FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Tom Brady returned to the football town he called home for two decades and did what came naturally – lead his team to a come-from-behind victory in the fourth quarter.
This time he was the visitor with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers even if thousands of New England Patriots fans wore his old jersey, cheered him pregame and then tried to boo and harass him once the action began.
Brady wasn’t particularly sharp on Sunday – just 22 of 43 for 269 yards and no touchdowns – but trailing 17-16 with 4:34 remaining in the fourth, he took over on a plot of turf he long lorded over and did it again.
Seven plays and 45 yards later, including two Brady completions and a huge pass interference, kicker Ryan Succop drilled a 48-yard field goal that proved the difference. A desperate 56-yard field goal attempt by Patriots kicker Nick Folk banged off the upright in the final minute, allowing Brady to take a knee to assure victory.
Tampa Bay 19, New England 17.
Brady 1. Bill Belichick 0.
“Pretty surreal,” Brady told NBC’s Michele Tafoya postgame.
The Bucs’ victory had more to do with the bruising running of Leonard Fournette (91 yards), a terrific defensive performance and a turnover and mistake prone Patriots team, but when they needed a drive, their legendary quarterback delivered one like seemingly always.
It was Brady’s 142nd victory in Foxborough and 135th in Gillette Stadium, playoffs included. He has now defeated all 32 NFL teams in his storied career. During the first quarter he passed Drew Brees as the NFL’s all-time leader in passing yards.
The game was played under a relentless October rain that did little to weaken the enthusiasm of Patriots fans who came to honor the quarterback who delivered them six Super Bowls across 20 seasons and root against him and for his replacement, rookie Mac Jones.
Brady took the field pregame to cheers and some “Brady, Brady” chants that were familiar here. By the time he went out for the first series, though, he was being booed. It’s unlikely Brady expected anything less.
“Once the game starts, we are all-Mac, all-Pats,” said Bill Gately, a season ticket holder from Burrillville, Rhode Island. “That’s it. That’s how it goes. This is Patriots Nation.”
Brady and Belichick shared a quick hug postgame.
Tampa improved to 3-1 as it seeks to become the first team since Brady’s 2003-04 Patriots team to repeat as Super Bowl champions. New England dropped to 1-3 and couldn’t cash in on a strong defensive effort due to a lack of a rushing attack and two critical turnovers.
Brady sailed multiple passes over open receivers, perhaps a sign that the emotions of returning to New England was impacting his play. So too, no doubt, was an excellent defensive scheme that kept him off balance all night. That was the work of Belichick, who wanted this one as much as Brady did.
Brady had said he wanted to end his career here. However, as he continued to play into his now mid-40s the relationship between he and Belichick eroded.
The two won six Super Bowls and 17 AFC East championships together, forging the greatest and longest lasting dynasty in NFL history. Brady left and won a seventh Super Bowl title on his own last season in Tampa.