Feb 3, 2021; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Vita Vea during NFL football practice, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021 in Tampa, Fla. The Buccaneers will face the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl 55.  Mandatory Credit: Kyle Zedaker/Handout Photo via USA TODAY Sports

Bucs’ Vita Vea didn’t let a bad break halt his season

Nobody would have blamed Vita Vea if he had called it a season and began looking forward to the 2021 campaign.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers mammoth defensive tackle suffered a gruesome right ankle injury in a contest against the Chicago Bears on Oct. 8. The ankle was badly fractured and the overwhelming belief was that Vea’s season was over.

His next important football game was supposed to be 11 months away.

But Vea recovered to play in the NFC Championship Game victory over the Green Bay Packers on Jan. 24 and will be back in the trenches in Super Bowl LV when the Buccaneers play the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday in Tampa.

A key component of the situation was this: While nearly everybody was ruling Vea out for the season, he wasn’t declaring himself done.

“I think it was the next day or that night — I think I had it in my head,” Vea said of making it a goal to return during the playoffs. “Obviously, I was down and out that night, but I think that night I told myself, ‘If you just push through this, push through rehab, you might have a chance.’

“They told me I might have a small chance of making it, so I took those chances of what they said, and I really took it to heart. That’s what I stuck with.”

The payoff occurred when the 6-foot-4, 347-pound Vea returned against the Packers and played in 33 snaps. The strong run-stopper helped limit Green Bay to 67 rushing yards with a long gain of 12.

Vea, who turns 26 on Friday, didn’t suffer any setbacks and said he is healthy and ready for an increased role in the Super Bowl.

“I think I’m completely healed,” Vea said. “Otherwise, I don’t think I would be playing if I wasn’t.”

Having Vea adds another standout to a defensive unit filled with top-line players.

The Buccaneers led the NFL in rushing defense (80.6 yards per game) even with Vea missing the final 11 regular-season games. Putting him back in the interior next to elite run-stopper Ndamukong Suh only makes the Tampa Bay defense more stout.

Vea was sidelined when Kansas City recorded a 27-24 victory over host Tampa Bay in Week 12 but Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is well aware of his prowess.

“He’s a guy that you’ve got to know where he’s at every single play,” Mahomes said. “He obviously is super disruptive in the run game, but he’s just as good as a pass rusher. You don’t see guys like that — playing that position, that can rush the passer like that — that much.

“For him, he’s a special talent and I’ll have to know where he’s at every single play in order to not let him disrupt the entire game.”

Vea was a first-round pick (12th overall) in 2018 out of Washington. In 34 NFL games (29 starts), he has 73 tackles and 7.5 sacks.

He had 10 tackles and two sacks before the injury, which occurred when he was tackling Chicago running back David Montgomery. Teammate Devin White also was closing in to help make the tackle and Vea’s right ankle got caught under White’s body.

Nearly four months later, Vea will play in the biggest game of his career. He looks back at the journey and understands that his positive mindset played a big part on why he made it back this season.

“I don’t think it was that hard, honestly,” Vea said of his attitude. “I’ve got a good group of people around me — I had my family and friends in my ear the whole time, my teammates over here. I stayed over here and I stayed in meetings. I was coming to position meetings, defensive meetings and stuff like that.

“I think that just helped me stay locked into football, really keep my mind off the injury and focus on learning more about football.”

–Field Level Media

Feb 3, 2021; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) during practice as the team prepares for Super Bowl LV against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Mandatory Credit: Steve Sanders/Handout Photo via USA TODAY Sports

Chiefs escape chill, head inside for Super Bowl prep

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Winter conditions didn’t stop the Chiefs from getting in a Thursday practice.

The Chiefs found an easy solution by electing for an indoor workout at their training facility rather than brave the outdoors where blowing snow and temperatures hovered in the low 30s, a far cry from what awaits the Chiefs in Tampa for Super Bowl LV.

There are no worries about a quick acclimation to Florida weather, however.

“We moved indoors because of the weather, but we’ll be all right,” Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said. “It was warm in here.”

With warm air blowing through the ventilation system, the Chiefs went to work in the controlled environment without four players.

Left tackle Eric Fisher (Achilles) and rookie linebacker Willie Gay Jr. (knee, ankle) continued to miss work. Wide receiver Demarcus Robinson and center Daniel Kilgore, both of whom were placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Monday, were not present for practice.

Wide receiver Sammy Watkins (calf) and running back Le’Veon Bell (knee), both designated as limited participants in Wednesday’s practice, were observed working on the field with teammates.

Meanwhile, the Chiefs’ opponent, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, simulated a long halftime during Wednesday’s practice by moving from outdoors to indoors.

The Chiefs have a relatively intact roster from their Super Bowl-winning team of the 2019 season, so experience will matter in dealing with built-in breaks during the game. Reid also points out his players and coaching staff are ready as part of their game preparations.

“We cover all that,” Reid said. “We cover it all.”

The Chiefs wrapped up Thursday practice in good spirits and eye Super Sunday, which is a short two days away.

The final preparations include a final media session Thursday ahead of two more practices Friday and Saturday. The Chiefs then board a flight Saturday afternoon for the trip to Tampa.

Knowing the last round of media availability signals the closeness of the game had the Chiefs head coach in a good mood.

“I’m real happy,” Reid said with an enthusiastic thumbs-up gesture.

(The Super Bowl pool report was produced by Herbie Teope of the NFLPA and distributed to accredited media)

–Field Level Media

Sep 13, 2020; Inglewood, California, USA;  NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wears a face mask during the game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium. The Rams defeated the Cowoboys 20-17.  Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Roger Goodell on 2020 season: Safety was driving every decision we made

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell reflected on the season completed in the midst of a pandemic in his annual Super Bowl week address on Thursday.

Goodell delivered remarks from an outdoor rooftop setting in Tampa, the first in-person media event of the abnormal Super Bowl week before the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers play Super Bowl LV on Sunday night.

“This was an extraordinary collective effort,” Goodell said in a question-and-answer session sprinkled with sunlight. “There’s so many people that had to work together to get this done. … We believed that staying on schedule and working to try to get 256 games done as we try to say, ‘avoid the asterisk.

“We had to adapt at every stage, just like the media, just like everybody else. We had to find innovate solutions to challenges.”

Super Bowl LV is the proverbial bow on a season unlike any other in NFL history. All 256 regular-season games were played amidst the COVID-19 pandemic in a league year that began in March as the world started to shelter in place due to coronavirus.

Goodell said “we hope we were in some way representative in doing things the right way” when asked about Dr. Anthony Fauci’s advice against gathering in groups on Super Bowl Sunday.

“We worked with the CDC about their advice about staying home — we’re all going to enjoy the Super Bowl a little different this year,” Goodell said.

Around 25,000 tickets are issued for the Super Bowl in a season in which the NFL had just 1.2 million fans at regular-season games.

Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady is playing in his 10th Super Bowl, and is five years removed from the “Deflategate” scandal that led to Goodell suspending him.

“Tom Brady has shown that he’s probably the greatest player to ever play this game,” Goodell said. “Everyone just plays better when they’re with him. … He’s an extraordinary guy. He cares deeply about this game. I wish him well. I think he’s going to continue to be a great performer. I’m happy to hear he’s going to play a few more years.”

Goodell again was asked to answer for the NFL’s continued issues with hiring diverse head coaches.

“I’m not sure there’s an issue we’ve spent more time working with our ownership on. We look at this as broadly as possible. We want to make the NFL more diverse,” Goodell said, pointing out three minority general managers were hired. “It wasn’t what we expected. … They’re not the outcomes we wanted. But we want it to be a natural process. A process, what we believe in is diversity making us better.”

Asked if he would consider an ownership summit to discuss diversity in hiring head coaches, Goodell reiterated that the NFL has raised “this issue and the importance of doing this better” at every ownership meeting.

“Yes, we’ll have more discussions for sure, both individually and collectively,” Goodell said. “I’ll reinforce again — while we may be disappointed in head coaches, there are a lot of positives we need to continue to build on.”

