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Buccaneers 31, Packers 26

Tom Brady advances to 10th Super Bowl as Buccaneers hold off Packers, 31-26, in NFC title game

Tom Brady celebrates with Leonard Fournette during the first half.
Tom Brady celebrates with Leonard Fournette during the first half.Dylan Buell/Getty

Instant analysis: Tom Brady has been proving doubters wrong his entire career, the Bucs’ win over the Packers is his best performance yet

A year after leaving the Patriots, Tom Brady is heading back to the Super Bowl.

The 43-year-old Buccaneers quarterback threw three interceptions, but guided a series of key scoring drives late in the second and early in third quarter to lift the Buccaneers to a 31-26 win over the Packers Sunday in the NFC Championship game in Green Bay.

Brady ended the day 20-for-36 for 280 yards with three touchdowns to pair with his three picks, but got a boost from Chris Godwin (five catches, 110 yards) and Leonard Fournette (12 carries, 55 yards).

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Rodgers was 33-for-48 for 346 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. Marques Valdes-Scantling had four catches for 115 yards and a touchdown, while Davante Adams had nine catches for 67 yards and a touchdown.

The Packers had their chances, but they misfired during a few key moments — an ill-timed Rodgers’ interception and a fumble from Aaron Jones set up Tampa for a pair of scores. The best red-zone offense in the league settled for two field goals inside the Tampa Bay 20-yard line. And a missed two-point conversion attempt all helped bury Green Bay.

The Buccaneers will face the winner of the AFC Championship game. Tampa Bay, which won three playoff road games, will be the first team in NFL history to play the Super Bowl in its own stadium.

After a back-and-forth start to the contest, Brady and the Bucs used a great sequence at the end of the first and start of the second half to turn a close game into what looked like a blowout. Tampa held a 14-10 lead late in the second quarter, but a touchdown from Brady to Scotty Miller with a second left in the first half made it 21-10.

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A Rodgers’ interception on Green Bay’s first drive of the third quarter and a quick Tampa Bay touchdown by Cameron Brate made it 28-10 early in the third, and it looked like the Bucs and Brady would have smooth sailing to Super Bowl LV.

But the Packers’ offense responded. Rodgers and Green Bay responded with back-to-back scoring drives in the third quarter that ended with touchdown passes to Robert Tonyan and Davante Adams, but a failed two-point attempt after the Adams’ score left it 28-23 at the end of the third.

A 46-yard field goal from Ryan Succop made it 31-23 with 4:42 to play, and the Packers responded with a field goal of their own from Mason Crosby a couple of minutes later to cut the lead to five.

After the Buccaneers got the ball back, a late defensive pass interference call on a third-down pass attempt allowed Tampa to keep the chains moving, and eventually run out the clock.

Here’s how it happened:

Bucs win, 31-26 - 6:18 p.m.

That’ll do it. Tampa Bay wins.

Crosby cuts it to five - 6:03 p.m.

A 26-yarder for Mason Crosby makes it a five-point game with 2:05 left. The Green Bay defense needs to be able to get a stop — the Packers have three timeouts and the two-minute warning as well.

Tampa Bay on top by 8 - 5:55 p.m.

Weird — but ultimately a successful — possession there for the Bucs, who maneuvered into Green Bay territory on the strength of a nice catch-and-run from Rob Gronkowski. Tampa settled for a 46-yard field goal from Ryan Succop to make it 31-23 with 4:42 left in regulation.

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Tampa Bay on offense - 5:47 p.m.

The Packers can’t cash in, and the Bucs will get the ball back, up by five, at their own 28-yard line, with 8:10 remaining.

Another pick for Alexander - 5:45 p.m.

Brady just sort of aired that one out -- and Jaire Alexander made him pay. The Packers get the ball on their own 25 with 9:15 to go.

Another Brady INT - 5:33 p.m.

Wow. Packers take over after the second pick of the day for Green Bay. Jaire Alexander with a nifty takeaway off the tipped ball. The Packers will have the ball at their own 19-yard line with 12:20 to go in the fourth quarter, down 28-23.

Another stat check - 5:29 p.m.

End of the third quarter - 5:25 p.m.

Three quarters are done. It’s 28-23, Tampa Bay.

Pack is back? - 5:21 p.m.

