Early in the third quarter of Sunday’s NFC championship game, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers recovered a fumble and immediately turned it into a touchdown for a surprising 28-10 lead over the top-seeded Green Bay Packers. The Bucs’ hopes of advancing to Super Bowl LV — which was going to be played at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium — were looking pretty good.
Then the Packers drove 75 yards for a touchdown, Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady threw an interception, the Packers scored another touchdown to get within five points, and Brady threw another interception. The Bucs finally forced a punt, but Brady threw yet another interception. The Tampa defense forced another punt, and with 8:10 remaining in the game, Brady and the Bucs took over on their own 28-yard line with a 28-23 lead.
They ended up driving to the Green Bay 28-yard line and stalling. With 4:42 left in the game, the Bucs needed a field goal to at least make MVP-candidate Aaron Rodgers and the Packers have to score a touchdown to tie. On to the field came Tampa kicker Ryan Succop.
Much of the pressure for pressure-filled field-goal attempts is on the kicker. But the long snapper and holder have big roles to play as well. Succop’s holder all year has been punter Bradley Pinion, who shared with the Sports Spectrum Podcast this week what was said between him and Succop leading up to that big-time 46-yard kick.
“The only words that we said to each other, and we say it before every single kick — Ryan is a tremendous man of faith, and he says a little prayer before every single kick when he lines up,” Pinion said. “He’s basically like, ‘Lord, give us peace. Your will be done.’ … And we both just say, ‘Amen.’ And that was the only thing that was exchanged (Sunday) — he said it, we both said ‘Amen,’ he backed up and drove the thing. That’s it.
“There were no other words that needed to be spoken. He knew the gravity of the situation, I knew the gravity of the situation, our long snapper (Zach Triner) knew the gravity of the situation. So we went about our normal routine. It worked for us all year long, so there’s no need to change anything.”
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Pinion knew the kick was good from the second the ball left his finger. He said 90 percent of the time he can tell if the ball’s going in just by the way Succop hits it. The successful field goal gave Tampa a 31-23 lead, and the Bucs held on for a 31-26 victory.
And now, Tampa is set to be the first team in NFL history to play a Super Bowl in their home stadium. The Buccaneers will face the defending-champion Kansas City Chiefs on Feb. 7 in Super Bowl LV.
The Bucs relied on Succop, Pinion and their field-goal unit often this season, as the team averaged 30.8 points per game. That ranked behind only the Packers (31.8) and Bills (31.3), and ahead of the sixth-ranked Chiefs at 29.6 points a game. Succop is the NFL’s leading postseason scorer, with 32 points in three games, after he finished the regular season ranked sixth in scoring with 136 points.
Tampa’s special teams unit is so solid, Pinion says, because he, Succop and Triner are so close. One reason they’re so close is because they all share a faith in Christ.
“It’s been, honestly, really good (this year),” Pinion says. “Having the room that we have in Tampa with Zach Triner and Ryan Succop — we’re all men of faith. It’s been really good to just lean on each other, to do our Bible studies and then go in and talk to each other about them. Like, ‘Hey, I’m reading this. What are you reading?’ It’s been awesome, honestly. Been truly a blessing to have those guys by my side this whole year.”
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The 2020-21 season has been Pinion’s second with Tampa, as he spent his first four seasons with San Francisco, which drafted him out of Clemson in the fifth round, the only punter selected. Very few punters leave college early to enter the NFL draft, but that’s what Pinion felt he needed to do.
“I felt this tug from God to go ahead and make the jump,” Pinion said on the Sports Spectrum Podcast in August 2019.
He also felt God leading him to sign with Tampa as a free agent in March 2019. But as he watched the 49ers and his old teammates advance all the way to Super Bowl LIV (where they lost to the Chiefs), Pinion grew a bit envious and felt like he was missing out. He wondered if he’d made the wrong choice.
“But I got reassurance from the Lord: ‘Yeah, you made the right decision. I got your back. I’ll always have your back. Keep believing in Me. Keep keeping your focus on Me and I’ll handle the rest,'” Pinion said this week.
Staying focused on the Lord and letting Him handle the rest has been Pinion’s mindset all year. He says he’s had a “weird peace” about everything during an unprecedented year like 2020.
“Whether something would go bad or something would go good, it’s been very constant, just very peaceful. With all the outside distractions, and there’s been a lot of them this year, just having that faith to fall back on is huge,” he said. “Because if you don’t have that faith — and things can go haywire because you kind of lose yourself, you lose your self-awareness — you can be out of touch with God. It’s one of those things where as long as you stay in touch with God, He’s going to take care of the rest. And that’s really just what I focused on, spending that extra time in the Bible every single day.”
Pinion is an active member of team Bible studies and chapels, all of which have been conducted over Zoom this year. He says there can be up to 30 guys, including coaches, on any given call.
“You can kind of feel the presence of the Lord on this team,” he says. “And it’s really, really cool to feel.”
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