Goodell also said he “wished we would have listened to our players earlier” with respect to Colin Kaepernick’s demonstrations in the name of social justice.

Goodell was corrected on stage by emcee Steve Wyche of NFL Network when he called the Washington Football Team “the Redskins” and quickly shook it off as a “bad habit.”

When the NFL turns the page to a new league year in mid-March, Goodell said “virtual is going to be part of our life for the long-term.” For the first time in league history, the 2020 NFL Draft was held entirely as a virtual event with Goodell announcing selections from his basement.

Offseason training camps could be a mix of in-person and remote training, but no determination has been made. Goodell said the NFL protocols made team facilities some of the safest places a person could be because of an unwillingness to compromise on safety.

“I think we’ve proven, working together between the NFL and the NFLPA we’ve been able to put our differences away and aside. Find those areas of common interest, look past our differences for solutions,” Goodell said. “I think we have learned a great deal. … I expect the offseason, we’ve already started on that. The combine is going to go through significant changes. I expect a lot of the things we did last offseason with respect to training camp, the offseason. … There were a lot of positives in that.”

The plan entering next season will be to wait and make decisions as the timing becomes clear and be prepared for uncertainty.

“I don’t know when normal is going to occur again,” Goodell said. “I don’t know if normal ever will occur again. I don’t know if anybody here can do that. I know this: We have learned to operate in a very difficult environment. We have found solutions. And we’ll do it again.”

NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith joined Goodell on stage for the final 10 minutes of the session and acknowledged “a few dustups” with the league over the years. But he said it took dedication and teamwork on both sides to make the 2020 season a success.

“We’ve learned that we can work smarter and work better. What a great message for our country,” Smith said. “Using (Goodell’s) words, I think the NFL’s best days are ahead of us.”

Goodell said the NFL is “planning for international games in 2021” in the UK and Mexico. The International Series was scrapped during 2020 due to challenges related to the pandemic.

–Field Level Media

Oct 5, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Jim McIngvale of Mattress Mack delivers the first pitch before game one of the 2017 ALDS playoff baseball series at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

DraftKings takes $3.4M bet on Buccaneers +3.5

One of the largest single wagers in Super Bowl betting history, $3.4 million on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to cover the 3.5-point spread, was placed with DraftKings in Colorado on Wednesday night.

DraftKings said Thursday morning that Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale wagered $3.46 million on the Bucs to cover against the favored Kansas City Chiefs.

“Tampa Bay is loaded with talent on both sides of the ball and led by the greatest football player of all time in Tom Brady, so I’m betting big on the Bucs who have overcome tough matchups throughout this postseason,” McIngvale said. “The NFL has only seen eight instances of back-to-back champions and none in the past 16 years, so I like my chances going into Super Bowl LV for this trend to continue. DraftKings has been amazing; providing a safe, legal and fantastic customer experience.”

The 69-year-old McIngvale owns and operates Gallery Furniture.

McIngvale flew into Colorado Springs and placed the wager via DraftKings mobile from the airport, the sportsbook said. He placed a $3.5 million bet on the Houston Astros to win the World Series in 2019.

“Mack has been a great customer and is someone we have history with after taking his sizeable wager on the Astros to win the World Series a couple seasons ago. For Super Bowl LV, Mack is handicapping the game out of pure belief that the Buccaneers can either win or at least cover the spread,” Johnny Avello, director of race and bookmaking at DraftKings said. “We are not strangers to taking significant action, particularly on one of the biggest sports events in the country. Looking at the way we have booked the Super Bowl so far, bettors are laying 3 on the Chiefs and taking the Buccaneers at +3.5 as fans try to get the best possible line.”

FanDuel moved the over-under from 56 to 55 on Wednesday as the Sunday evening forecast turned from sunshine to a 75 percent chance of heavy rain and thunderstorms.

PointsBet revealed Thursday morning that more than 70 percent of all bets are being placed on the Chiefs.

