GREEN BAY, Wisconsin — Green Bay running back Aaron Jones left Sunday’s NFC championship game early in the third quarter with a chest injury suffered when he was tackled and fumbled going to the ground on a hit by Tampa Bay safety Jordan Whitehead.
Jones’ fumble set up Tom Brady’s third touchdown of the day, as Tampa Bay beat top-seeded Green Bay 31-26 for the NFC title with help from a stifling pass rush and a curious late call on fourth-and-goal by the Packers.
Jones remained on the sideline after the hit and did not return to the game as Brady finished 20 of 36 for 280 yards.
The Bucs (14-5) earned their franchise-record eighth consecutive road victory to reach the Super Bowl for the first time since their 2002 championship season.
They were helped by a strange decision by Packers coach Matt LaFleur with just over two minutes remaining and down by eight points. On fourth-and-goal, he elected to kick a field goal to get within five. Tampa Bay then ran out the clock on the Packers (14-4).
The Bucs will face either the Kansas City Chiefs or Buffalo Bills at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium on Feb. 7.
“Who’d ever thought a home Super Bowl for us? But we did it,” said Brady.
“We’re coming home,” added Bucs coach Bruce Arians, who began his coaching career in 1975 at Texas Tech and will make his first trip to the Super Bowl as a head coach. “We’re coming home to win.”
Green Bay trailed 31-23 and had first-and-goal from the 8 in the last few minutes. But after Aaron Rodgers threw three straight incompletions, the Packers settled for Mason Crosby’s 26-yard field goal with 2:05 left.
The Packers had all three timeouts left and were hoping their defense could force a punt. The Bucs foiled that plan, draining the rest of the clock, helped by a pass interference penalty on Kevin King.
Led by Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul combining for five sacks, Tampa Bay snapped Green Bay’s seven-game winning streak. The Packers lost in the NFC championship game for the fourth time in the last seven seasons. Green Bay hasn’t reached the Super Bowl since its 2010 championship season.
Rodgers went 33 of 48 for 346 yards with three touchdowns and one interception, but fell to 1-4 in conference championship games as a starting quarterback.
It’s been quite a ride for Brady and the Bucs. Brady moved to Tampa as a free agent and brought star tight end Rob Gronkowski out of retirement to join him. But with limited practice time with his new teammates because of coronavirus protocols, the Bucs didn’t get rolling until after their bye week.
Now look where they are.
Tampa Bay took command in the middle portion of the game.
Green Bay trailed 14-10 and had the ball just before halftime until Sean Murphy-Bunting picked off Rodgers at the Tampa Bay 49-yard line with 28 seconds remaining. After converting a fourth-and-4, Tampa Bay was at Green Bay’s 39 with 8 seconds remaining. The Bucs passed up a long field-goal attempt, and Brady found Scotty Miller down the left sideline for a 39-yard touchdown catch with just 1 second remaining.
“We didn’t come here to not take chances to win the game,” Arians said. “Love the play we had. Got a great matchup and got a TD. That was huge.”
The Bucs built a 28-10 lead early in the third quarter thanks to Brady’s three touchdown passes. Brady went 20 of 36 for 280 yards.
The Packers got the ball to start the second half, and Jones caught a short third-down pass. He took a huge hit from Whitehead that knocked the ball loose. Devin White recovered and ran 21 yards to the Green Bay 8.
One play later, Brady found a wide-open Cameron Brate to extend Tampa Bay’s lead to 28-10.
The Packers rallied as Brady threw interceptions on three straight drives for just the second time in his career. Green Bay cut the lead to 28-23 late in the third quarter on Rodgers’ touchdown passes to Robert Tonyan and Davante Adams.
SUCCESS DURING A PANDEMIC
The Buccaneers are the third Tampa team to play for a championship during the pandemic. The Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2020, and the Rays lost to the Dodgers in the World Series.
Jones hurt his chest and Whitehead injured his shoulder on the third-quarter play that resulted in a Jones fumble. Packers defensive lineman Tyler Lancaster (ankle) and linebacker Krys Barnes (thumb) left in the second half.
The Bucs played the entire game without wide receiver Antonio Brown (knee) and safety Antoine Winfield Jr. (ankle).
The Bucs return home to play in the Super Bowl.
The Packers’ season is over.