Starting to feel a momentum swing here. The Packers turn the takeaway into a touchdown—Rodgers finds Adams for a two-yard touchdown pass—and it’s a five-point game with a whole quarter remaining. (The two-point attempt was dropped.) The Bucs are now without their top two safeties, which has opened up the Green Bay running game a little. (But like we said at halftime, the return of Vea has bene a boost for the Tampa Bay run defense.) Could it be enough for the Packers? We’ll see. Anyway, it’s 28-23 with 24 seconds left in the third quarter.

Stat check - 5:10 p.m.

Brady intercepted - 5:07 p.m.

And now, Brady is picked for the first takeaway by Green Bay — Adrian Amos with the nice interception. The Packers had a good sense of urgency on that last offensive series, and they need to replicate that here on this drive.

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Packers respond - 4:49 p.m.

There’s life from the Packers. To start things off, Adams had a 10-yard reception, and that was followed by a 24-yard pass to Valdes-Scantling that got Green Bay into Tampa territory. Rodgers had a brilliant scamper than ended up as a 16-yard pass play to Lazard that got them to first and goal, and on the next play, it was Rodgers to Tonyan on a play where Tonyan just sat in the zone — a well-executed offensive sequence. It’s 28-17 with 9:28 to go in the third quarter. Rodgers is now 21-for-28 for 241 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.

Bucs score again - 4:51 p.m.

Brady-to-Cameron Brate for eight yards, and the Bucs are now up 28-10 with 13:54 to go in the second quarter. Yikes. Brady is 14-for-23 for 210 yards and three touchdowns, but the two takeaways and the Green Bay breakdowns are also a big reason why it’s 28-10. The Packers’ margin for error is growing slimmer.

Interesting stat - 4:49 p.m.

Green Bay fumble - 4:47 p.m.

Another turnover for the Packers there, a brutal fumble that’ll give the ball to the Bucs deep in Green Bay territory. Wow. The Packers are reeling here at the start of the third quarter as Tampa Bay is on the doorstep of another score.

Halftime takeaways - 4:29 p.m.

Tampa Bay leads 21-10 after two quarters in Green Bay:

Tom Brady: 13-22, 202 yards, 2 TDs

Chris Godwin: 4 catches, 99 yards

Leonard Fournette: 5 catches, 30 yards, 1 TD

Aaron Rodgers: 14-19, 169 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT

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Marques Valdes-Scantling: 2 catches, 62 yards, 1 TD

Aaron Jones: 6 carries, 27 yards

A few quick takeaways:

•Bold move by the Bucs at the end of the first half to go for it on fourth down instead of punting it away. It allowed them to pick up that touchdown one play later at the end of the second quarter. Great play by Tampa Bay and a horrible breakdown by the Green Bay defense.

•Sean Murphy-Bunting provided the biggest defensive moment of the first half with an interception of Rodgers with less than a minute to go in the first half to set up the late score by Scotty Miller. Between the pick, the red-zone misfire (where Green Bay had to settle for a field goal instead of a touchdown in the second quarter) and the late second-quarter touchdown from Brady-to-Miller, the Packers’ missed opportunities are a big reason they trail after two quarters.

•I once told my son that third down was where you made your money. That’s especially true this afternoon, at least when you’re talking about the Bucs. Brady and Tampa Bay were 5-for-5 to start the game on third down (and 7-of-10 overall). The 52-yard deep ball for Godwin came on third down. Overall, 122 of Brady’s first 124 passing yards came on third-down opportunities. Good conversion rate to start the game for the Bucs.

•There were a lot of drops in the first two quarters on both sides of the ball. Godwin had a bad one, and Adams also had one. Not sure if it’s the chilly conditions or the quarterback putting a little extra on the ball or what. But it’s certainly worth mentioning and worth keeping an eye on moving forward.

•Not a lot of room to run in the early going — other than a 20-yard touchdown run from Fournette in the second quarter, both teams have struggled at times to get any sort of consistency when it came to the ground game. (When it comes to the Tampa Bay defense, I wonder how much of that has to do with the return of Vita Vea. At least part of the conversation.) Green Bay started moving it relatively well on the ground midway through the second quarter, but for the most part, both offenses rode the strength of their passing games over the first two quarters.

