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Instant Analysis from the Buccaneers’ 31-26 win over the Packers and the Chiefs’ 38-24 win over the Bills in the conference championship games Sunday:

▪ It’s official: Tom Brady is Superman. There’s nothing he can’t do.

Brady has made a career out of proving the doubters wrong, and the 2020 season was his best performance yet. Let us count the ways:

Can’t play past 40? He’s leading the Bucs to the Super Bowl at age 43.

Can’t win without Bill Belichick? Brady takes his new team to the Super Bowl in his first season — without the benefit of offseason practices or preseason games.


Can’t win on the road? He goes 3-0 in the playoffs on this postseason run, taking down Drew Brees at the Superdome and Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau Field.

Can’t throw the deep ball? Brady hit Scotty Miller on a gorgeous 39-yard touchdown right at the end of the half, and had big throws to Chris Godwin (52) and Mike Evans (27).

Can’t make the Super Bowl in your home stadium? Checkmate.

To think that entering December the Bucs were 7-5 and barely clinging onto a playoff spot. Now they have won seven straight games and are heading to the Super Bowl.

This may be Brady’s 10th Super Bowl run, but given all that he has accomplished this year with a new team, it’s definitely the best of his career.

▪ Brady can add even more to his legend in the Super Bowl. Brady now faces an all-time great quarterback in Patrick Mahomes and a potentially all-time great team in the Chiefs, who are 16-1 in games started by Mahomes this year.

Brady and Mahomes have split their series, 2-2, with Brady holding the only postseason win (2019 AFC Championship) but Mahomes winning the last two matchups, including a 27-24 win over the Bucs in Week 12.


The NFL could not have asked for a better Super Bowl matchup than Brady, aiming for his record seventh title, versus Mahomes, looking to be the first quarterback to win back-to-back titles since Brady in 2003-04. This will be a great one.

▪Brady certainly wasn’t perfect Sunday, but he played winning football when he had to.

Brady threw for 202 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, then added a quick touchdown to Cameron Brate to start the third quarter. Brady was on fire on third down, connecting on his first six throws for 141 yards.

However, Brady kept the game interesting by throwing an interception on three straight possessions in the second half, two of which were definitely his fault. It looked as if Brady might blow an 18-point lead, reminiscent of the 2006 AFC Championship game against Peyton Manning. Brady was fortunate that the Bucs’ defense came to play and forced the Packers to punt after two of the three interceptions.

But when the game was on the line, Brady made it happen. He moved the Bucs into field goal range with 3:28 left, then closed out the game with a couple of first downs. It was Brady’s fourth career postseason game with three interceptions (out of 44), but he’s 3-1 in those games.

▪ I said it last week, and won’t belabor the point too much, but it has to be said again: Why is Brady doing this for the Bucs and not the Patriots? Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick have to be feeling pretty sheepish about this.


▪ Packers fans are going to complain about the officiating, and they may have a point. It was terrible all game long, with only six accepted penalties called and way too much clutching and grabbing allowed. But there’s no question Green Bay’s Kevin King pulled on Tyler Johnson’s jersey on the game’s crucial play. You hate to see a game decided by a penalty, but it was the right call.

▪ And boy, did the Packers blow this game with self-inflicted wounds. They gave up a free touchdown at the end of the first half with the worst defensive call of the season. They were the best red-zone team all season (touchdowns on 80 percent), but went 2 of 4 against the Bucs. They wasted two interceptions from Brady in the second half, twice going three-and-out.

They went for 2 points too early, putting them down by 8 at the end of the game and making it tougher to tie. Equanimeous St. Brown also dropped the 2-pointer, which was right in his stomach. And coach Matt LaFleur made a baffling decision at the end of the game to kick a field goal with 2:05 left in the fourth quarter on fourth and goal from the 8. LaFleur should have approached that as four-down territory, and changed his play-calling appropriately.

The Packers lost this game as much as the Bucs won it.


▪ Call of the year by Bruce Arians and Brady to pull the punt team off the field with 13 seconds left in the second quarter and instead go for it on fourth and 4 from about midfield. Brady picked up the first down, then threw a touchdown on the next play, getting a crucial 7 points.

▪ Conversely, Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine made the worst call of the year by playing single-high safety on Brady’s last-second touchdown to Miller. All they had to do was defend the deep ball and the sidelines. Instead, they left Miller alone in 1-on-1 coverage on the outside.

“That may be the worst defensive design I’ve ever seen with 8 seconds and no timeouts left,” Tony Dungy tweeted.

▪ Aaron Rodgers was good, but not good enough. He threw for 346 yards, three touchdowns and a pick, but unlike Brady, didn’t make the winning plays when he needed to. Rodgers couldn’t figure out the red-zone offense all day, and made a terrible decision at the end of the game to throw into double coverage instead of scrambling for a potential touchdown.

Rodgers is now 1-4 all time in the NFC Championship game, and hasn’t been to a Super Bowl in a decade. It’s a gaping hole in an otherwise stellar résumé.

▪ The Bucs’ defense is definitely good enough to win a Super Bowl, especially the pass rush. Rodgers only was sacked 20 times all regular season, but the Bucs got him five times Sunday — three by Shaq Barrett and two by Jason Pierre-Paul. They made Rodgers’s life miserable all day without having to blitz, which is the secret to success in the NFL.


▪ That Bucs’ defense will face quite a challenge in two weeks, however. Mahomes (325 yards, three touchdowns) is still a human cheat code even with a bad toe. Tyreek Hill (172 yards) and Travis Kelce (118 yards and two touchdowns) are nearly unstoppable. After a punt on the first drive, the Chiefs scored five touchdowns and a field goal on their next six possessions.

The Bucs’ defense was strong against Rodgers and the Packers’ No. 1 offense, but the Chiefs’ offense is operating on another level.

▪ Great season by the Bills, and they showed good fight into the fourth quarter Sunday night. But when Sean McDermott chose short field goals on consecutive drives instead of going for the touchdown on fourth down, you knew the game was over.

The Bills drove a combined 140 yards on those drives, but only came away with 6 points, which had to be deflating for the players. You can’t kick field goals and expect to keep pace with the Chiefs.

▪ Josh Allen had a tremendous season, but the erratic, 2018-19 version showed up in the biggest game of the season. Allen was just 28-of-48 passing for 287 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, and couldn’t convert touchdowns in the red zone (just 2 of 5). While Allen made several big plays with his feet (seven rushes for 88 yards), he also lost 53 yards on four sacks and had several scrambles that teetered on disaster.

Allen needed the game of his life to match wits with Mahomes, and couldn’t deliver.

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Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin.