In March, seeking a rewarding second chapter to a glittering career, Tom Brady signed a $50 million free-agent contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after 20 seasons and six Super Bowl victories as quarterback for the New England Patriots. The hope in Tampa was that Brady’s megawatt celebrity and proven talent could sprinkle a little stardust on a middling N.F.L. franchise and perhaps vault it to the league’s upper echelon.
On Sunday, Brady and the Buccaneers got their wishes. And maybe more.
In a stirring, tense duel between two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks, Brady and the Buccaneers held off a late charge by Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers for a 31-26 upset victory in the N.F.C. championship game in Green Bay, Wis. The Buccaneers will become the first N.F.L. team to play a Super Bowl in its home stadium, on Feb. 7.
After the game, when Coach Bruce Arians was asked what Brady had brought with him to Tampa Bay, he said: “The belief he gave everybody in the organization that this could be done. It only took one man.”
Brady, in a postgame interview, tried to deflect credit for the victory, but said: “Who would have even thought a home Super Bowl for us? But we did it.”
Addressing Buccaneers fans, Arians shouted: “We’re coming home, and we’re coming home to win.”
Tampa Bay, which has won three successive postseason games on the road this month, took an 11-point halftime lead on two Brady touchdown passes. The Packers, the top seed in the conference, stormed back, trimming the deficit to 5 points late in the third quarter. But Brady, who will be making his 10th Super Bowl appearance, led fifth-seeded Tampa Bay to a pivotal fourth-quarter field goal, and the Packers failed to score a touchdown on a crucial, late possession despite a first-and-goal at the Buccaneers’ 8-yard line.
The Buccaneers will play the winner of Sunday night’s A.F.C. championship game, between the Buffalo Bills and the host Kansas City Chiefs, in the Super Bowl at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. Brady, 43, will become just the fourth quarterback to lead two franchises to the Super Bowl. It was also done by Kurt Warner, Peyton Manning and Craig Morton.
For Rodgers, who won the Super Bowl at the end of the 2010 season, Sunday’s loss was his fourth in a conference championship game.
With both teams depleted by injuries — the Packers were without running back Aaron Jones and Tampa Bay was missing both starting safeties — Green Bay charged back from an 18-point deficit with two third-quarter touchdown passes by Rodgers, who completed 33 of 48 passes for 346 yards. The Packers, assisted by a penalty for a helmet-to-helmet hit near the goal line, cut the Tampa Bay lead to 5 points after a 2-yard touchdown pass from Rodgers to Davante Adams. Green Bay attempted 2-point conversion was unsuccessful, and it trailed Tampa Bay, 28-23.
The Packers’ rally was greatly assisted by three interceptions thrown in the second half by Brady, who completed 20 of 36 passes for 280 yards and three touchdowns. But only one of those interceptions led to a Packers touchdown. More significant was Green Bay’s last possession, when Rodgers led his team to the Tampa Bay 8-yard line with the chance to tie the game with a touchdown and a successful 2-point conversion. Rodgers instead threw three successive incompletions — the last two directed at Adams — and Green Bay settled for a field goal rather than trying for the end zone again on fourth down with slightly more than two minutes remaining.
That decision proved consequential since the Packers never possessed the football again.
After the game, Rodgers called his future with the team “uncertain.” The Packers traded up to select quarterback Jordan Love from Utah State in the first round of the 2020 N.F.L. draft, which led to some friction between Rodgers and the franchise.
“There’s a lot of unknowns going into this off-season now,” Rodgers said Sunday. “I’m just going to have to take some time away for sure and clear my head and just kind of see what’s going on with everything. But it’s pretty tough right now, especially thinking about the guys that may or may not be here next year. There’s always change. That’s the only constant in this business.