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Sport: Five keys to a Super Bowl repeat for Tom Brady, Buccaneers in 2022

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Tom Brady has seven Super Bowl rings. He also has had enjoyed one repeat with the Patriots. Will he get to raise the Lombardi Trophy again with the Buccaneers after Super Bowl 56?

The Packers and Chiefs are the favorites in the 2022 NFL playoffs, but the Buccaneers, as the NFC's No. 2 seed, are right behind them. Tampa Bay won Super Bowl 55 as a wild card to end Brady's first season there, but everything fell into place in their successful four-game run. That will no doubt be difficult to duplicate vs. another strong field of contenders.

The Buccaneers also have their share of new challenges, balancing out  the advantage of having two home playoff games before the Super Bowl this time. Here's a breakdown the five things that must happen for Brady and Bucs to make it a great eight as the GOAT:

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Five keys to a Buccaneers repeat in Super Bowl 56

1. The defense gets to full speed and dominates again

The Buccaneers have been hit hard by injuries from wire to wire. The biggest one overall is the season-ender to wide receiver Chris Godwin (knee). They will be starting the playoffs without running back Ronald Jones (ankle) and wide receiver Cyril Grayson (hamstring), who was set to be a key fill-in for the departed Antonio Brown.

But their defense, since cornerbacks started dropping in Week 1 again the Cwoboys, has had little time being fully healthy. While their secondary is back near full strength again, inside linebacker Lavonte David (foot) and outside linebackers Shaquil Barrett (knee) and Jason Pierre-Paul (shoulder) missed action at the end of the regular season. All three are set to return for the playoffs, once again giving the Bucs the deep, well-rounded unit that dominated the Chiefs in Super Bowl 55.

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The Bucs' calling card under Todd Bowles is their stout work vs. the run, powered up front by Vita Vea and Ndamukong Suh. The linebackers are built to get after the quarterback on the edge, now boosted by rookie first-rounder Joe Tryon-Shoyinka. David will help Devin White be active in the middle in tackling and coverage.

Tampa Bay did score 31, 30, 31 and 31 points in its four playoff games last year. But it is bound to see its scoring curbed a little. The defense has been huge in their complementary football plan; but now it must be more of the tone-setter and catalyst in the quest to win four more playoff games.

2. Leonard Fournette and the running game stays strong

Here are the team rushing totals from Tampa Bays's four playoff games last year: 142, 127, 76 and 145. That 122.5-yard average was a 20-yard bump from the regular season. This season, the Buccaneers averaged 98.4 rushing yards per game, even closer to the bottom of the league.

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A big reason for the bump was Fournette, their powerful lead back, turning into "Playoff Lenny". The offensive line also delivered a great stretch in that capacity. The Buccaneers need to pick up their rushing momentum again to take pressure off Brady and set up favorable play-action shots downfield.

Jones may be down to start, but second-year back Ke'Shawn Vaughn may be ready to provide some fresh juice to change the pace from Fournette. Although the Bucs have a pass-first, pass-often, pass-deep mentality with Brady, Bruce Arians and Byron Leftwich, they also know about "pass to score, run to win." It needs to start against the Eagles, who are much improved from 2020 but have regressed of late.

3. Rob Gronkowski and Mike Evans put up big playoff numbers

Godwin and Brown each had two key playoff performances last year. Gronkowski had a huge Super Bowl, while Evans had a big wild-card game. Now from tight end and perimeter wide receiver, Gronkowski and Evans both need to be consistently big factors, given they will now be complemented by Scotty Miller, Breshad Perriman, Tyler Johnson, Cameron Brate and maybe Grayson at some point. Gronkowski and Evans are massive targets who can stretch the field and also dominate with size and hands in the red zone.

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Brady ripped the Panthers with a lot of Gronkowski and Evans in Week 18 as a tuneup statement. They will no doubt take turns drawing big coverage attention, either from one strong cover man or a double-team. The Bucs need to do their best to scheme them open playing off each other, inside and outside. In the end, they're not equipped to afford either being a non-factor in any playoff game.

4. They get more contributions from unsung players

This plays off Gronkowski and Evans standing out as Brady's most trusted targets and Fournette being the clear leader of the backfield. Those other backs and receivers mentioned need to advantage of favorable opportunities created by others. The defense will welcome extra contributions, led by Tryon-Shoyinka, fellow outside linebacker Anthony Nelson and safety Mike Edwards.

The Bucs won as a complete team last year. Given all the talented loaded teams lying in front of them, vying to dethrone them, they need a lot more from non-starters in critical moments.

5. They stay sharp on third downs and in the red zone

The Buccaneers were second in the NFL in converting third downs in 2021. Their 47 percent rate was behind only the Chiefs.

The Buccaneers also were second in the NFL in converting in the red zone in 2021. Their 66 percent touchdown rate was behind only the 49ers.

Both of those numbers are tied to Brady's prowess all over the field, their big-play potential and having adept chain-movers and finishers such as Fournette, Gronkowski and Evans. They can't let up minus Godwin and Brown.

The Bucs have the clear blueprint form last year and should know where they need to adjust again this year. But as the hunted with everyone else playing the hunters, they need to raise their game everywhere from an already a high level.

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