–Field Level Media

Feb 1, 2021; Tampa, FL, USA; In this still image from video provided by the NFL, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, left, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady speak during Opening Night for the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game Monday, Feb. 1, 2021.  Mandatory Credit: NFL via USA TODAY Sports

QB battle for ages takes center stage at Super Bowl LV

Just two years ago, Tom Brady sought out Patrick Mahomes after the AFC Championship Game to console the youngster and provide encouragement.

Mahomes hasn’t lost a playoff game since that conversation, and he will look to lead the Kansas City Chiefs to their second straight title when they face Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl LV on Sunday in Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium.

The Buccaneers will be the first team in Super Bowl history to play in their home stadium, while the Chiefs are looking to become the first repeat Super Bowl champs since Brady’s New England Patriots were the victors after the 2003 and 2004 seasons.

Kansas City defeated the San Francisco 49ers 31-20 in last season’s Super Bowl for the franchise’s second-ever title. That victory came just more than 12 months after Brady entered the Chiefs’ locker room in search of Mahomes.

“It was important because it showed I was doing things the right way,” Mahomes said while reflecting on the conversation. “As a young quarterback in this league, you show up early and you try to put in the time and put in the work. …

“Him saying that he respected what I was doing and how I was playing on the field and the type of person I was, it kind of put a stamp on me that I needed to go in and even be better in order to get to the Super Bowl.”

Now Mahomes stands in the way of Brady’s hunt for his seventh Super Bowl ring. Sunday will mark Brady’s record 10th appearance in the big game.

Brady won six Super Bowl crowns with the Patriots but departed after last season as a free agent and signed with the Buccaneers.

The 43-year-old enjoyed a big season as he passed for 4,633 yards and set a franchise record with 40 touchdown passes in the regular season. And his motivation level is high as he looks to help Tampa Bay win its second Super Bowl title.

“My life has taken certainly a lot of different directions,” Brady said. “I’m obviously older now. I’ve got a family. A lot of incredible blessings in my life. Fast-forward 21 years, sitting in Tampa and trying to win a Super Bowl in our own home stadium would be pretty sweet.”

Mahomes, 25, passed for 4,740 yards and 38 touchdowns this season. His top yardage total was the 462 he piled up in Kansas City’s 27-24 road win over the Buccaneers in Week 12.

Brady passed for 345 yards and attempted to lead his team back from a 17-point, fourth-quarter deficit in that contest.

Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill had a game for the ages with career bests of 269 receiving yards on 13 catches. He also matched his high of three touchdown receptions.

Hill had an astounding 203 yards in the first quarter as Tampa Bay cornerback Carlton Davis struggled to cover him.

Davis expects to fare much better in the high-stakes rematch.

“I’m going to bring the same mentality,” Davis said. “I’m always going to be myself. It didn’t work out the first game as far as what we did and our game plan, but we’ve corrected it and we’ve got a great game plan going in. But I’m going in with the same mentality and that’s to dominate.”

Davis, who had four regular-season interceptions this year, is one of the better players on a defensive unit that features linebackers Devin White (140 tackles, nine sacks) and Lavonte David (117 stops), elite pass rushers Jason Pierre-Paul (9.5 sacks) and Shaquil Barrett (eight sacks) and long-time run stuffer Ndamukong Suh (10.5 tackles for loss).

Brady also has talent to work with on offense, especially wide receivers Mike Evans (1,006 receiving yards) and Chris Godwin (840) and tight end Rob Gronkowski (623).

Pierre-Paul (knee) missed practice Wednesday while David (hamstring), safeties Jordan Whitehead (shoulder/knee) and Antoine Winfield Jr. (ankle) and receiver Antonio Brown (knee) were limited.

Kansas City running backs Clyde Edwards-Helaire (ankle/hip) and Le’Veon Bell (knee) were limited as were receiver Sammy Watkins (calf) and cornerback Rashad Fenton (foot). Linebacker Willie Gay (ankle) sat out.

The Chiefs will be without left tackle Eric Fisher (Achilles) after he sustained a serious injury during the AFC title game against the Buffalo Bills. Mike Remmers will move from guard to start in place of Fisher.