•Other than that funky-looking kickoff that landed right on the goal line — one that was eventually ruled a touchback after a challenge — there was little worth mentioning when it came to special teams over the first two quarters. It is worth mentioning that earlier in the week, we were told it could be really cold. While it’s in the 20s, it’s not the awful chill that we were expecting — maybe good news for the Bucs? We’ll see.

•Green Bay will get the ball to start the second half.

Rodgers picked off - 4:22 p.m.

Big moment right there with the Rodgers interception, one that could really give Tampa a big edge heading into halftime.

Packers stall in the red zone - 4:06 p.m.

This Green Bay offense is among the best I’ve ever seen at converting inside the 20, and given the magnitude of the game, that’s important. You can’t leave points on the board — you can’t miss out on scoring opportunities. But the Packers were forced to settle for three on that drive after a few misfires on the part of Rodgers and his receivers. It’s 14-10 with 4:59 left in the half.

Brady sharp on third down - 3:53 p.m.

Tampa responds - 3:49 p.m.

Tampa Bay with a strong answer there to take a 14-7 lead with 12:24 to go in the first half. The highlight of that drive came when Chris Godwin -- after an ugly drop -- hauled in a 52-yarder from Tom Brady to get the Bucs’ into the Green Bay red zone. Leonard Fournette then put together an impressive, bruising run from 20 yards out for his first touchdown of the afternoon. On the day, Brady is 7-for-12 for 124 yards and a touchdown, while Chris Godwin had three catches for 80 yards. Time for a Green Bay answer?

Packers tie it up - 3:42 p.m.

Great drive there for Green Bay, one punctuated by a 50-yard pass play down the sideline to Valdes-Scantling to tie the game at seven. It was a seven-play, 90-yard sequence that started with the Packers backed up against their own end zone and facing a third down. That’s when Rodgers and the Green Bay offense came to life. First, he showed why he’s so good while on the move, nailing a 23-yard pass to Lazard down the sideline — the first successful third-down conversion of the day for Green Bay. The Packers then got things going with a 15-yarder to Davante Adams, followed by a 5-yard connection to Tonyan. Soon after that Rodgers connected for his first touchdown pass of the game, making it 7-7 with 14:07 to go in the first half. Great answer there for the Packers -- we’ll see how Brady answers here.

End of the first quarter - 3:37 p.m.

The first quarter is in the books -- it’s 7-0, Tampa, but the Packers are on the move.

Bucs solid on third down - 3:30 p.m.

Tampa Bay is doing well to convert on third downs in the early going — before the Clark sack that forced the last punt, Tampa was 5-for-5 on third-down opportunities. Green Bay will get the ball with 2:49 to go in the first quarter and the Bucs holding a 7-0 lead. Brady is 6-for-10 for 72 yards and a touchdown.

Packers punt - 3:21 p.m.

Three notes after that initial Green Bay drive:

•As the Fox broadcast noted, it was only the third time all season the Packers couldn’t get points on their opening drive.

•It doesn’t look like there will be a whole lot of room to operate on the ground today, as both teams appear to be pretty stout when it comes to run defense.

•It’s 7-0 with 7:33 to go in the first quarter. Tampa will get the ball on its own 27-yard line.

Brady, Bucs take lead - 3:13 p.m.

The Buccaneers couldn’t get much traction on the ground on that first drive, but a sweet a 27-yard completion from Brady to Mike Evans on third down really got Tampa Bay’s initial offensive series cranked up. Brady found Chris Godwin on the next third-down opportunity to move the sticks again and get into the Green Bay red zone. Shortly after that, the drive was capped off with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Evans — in all, the Bucs were 3-for-3 on third down chances on that drive. Good start for the Tampa Bay passing game, as Brady is 3-for-5 for 56 yards and a touchdown. It’s 7-0 with 10:59 to go in the first quarter.

Time for kickoff - 3:05 p.m.

Green Bay wins the toss and defers. Time for the football.

Official Price Predictions - 2:42 p.m.

I was derided last weekend as being “Mr. Chalk” with my picks last weekend, but I came awfully close to a perfect week, going 3-1. (I had the Saints over the Bucs, for the record.) This afternoon, I’m going to go with the Packers and Bills in close games.

