By Jeff Moeller, The New York Extra/thenyextra.com
It was February 2002, and Tampa Bay shocked the football world by dealing two first-round picks and others along with $8 million to acquire head coach Jon Gruden from Oakland.
In March 2020, they leveled a similar blow to sign quarterback Tom Brady to a two-year deal.
Both proved to be franchise changers with Gruden winning the franchise’s first Super Bowl the same season, and now Brady on the verge of delivering the second one in the same campaign.
Gruden and Brady ironically both have a common thread – a strong defense.
Several similarities can be drawn about both teams who are built just slightly different.
In 2002, the 12-4 Bucs had a ferocious unit that allowed an average of 252.8 yards per game, the 10th lowest mark since 1990. Thye allowed a paltry 196 points, an average of a meager 12.3 per contest.
It was a unit of historic proportions featuring Warren Sapp, Rhonde Barber, Derrick Brooks — the league Defensive Player of the Year –Simeon Rice, Shelton Quarles, and John Lynch.
The secondary of Barber and Lynch along with Brian Kelly and Dexter Jackson –the Super Bowl MVP – swiped a combined 16 of the team’s 31 interceptions. The foursome was priceless.
That year the defense carried an offense that was slightly above average with journeyman quarterback Brad Johnson and standout receivers Keyshawn Johnson and Keenan McCardell.
Gruden was the final piece of the puzzle that resulted in a 47-21 blowout of his former team in January 2003.
Fast forward to 2021. Flip around a few pieces and you have the same scenario. Maybe one that is even better.
Brady was this year’s missing piece that transformed a mediocre team into a 11-5 Super Bowl contender.
It took some time for Brady to mesh with head coach Bruce Arians with each wanting to run the offense, but the duo came together down the stretch.
This offense raised the bar with Brady, Leonard Fournette, Rob Gronkowski, and Antonio Brown, and this defense was able to round itself into form as the league’s eighth best overall directed by ex-Jets head coach Todd Bowles.
The front four with ex-Giant Jason Pierre Paul,Ndamukong Suh, Vita Vea and Shaq Barrett along with linebackers Lavonte David and Devon White can provide a miserable evening for Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes as they rattled Green Bay’s Aaron Rogers.
Antoine WInfield’s return in the secondary should help solidify the overall unit and particularly the secondary that can hold the key to victory by corralling elusive Chiefs’ receiver Tyrek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce.
Hill, by the way, had 13 receptions for 269 of Mahomes’ 462 yards and all three touchdowns in a 27-24 Chiefs’ victory between the two teams in the regular season.
Brady alone has the line in front of him and the weapons to win it on his own. He threw three second-half interceptions against a Green Bay defense last week that arguably was a good as the Chiefs’ defense
But this will be about the Bucs’ defense, not all about Brady. They have the ability to dictate the flow of the game and place Brady in some favorable positions.
In 2002, the Bucs’ defense was above the rest and put the offense on its back toward their first crown in San Diego in 2003.
Eighteen years later, the Bucs’ defense — one of them will win the MVP — and an improved offense than its predecessor will bring home the trophy in their own stadium Sunday evening.