Among other Kansas City standouts are Travis Kelce — who set a record for tight ends with 1,416 yards in the regular season — safety Tyrann Mathieu (six interceptions) and defensive end Chris Jones (7.5 sacks).

Meanwhile, Chiefs coach Andy Reid (age 62) is looking to become the oldest coach to win back-to-back Super Bowls while the 68-year-old Bruce Arians is looking to become the oldest to win a Super Bowl. New England’s Bill Belichick (66, two years ago) set that mark.

“I’m still part of the ‘Geritol Crew’ and we are a little bit older, and there is experience that comes with that and I guess they say wisdom with age,” Reid said this week. “By chance, a few of the older guys have gotten to this point. I attribute that to good players and then a little bit of experience there.”

–Field Level Media

Jan 12, 2020; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (87) celebrates with wide receiver Tyreek Hill (10) against the Houston Texans in the AFC Divisional Round playoff football game at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Chiefs’ Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill are an elite receiving duo

Travis Kelce is the only tight end in NFL history with five 1,000-yard seasons but he appears to have more on his mind than being the best at his position.

The Kansas City Chiefs star feels he and teammate Tyreek Hill can become known as the best tight end/receiver combo in NFL history.

They certainly make for a highly productive tandem, and Kelce was up for discussing the subject on Wednesday as the Chiefs prepared for Sunday’s Super Bowl against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Tampa.

“Without a doubt,” Kelce said during his availability session. “It’s something that’s never been talked about between me and him, but we know what we’re both capable of and how much we feed off each other’s success.”

Kelce and Hill each had huge outings when the Chiefs dispatched the Buffalo Bills in the AFC title game on Jan. 24.

Hill set a Kansas City postseason season record with 172 receiving yards while making nine receptions. Kelce had 118 receiving yards and two touchdowns, and his 13 receptions tied the NFL postseason record for catches by a tight end — matching Hall of Famers Kellen Winslow (Jan. 2, 1982 for the Chargers) and Shannon Sharpe (Jan. 9, 1994 for the Broncos).

Kelce’s five 100-yard postseason outings are also a record for a tight end. He has 73 receptions for 859 yards and nine touchdowns in 11 postseason games, marks that rank second behind Tampa Bay’s Rob Gronkowski (83 catches for 1,206 yards and 12 scores).

The six-time Pro Bowler set an NFL record for tight ends with 1,416 receiving yards this season. He also had a career-high 105 catches — his second time with more than 100 — while making 11 scoring receptions.

Meanwhile, Hill has been a Pro Bowl selection in all five of his NFL seasons. He set a career best with 15 touchdown receptions this season, matched his career high of 87 catches and accumulated 1,276 yards.

Hill has topped 1,000 yards three times during his career, missing out on a fourth such season in 2019 due to missing four games with a shoulder injury.

Hill is on board with the all-time greats chatter but cautions that winning is a much more important ingredient to himself and Kelce.

“Kelce, for him to be his size (6-foot-5, 260 pounds) and he’s very nimble and very light on his feet for a guy of his stature,” Hill said. “When I first got here, I was like, ‘Man, this big guy can run routes, are you serious?’ But the dude is crazy good. Kelce is crazy good.

“We don’t too much get into stats. I feel like we try to pride ourselves on winning the game. “Now, granted … we want to make the big play. … But as far as looking at stats, we just want to win the game and just be the best and just help each other out.”

Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes appreciates having such talents at his disposal.

“I think what makes each of them great really is how they complement the other well,” Mahomes said. “The fact that Tyreek can beat man coverage, catch over the top, be able to make big plays happen, opens up the middle for Travis. And so to be able to have guys that complement each other so well, and individually are such great talents, I think is what makes them such a dynamic duo and a group of guys who I’m glad are on my team.”

Certainly, the Buccaneers haven’t forgotten how Hill racked up 269 receiving yards and three touchdowns against them in a 27-24 victory in Week 12.

In fact, Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians sounds like the nightmares from the earlier meeting have never stopped.

“I’m not really excited playing Tyreek Hill and Kelce and Mahomes,” Arians said. “That’s a formidable challenge, but our guys will be up for it.”

