’s 14th conference title game. And he met the challenge at hand, helping the Tampa Bay Buccaneers punch their ticket to Super Bowl 55 with a 31-26 victory over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship.

The win over the Packers capped a three-game road playoff win streak, and now the Bucs go back home, where this year’s Super Bowl just happens to be set.

Brady will ready himself for the 10th Super Bowl appearance of his career after a performance that featured 280 passing yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions. Having helped the Bucs to their first Super Bowl appearance since 2002, the quarterback now stands one step away from delivering on the promise he offered when he left the only pro football home he had ever known and headed south to Florida.

Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady will play Super Bowl 55 at home in Tampa. (Photo: Jeff Hanisch, USA TODAY Sports)

When Brady left New England for a fresh start in Tampa, many wondered why he would even bother putting himself through the arduous task of learning a new coach, new system, new teammates, new commute routes when he had six rings, plenty of money in the bank and nothing left to prove.

But he did so because in his mind, he still had plenty to prove, to himself in particular.

Brady will never shake that mentality of a guy who split time in college, had a less-than-impressive NFL combine and watched on draft weekend as 198 players went before him. 

No amount of Super Bowl rings could seduce him into a state of complacency. That’s why Brady has continued to treat his body like a shrine and work meticulously throughout every offseason and regular season. That’s why Bill Belichick’s refusal to make him a Patriot for life only made that big chip on Brady’s shoulder grow to massive proportions. 

And it’s why despite a disjointed stretch this season when he looked like a poor fit in Bruce Arians' and Byron Leftwich’s deep-ball-loving offense, Brady kept working, kept grinding until he and the Bucs' offense began to look like a well-oiled machine down the homestretch.

During that tough period where the Bucs lost three of four games and entered the bye week at 7-5, Brady remained focused on the process more than the results, knowing that approach would lead him and his teammates to their desired destination. 

And a similar approach during Sunday night’s game helped Brady weather another storm. After following up a dazzling three-touchdown start with three interceptions, he maintained his stoicism and kept plugging away while leaning on his defense to keep the Packers at bay.

Then as he looked to end a 13-0 scoring drought, Brady went to a familiar face, lofting a short pass to longtime Patriots teammate Rob Gronkowski, who went 29 yards to put the Buccaneers in scoring position for a Ryan Succop 46-yard field goal that extended Tampa's lead to 31-23 with 4:46 left in the game.

The Packers opted for a field goal on fourth-and-goal from the eight, cutting the lead to 31-26, rather than going to the end zone for a potential game-tying touchdown with two minutes left. And perhaps that was Packers coach Matt LaFleur’s biggest mistake. At that point, there was no way Brady, with the ball in his hands, would not find a way to move the ball and milk the clock enough to secure the victory.

And that’s exactly what he did. Of course, because that’s what Brady does.

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