•I picked against Brady last week, sure, but I find it hard to believe that the Tampa defense will be able to hold up against Rodgers, who would get my vote for MVP. Brady is always capable of playoff magic, but I just don’t think that Tampa can match Green Bay on either side of the ball, especially without Winfield. The Bucs’ defense has done really well and has been impressive, but Rogers is playing at an absurdly high level right now, and he’s at home in the cold. I think it’ll be close, but the Packers -- led by Rodgers -- will have just enough.

•In the AFC, I’ve been all in on the Bills since the start of the offseason, and while the head says there’s absolutely no way Kansas City can lose, the heart sides with Buffalo. I do like how the Bills have coalesced on both sides of the ball at just the right time. Josh Allen is playing great, and Buffalo can run the ball and play tough defense. Maybe it’s because my story earlier in the week got me all fired up. Maybe it’s because I want Bills Mafia to finally get over that hump and win it all. I’m not 100 percent sure. Again, it’ll be another close one, but I’m going to cross my fingers and go with the Bills.

Brady has arrived - 2:25 p.m.

Brady vs. Mike Pettine - 2:15 p.m.

One underplayed storyline over the course of the week was Brady against Green Bay defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. Pettine -- who has also served as the DC for the Jets and Bills over the course of his career -- has clashed with Brady 13 times. The quarterback has gotten the better of Pettine 10 times, including the last eight games. The last time Pettine beat Brady was in the divisional playoffs on Jan. 16, 2011, when Pettine was defensive coordinator with the Jets. In those 13 games, Brady has thrown 24 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Brady’s teams have averaged more than 30 points per game. his teams have averaged 30.1 points per game.

“It’s as big a challenge as you’ll face as a coordinator, as a defensive staff,” Pettine told reporters who asked about defending Brady on Thursday. “He doesn’t miss anything, and that’s the thing. If you have an area of weakness, whether it was in New England or now at Tampa Bay, they will exploit it and continue to exploit it until you make a correction and force them out of it. So it’s a huge challenge.”

Latest line - 2:05 p.m.

A few interesting gambling tidbits for today’s NFC title game from our friends at OddsShark:

•Green Bay is anywhere between a 3.5- and 4-point favorite this afternoon (it’s gone from 3 to 4 over the course of the week), while the O/U has decreased over the course of the week from 53 to 50.5.

•Tampa Bay is 7-0 straight up in its last 7 road games.

•Green Bay is 7-2 against the spread in its last 9 playoff games.

•Tampa Bay is 1-15 straight up in its last 16 road games vs Green Bay.

•Green Bay is 11-0 straight up this season when it doesn’t commit a turnover, but just 3-3 (including the loss at Tampa Bay) when it gives the ball away at least once.

•Tampa Bay is 3-7 against the spread in their last 10 games played in January.

Weather update - 1:50 p.m.

According to our pals at weather.com, it’s going to be in the high 20s this afternoon in Green Bay, clear to partly cloudy, and while there are apparently some flurries right now, the chance of precipitation will lessen throughout the afternoon. Love to see a little snow on the field before things are all done, but we’ll see what happens.

Inactives announced - 1:40 p.m.

The loss of Brown can be mitigated because of the Bucs’ depth at wide receiver. But Tampa Bay without Winfield? Against Aaron Rodgers? Not good.

As for the Packers, it doesn’t look like there any real surprises -- as healthy as you can be at this time of the season:

QB Jordan Love

CB Ka’dar Hollman

S Vernon Scott

CB Josh Jackson

LB Jonathan Garvin

TE Jace Sternberger

DL Kingsley Keke

Brady’s scuba suit? - 1:35 p.m.

One thing we didn’t hear a lot about this week was Tom Brady’s scuba suit. It was something the quarterback used to wear under his uniform when it got cold — one of the last times we saw it was in the AFC title game against the Chiefs a few years ago. Have to imagine that Brady will be bringing it back in some form or fashion this time around — temps are expected to be in the 20s with light flurries on and off all afternoon.

“Just got to have some mental toughness and wear some warm clothes and be ready to go,” Brady said earlier this week when he was asked about the cold. “It’s chilly, man. That’s January football in the northeast, midwest. We’ll be prepared.”

Fun numbers - 1:25 p.m.