–Field Level Media

Oct 11, 2020; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Masked Kansas City Chiefs fans show their support during the game against the Las Vegas Raiders at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Dr. Allen Sills: Playing 2020 season kept NFL players, public healthy

NFL chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills said playing the 2020 season kept players and the general public healthier, with a fractional positivity rate since testing began in August.

“We feel that our club facilities truly were some of the safest possible locations,” Sills said in a teleconference four days before Super Bowl LV is scheduled to kick off in Tampa, the conclusion of a tumultuous season played entirely during a pandemic.

The NFL positivity rate was .08 percent — 262 COVID-19 cases were among players and 463 positive tests were for team personnel.

There are currently no positive cases for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs have two players, reserve interior offensive lineman Daniel Kilgore and wide receiver Demarcus Robinson, quarantined for close contact with a barber who tested positive for COVID-19.

“At this point, we feel like we’re in a good position with that. And we’ll just continue to monitor it,” Sills said.

ESPN reported at least 20 players and coaches were scheduled to visit the barber before the team learned of the positive test while Kilgore was in the middle of his haircut.

NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said even if those cases and others become positive tests, there is no fallback plan or alternative game date for the Super Bowl.

Sills said the NFL, which invested in daily testing and gene tracing of positive COVID-19 tests to find where the virus originated, did not uncover evidence of any player-to-player transmission during games. Most cases were traced to players gathering, sometimes without masks, away from the 32 team facilities in which strict COVID-19 protocols were in place and vehemently enforced.

Sills helped co-author a report with the CDC released last month. The CDC said the NFL plan was worth publication because it can be applied to the public.

“Implementation and evolution of mitigation measures, testing, and contact tracing in the National Football League, August 9-November 21, 2020” was made public on Jan. 25.

“The paper is a summary of our testing experience — what we learned from testing everyone throughout our entire season on a daily basis, but also what we learned from our contact-tracing process,” Sills said. “Through our daily investigations of positive tests, we began to have a much better understanding of when transmission of the virus could occur, and, most importantly, what steps could be taken to prevent transmission and keep everyone as safe as possible.”

Most NFL games were played with limited attendance. The Super Bowl is expecting an audience of around 25,000 at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday night.

Sills said masks and social distancing remain part of the plan for fans, who will not occupy much of the lower bowl, which is covered and reserved for digital advertising.

–Field Level Media

Jan 31, 2021; Tampa, Florida, USA; A general view of signage for Super Bowl LV at Raymond James Stadium  Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Dr. Anthony Fauci warns against Super Bowl parties

Dr. Anthony Fauci issued a warning against attending Super Bowl parties, appearing on the “Today” show Wednesday to implore Americans to watch Sunday’s game at home.

“Enjoy the game, watch it on television, but do it with the immediate members of your family, the people of your household,” Fauci said on NBC’s morning program.

“Every time we do have something like this, there always is a spike — be it a holiday, Christmas, New Year’s, Thanksgiving … Super Bowl is a big deal in the United States,” said Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “As much fun as it is to get together at a big Super Bowl party, now is not the time to do that.”

Fauci’s comments echo the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The safest way to celebrate events is at home with the people who live with you,” the CDC said.

The NFL has capped attendance in Tampa for Sunday’s Super Bowl LV at 22,000 to watch the Kansas City Chiefs play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

–Field Level Media

Tampa Bay Buccaneers outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul (90) sacks Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) during the first quarter of their NFC Championship game

Bucs’ Jason Pierre-Paul overcame a double dose of adversity

Most people remember Jason Pierre-Paul’s fireworks incident from the Fourth of July in 2015 and the pictures that circulated around social media with his right hand badly burnt and mangled.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians recalls the serious car accident from May of 2019 in which Pierre-Paul’s Ferrari slid on a wet surface and smacked into a concrete well and left him with a fractured neck.

Either of those injuries could have been career-ending, but the 32-year-old Pierre-Paul made it through both doses of adversity and is one of the top defensive players on a Tampa Bay squad that will battle the powerful Kansas City Chiefs in Sunday’s Super Bowl.

