Gronkowski leads the Buccaneers to a Super Bowl victory

In early November of 2019, Rob Gronkowski came to the Culver City High School campus to visit the undefeated Culver City Centaur football team. Gronkowski, a four-time All-Pro tight end, had retired in March of 2019 at the age of 29 after winning a 3rd Super Bowl title with the Patriots. Gronkowski, nicknamed "Gronk", decided to retire due to being physically and mentally worn out from injuries. He had one year left on his contract at the time.

Gronk was visiting the Culver City High School campus football team to share a few words of encouragement as the Centaurs attempted to continue their undefeated season. The Centaurs were 10-0 at the time and the pep talk was later televised nationally on Fox Sports. The highly ranked Centaurs would eventually lose in the playoffs and finish the season at 12-1. But as it turned out, Gronkowski was not finished in football.

Gronk would decide to return to the NFL after a one-year hiatus and was traded from the Patriots, who still held his rights, to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a 4th round compensatory draft pick. In Tampa, Gronk was reunited with quarterback Tom Brady, who had left after twenty seasons with the Patriots and signed as a free agent with the Buccaneers. It did not take long for the pair to land in another Super Bowl.

On Sunday, playing at home in Super Bowl 55, Gronkowski caught two touchdowns passes to give the Buccaneers an early 14-3 lead and that proved to be the difference in the game, as the Bucs soundly defeated the Kansas City Chiefs, 31-9. For the game, Gronkowski had six receptions for 67 yards and the two touchdowns. Not bad for a guy that just 15 months earlier had been showing the Culver City football team how to properly spike the football after a touchdown.

Brady was named the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player, the 5th time in his illustrious career that he has won that award. It was his seventh Super Bowl championship and the fourth for Gronk. The two set an NFL playoff record for most postseason touchdowns by a quarterback-receiver duo with a total of 14, breaking the record held previously by Joe Montana and Jerry Rice with 12. The two also have combined for 99 touchdowns, second in NFL history behind Payton Manning & Marvin Harrison with 114 touchdowns.

Brady threw for three touchdowns, all in the first half as the Bucs took control of the game with a 21-6 lead at the half. For the game, Brady was 21-of-29 passing for 201 yards and three touchdowns. He now has 83 playoff touchdown passes for his career, a record that may never be broken. Montana and Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers are in second with 45 playoff touchdown passes.

Gronkowski was clearly thrilled with his decision to come out of retirement and join the Bucs: " To come down here to Tampa, come to an organization that was ready to win. Come down here to play with players, they are all fantastic players. Great guys. Just everyone overall. The story is just unbelievable, and it definitely ranks up there as one of my biggest accomplishments, ever.”

The Buccaneers were 7-9 in 2019 but had talent. They just needed a change at quarterback. Jameis Winston threw for 5,109 yards in 2019, which led the NFL and added 33 touchdown passes. The issue for Winston was turnovers. He led the NFL in interceptions with 30 in 2019 and added five fumbles lost for a total of 35 turnovers.

Brady threw for 4,633 yards, with 40 touchdowns and just 12 interceptions in 2020. He had one lost fumble for the season, for a total of 13 turnovers. Winston had a -2-turnover ratio in 2019 (turnovers vs touchdown passes) and Brady had a +27-turnover ratio in the 2020 regular season. Brady was the primary reason for improvement from the 2019 season to the 2020 season.

In 2019, the Buccaneers were ranked No.1 in rushing defense in the NFL. In 2020, the Buccaneers were again ranked No.1 in rushing defense. In their base 3-4 defense and with their talented defensive line, they were able to control the line of scrimmage against the Chiefs, which allowed the defense to drop seven into coverage on most plays. Against the Chiefs, the Bucs blitzed on 9.6% of drop backs, which was unusually low for the Buccaneer defense.

The Chiefs led the NFL in total offensive yardage, passing yardage, and were 6th in points scored. With Patrick Mahomes at quarterback, the Chiefs offense seemed unstoppable. But the Buccaneers defense was outstanding, holding the No.1 offense in the NFL to just nine points or three field goals for the game. Mahomes did not reach 100 yards passing until the final minute of the third quarter. By that point, the Bucs led 31-9 and the game was essentially over.

Super Bowl 55 marked the first time since Mahomes became a starter that the Chiefs failed to score a touchdown in a game, regular-season and postseason combined. It was the first time Mahomes was held without a touchdown pass since September 29, 2019 against the Detroit Lions.

Orchestrating the Buccaneer football operation are 68-year-old head coach Bruce Arians and 49-year-old General Manager Jason Licht. Arians gives all the credit to his players and coaches: “I don’t do anything. I just try to get out of the way and not screw it up.” While that is understating his role a bit, Arians has hired a talented and diverse staff.

Arians has the most diverse staff in the history of the NFL with three Black coordinators, a Black assistant head coach and two full-time coaches that are female. Offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, special team’s coordinator Keith Armstrong and assistant head coach and run game coordinator Harold Goodwin are all black men. The Buccaneers are the only NFL team with all-Black coordinators.

The two women on the staff are assistant defensive line coach Lori Locust and assistant strength and conditioning coach Maral Javadifar. The Buccaneers are the only NFL team with two full-time female coaches. Arians has a 43-year-old quarterback and a diverse coaching staff and now he owns a Super Bowl title. All he had to do was stay out of the way.

The roster was put together by Licht, who also hired Arians. Licht and Arians had worked together previously with the Arizona Cardinals. The Buccaneers have a young roster, with the obvious exception of Brady and Gronk. The starting secondary is 24 years of age or younger. Devin White, their young star linebacker, is just 22. Vita Vea, their starting nose tackle, just turned 26. The starting offensive line are all under 30 years of age, with an average age of 26 years.

Running back Leonard Fournette and All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown, both added as free agents this season, scored touchdowns in the game. But it would be hard to top the additions of Brady and Gronkowski. The experience and leadership of Brady and Gronk are things you cannot coach. As Brady said to Gronk after the game, “This is what we do!” With the talent on the Buccaneers roster, they will be a favorite to do it again next season.


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