TAMPA, Fla. — Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady triumphantly pumped his fist into the air as he jogged off the field at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday night, having secured a come-from-behind 16-13 victory over the Los Angeles Rams, who not only denied his quest for an eighth Super Bowl on this very field last season in the divisional round of the playoffs, but also played a key role in luring him out of retirement.
Ten days ago, Brady was nearly inconsolable in the Bucs’ locker room after falling to the Baltimore Ravens 27-22 in prime time. The next day, he and wife Gisele Bundchen finalized their divorce after 13 years of marriage. But Sunday, Brady got to recapture a piece of the magic that has come to define his remarkable 23-year career. And more importantly, he got to feel joy again. So did his coaches and teammates.
“That was awesome,” said Brady, who had not beaten the Rams in three tries as a Buccaneer until Sunday. “That was f—in’ awesome.”
Brady’s 15-yard pass to running back Leonard Fournette in the second quarter was a history-maker, as he became the first quarterback in NFL history to eclipse 100,000 career passing yards in the regular season and postseason combined. But it was what Brady did with 44 seconds left against the defending Super Bowl champions that showed why at the age of 45 he continues to defy both age and logic, and that helped a downtrodden team snap a three-game losing streak.
“It’s all about the win,” Brady said. “It’s all about the win, man. I never cared about the [records]. All about the win.”
With Tampa Bay’s offense having been unable to find the end zone all night, including three straight incompletions inside the L.A. 6-yard line on the previous drive, the Bucs’ defense forced a Rams three-and-out, giving Brady the ball back at the Tampa Bay 40. From there, he completed four straight passes (on his fifth, Mike Evans drew a defensive pass interference call on Derion Kendrick), before finding rookie tight end Cade Otton, who ran out of a bunch formation and into the flat, for a 1-yard touchdown.
“We always have a chance with [Brady],” said coach Todd Bowles, whose defense held the Rams to 138 passing yards and 68 rushing yards. “We’re grateful to have him. He got over 100,000 yards — that’s a long playing career for anybody. He’s still playing at a high level. We love the guy to death.”
Not only did Brady become the first quarterback in NFL history to surpass 100,000 passing yards, but he also notched his 43rd career fourth-quarter comeback, tying Peyton Manning for the most by an NFL starting quarterback.
“That’s crazy,” Evans said, shaking his head. “Like I don’t know if that’ll ever be touched. He’s the GOAT for a reason. Congrats to him.”
“You run out of things to say about him,” Bowles said. “I’m sure I can’t say anything different than the 50 million people that [have] already commented things on him. He’s a great player. He’s one of the best, if not the best to ever play the game, and he continues to do that.”
But Brady and the offense have struggled all season to find the end zone, and without several key pieces of their defense in recent weeks, they were unable to pick up the slack. A healthy Akiem Hicks on Sunday freed up defensive tackle Vita Vea to sack Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford twice, with Rakeem Nunez-Roches and Genard Avery each adding another.
Cornerbacks Carlton Davis III and Sean Murphy-Bunting also returned to action, helping minimize the damage by Cooper Kupp, who still recorded 127 receiving yards, with a busted coverage on a 69-yard touchdown by Kupp in the second quarter. The Bucs trailed the Rams from that point on, until the defense got the ball back in Brady’s hands for one final chance.
“He’s so under control in those situations,” said Otton, who also caught a key 28-yard pass on the first play of the final drive. “We all believe in him and we all believe in each other. And despite the results on offense this season, we still believed. And when it came down to it, and when it mattered most, we were able to get it done. We knew we had that in us. It was great to prove it.”
Brady wasn’t the only player who tucked aside his own personal pain to play. Last weekend, Otton and his family held a celebration of life in Tumwater, Washington, for his mother, Sally, who died of Parkinson’s disease on Sept. 20.
“Obviously I miss my mom and [thought] about her right away, but I know she would be so proud of me,” Otton said. “I’m just happy to do this and know she got to watch me do it.”
Brady, Otton and several other teammates shared a quick embrace in the corner of the south end zone where Otton scored. It was the first time Brady — still trying to figure things out without top target and close friend Rob Gronkowski, who retired for the second time this offseason — had thrown a touchdown pass to a tight end all season.
“He’s a rookie, he’s a great teammate, he works his ass off,” Evans said of Otton, who had five catches on six targets for 68 receiving yards. “I’m happy he got the game winner for his first one.”
“Winning is the best thing in this league because it’s so hard — especially against a good team like that,” Evans said. “We’re all happy. … It was a tough three-game stretch — games that we definitely could have won and we just couldn’t get it done, for whatever the reason was. But we came back, fought hard tonight and got a much-needed win.”
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