“It’s amazing,” Arians said during his media availability on Tuesday. “He’s a medical, genetic freak, the way he can bounce back from severe injury. That car wreck, I was just hoping he was going to be able to walk. Football was the furthest thing from my mind.

“He told me, ‘I’ll be back.’ He is a rolling ball of energy every single day. He’s the best guy at playing injured and being tough that I know.”

Pierre-Paul, in his 11th NFL season, racked up 9.5 sacks this season to earn his third career Pro Bowl selection — and his first since 2012 with the New York Giants. He also recorded a career-high four forced fumbles and had two interceptions after having a total of two through his first 10 seasons.

He also was one of the stars of the NFC Championship Game as he recorded two sacks of Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers in the Buccaneers’ 31-26 victory over the Packers.

Pierre-Paul has 30.5 sacks in three seasons with Tampa Bay — he has 89 overall — after it appeared his career was in decline.

The big-time force who posted a career-best 16.5 sacks with the Giants in 2011 had just a total of 16.5 over 36 games in his last three campaigns (2015-17) with New York.

That swoon was after the gory fireworks accident in which the player known as JPP lost his index finger and parts of two others.

But this season, Pierre-Paul didn’t miss a single game. He also is fresh and vibrant during Super Bowl week.

“Resiliency means no matter how hard it seems, just don’t quit,” Pierre-Paul said. “It’s easier said than done. I never quit at anything in life I did. I’m going to give it everything I got, until I can’t.”

Buccaneers linebacker Lavonte David was a junior-college teammate with Pierre-Paul at Fort Scott Community College (Kan.) in 2008.

Ten years later, they were teammates again when the Buccaneers acquired Pierre-Paul from the Giants. What David noticed quickly was that Pierre-Paul was still as dependable as ever.

“I think JPP has been the same guy since I met him — energetic guy, happy-go-lucky guy, a free-spirited guy,” David said. “JPP used to do my haircuts in school, in junior college. JPP is a jack of all trades. He’s somebody you count on, somebody you can trust. He’s definitely somebody who I can trust to come out, be somebody, be a friend on and off the field. You can expect him to be where he’s supposed to be and doing what he’s supposed to do.”

Pierre-Paul already owns one Super Bowl ring. He earned that one in the 2011 season when the Giants defeated the New England Patriots and now-Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady.

Now he is teamed with Brady while trying to earn one for the Bucs. He also is accidentally creating waves due to not knowing the identities of Kansas City offensive linemen.

Pierre-Paul heard Chiefs standout left tackle Eric Fisher would miss the Super Bowl with an Achilles injury, but he was unaware of who Mike Remmers was when informed Remmers would move from guard and have the assignment of blocking him.

Remmers is in his ninth NFL season and has started 88 of 92 games played.

“I didn’t even know who that was,” Pierre-Paul said. “Man, I’m not going to lie to you. Is this a tackle that you’re talking about? Like I said, I don’t care too much about it. They got to figure that out.”

–Field Level Media

Jan 31, 2021; Tampa, Florida, USA; A general view of signage for Super Bowl LV at Raymond James Stadium  Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Bucs: Cannons to stay silent at Super Bowl

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will not hear the familiar sounds of cannons firing at Raymond James Stadium when they play the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday in Super Bowl LV.

Tampa Bay is the first team in NFL history to play a Super Bowl in its home stadium. But the Buccaneers announced Tuesday that they would keep the cannons silent during the upcoming big game.

“The firing of the cannons after big plays is a tradition that defines what it means to be a Buccaneer fan and serves as a signature element of our home game experience at Raymond James Stadium,” the team said in a statement. “However, we also acknowledge and understand the NFL’s position with regards to maintaining the integrity of a neutral site atmosphere for Super Bowl LV. While the cannons may not fire in their typical fashion, we look forward to showcasing parts of our tradition while working within the league’s guidelines.”

The cannons are located within a pirate ship in one of the stadium’s end zones. They typically fire every time the Buccaneers score.

–Field Level Media