As he held the silver George Halas Trophy, signifying preeminence in the NFC, Bruce Arians was asked to put into words what Tom Brady has meant to the Tampa Bay franchise.

“This trophy,’’ Arians, the Bucs head coach, said after the Buccaneers’ 31-26 win over the Packers. “The belief he gave everybody in this organization that this could be done. It only took one man.’’

It may have taken one man to instill that belief in the Bucs, but it took a whole bunch more of them, especially on defense, Sunday at Lambeau Field in Green Bay to make good on the reason why Brady after 20 years with the Patriots is with a new team and in sight of familiar glory.

The 43-year-old quarterback survived an epic and then nervous showdown with Aaron Rodgers, the 37-year-old gunslinger trying and ultimately failing to keep Brady from reaching yet another Super Bowl.

Brady threw three touchdown passes to give the Buccaneers a 28-10 lead early in the third quarter and then, shockingly, ended three consecutive offensive series in the second half with interceptions to help Rodgers and the Packers crawl back in the game.

At the finish, it was Brady and the Bucs with the ball, tasked with playing keep-away from Rodgers to end the game after what may be viewed as a monumental blunder by Packers coach Matt LaFleur. Brady took over with 2:05 remaining and did the rest, securing a pulsating victory in the NFC Championship game.

Tom Brady and the Buccaneers are off to Super Bowl 2021.
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How did the Bucs run out the clock? Packers cornerback Kevin King was penalized for pass interference for grabbing the jersey of rookie receiver Tyler Johnson on a third-down play as the ball fell incomplete with 1:41 to go, crushing the hopes of Rodgers and the 8,500 scattered in the bleachers on a 28-degree evening in Green Bay.

“For me, I don’t think about what it means for me,’’ Brady said. “I do think about what it means for everyone else.’’

It means so very much for the Bucs, who will become the first team to play a Super Bowl on their field, as they will face the AFC champion Chiefs on Feb. 7 at Raymond James Stadium in Super Bowl LV.

Brady was 20 of 36 for 280 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions. Rodgers — now 1-4 in NFC title games — was 33 of 48 for 346 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.

The Bucs, who as a wild card won three playoff road games, advance to their first Super Bowl in 18 years, seeking their second Lombardi Trophy — they won their first after the 2002 season.

The Brady Plan, thus far, has worked magnificently and in two weeks, Brady heads to his 10th Super Bowl, his first without Bill Belichick and the Patriots, and seeks his seventh championship.

The Bucs led 31-23 late with the Packers advancing to the Tampa 8-yard line before three passes fell incomplete in the end zone. Rather than go for the touchdown and then the two-point conversion to tie the game, LaFleur opted for the 26-yard field goal by Mason Crosby with 2:05 remaining.

“It wasn’t my decision, but I understand the thinking,’’ Rodgers said.

The gamble was a bad one. Rodgers never got the ball again.

“Hey, I couldn’t believe it, honestly, because there’s no guarantee they’re going to make it back down there again,’’ said outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett, who had three sacks of Rodgers.

This was the most bitter of losses for Rodgers. This was his first NFC title game at home, and it was more of the same angst.

“It’s a grind just to get to this point,’’ Rodgers said. “That makes the finality of it all kind of hit you like a ton of bricks. It’s a gutting feeling in your stomach.’’

The end of the first half was a stunning lift for the Buccaneers and a shocking downer for the Packers. The Bucs were ahead 14-10, and with eight seconds left were at the Green Bay 39-yard line. Scotty Miller was lined up in the slot and there was no way the Packers were going to allow anyone to get deep behind them on defense, right? Wrong. Miller ran past King with ease and hauled in Brady’s pass in the end zone with one second remaining, giving the Bucs a 21-10 lead.

“They played me pretty much man-to-man and my guy didn’t get too much depth, so I was able to just run right by him,’’ Miller said.

Only 62 seconds into the second half, Bucs safety Jordan Whitehead put a heavy hit on running back Aaron Jones and forced a fumble that was recovered by linebacker Devin White on the Green Bay 8-yard line. The hit was so vicious that Jones and Whitehead both left the game with injuries. The turnover was turned into immediate points when Brady on a play-fake got safety Adrian Amos to bite, leaving tight end Cameron Brate wide open for an easy touchdown catch.

The 18-point deficit was formidable, but so is Rodgers. Before the third quarter was over, he had the Packers within range at 28-24.

In the end, Brady was the last quarterback standing. Again.