A few cool stats for you guys to consider as we get closer to kickoff at Lambeau:

•With a win against the Buccaneers on Sunday, the Packers would tie the Patriots (37 wins) for the most postseason victories in NFL history.

•Brady enters Sunday as the NFL’s all-time postseason leader in starts (43), wins (32), passing yards (11,968) and touchdown passes (77). He is expected to make his 14th career start in a Conference Championship game, and first with Tampa Bay. If the Buccaneers advance to Super Bowl LV, Brady will become the fourth quarterback to start a Super Bowl for multiple teams, joining Peyton Manning (Denver and Indianapolis), Craig Morton (Dallas and Denver) and Kurt Warner (Arizona and St. Louis Rams).

•Each of the remaining teams has won at least 13 regular-season and postseason games combined this season, marking the first time since 2015 that all four teams in the Conference Championship games each have at least 13 combined regular-season and postseason wins.

•Additionally, each of the four teams in action this weekend averaged at least 29 points per game in the regular season, marking the first time in the Super Bowl era that all four teams in the Conference Championship games averaged at least 29 points per game. Green Bay (31.8 points per game), Buffalo (31.3) and Tampa Bay (30.8) were the three highest scoring teams in the league this season.

•With victories by the Packers and Bills on Sunday, the Super Bowl would feature the two highest-scoring teams from the regular season for the fifth time since 1970 and the first time since 1997.

•Each of the four starting quarterbacks remaining in the 2020 postseason recorded at least 35 touchdown passes this season – Aaron Rodgers (48 touchdown passes), Brady (40), Patrick Mahomes (38) and Josh Allen (37). This is the first time since 1970 that each of the four starting quarterbacks in the Conference Championship games recorded at least 35 touchdown passes in the regular season.

Stafford odds - 1:17 p.m.

Lots of talk around here on the possibility of Stafford and the Patriots. Thought this was interesting.

Brady vs. Rodgers - 1:10 p.m.

For the last 12 years or so, this was the Super Bowl I always dreamed of: Brady vs. Rodgers. (And if wasn’t for the Packers’ collapse in the 2014 NFC title game, we might have gotten it, at least once.) I predicted a Patriots-Packers Super Bowl on at least three or four occasions — some years, it was more of a wish than a serious, by-the-numbers prediction. It was the matchup we as football fans truly deserved for a few reasons, not the least of which is this the fact that in my mind, this is the one true successor to Brady vs. Manning.

It’s important to acknowledge what’s right in front of our collective faces: even if the Green Bay quarterback wins another two or three before he calls it a career, he still won’t equal Brady’s accomplishments. But Rogers is still a class act and a first Hall of Famer who has probably earned at least one more Super Bowl ring, maybe two, before he hangs them up. Regardless of who you are rooting for, this is a legendary, high-stakes matchup that should be a lot of fun to watch this afternoon in what is supposed to be snowy Green Bay.

It’s Championship Sunday - 12:55 p.m.

Welcome back to football, everyone. We’ll kick things off this afternoon with Tom Brady going against Aaron Rodgers for the right to go to Super Bowl LV. Keep it here for all the updates, including the latest betting news, weather updates, inactive announcements and much more, all leading to kickoff just after 3 p.m. EST. But as always, we’ll start things with our pregame reading list.

Pregame reading list - 12:50 p.m.

Ben Volin: Quantifying the Tom Brady Effect: Four extra wins and a deep run in the playoffs

Tara Sullivan: We knew Tom Brady was done in New England a year ago, but he has proved he’s certainly not finished

Nicole Yang: Tom Brady is one of the best cold-weather quarterbacks. His new team? Not so much

Antonio Brown won’t play in NFC title game for Tampa thanks to knee injury

Ben Volin’s Sunday Notes: Senior Bowl takes on greater importance for NFL talent evaluators as the only showcase for prospects before draft

Hayden Bird: ‘We’re not there yet’: Julian Edelman was asked if he plans to retire

Christopher Price: For Bills fans, this season feels a bit like the early ’90s — but with the hope it ends better

Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes out of concussion protocol, is cleared to play against Bills

Chiefs’ Andy Reid and Bills’ Sean McDermott to match wits for AFC title

Bills greats see similarities to Buffalo’s Super Bowl teams


Christopher Price can be reached at christopher.price@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at cpriceglobe.