After the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ ugly Week 1 loss to the New Orleans Saints, there was no shortage of pundits and fans ready to declare Tom Brady officially washed.
Brady had some bad moments in that game, and yes, he had a few more in the three games since.
Yet, the Buccaneers’ game against the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday ultimately offered Brady the best opportunity of the still-young season to prove he has his old magic as Tampa Bay trailed the Chargers and red-hot rookie quarterback Justin Herbert by 17 points late in the second quarter.
“We put ourselves in a pretty good hole, and we were just going to have to dig our way out of it,” Brady said. “That’s just the way football works sometimes.”
Here’s how else football has worked for the better part of the past two decades: Tom Brady proceeded to engineer a comeback, as the Bucs rallied to score 31 of the last 38 points to beat the Chargers 38-31 at home. It completed a comeback that tied for the second biggest in franchise history.
“It was just a show of character,” Bucs coach Bruce Arians said. “I can honestly say, had this been last year, we’d have gotten our ass beat by 20.”
Arians isn’t lying. Prior to Sunday’s win, the Bucs hadn’t completed a comeback win of 17 or more since 2011.
This team has character and playmakers, Arians said, including the quarterback, as Brady completed 30 of 46 passes for 369 yards, an interception — another (admittedly) troubling pick six, his fourth in the last six games — and five touchdowns (each to different targets).
“I thought he played outstanding,” Arians said. “He played fantastic and was lights out in the second half.”
Brady, however, gave credit to his opportunistic defense, which gave the Bucs a needed boost when they forced a Chargers fumble trailing 24-7 with less than a minute left in the second half. Brady made the Chargers pay with a 6-yard strike to Mike Evans three plays later, giving the Bucs momentum headed into the break. It set up a big second half that gave Brady his 34th comeback win when facing a 10-point deficit, the most in NFL history.
Brady continues to show improved chemistry with his wideouts and the flashes of touch he will need to win in January. His gorgeous 48-yard bucket throw to Evans, which set up the go-ahead score in the fourth quarter, was a prime example.
Justin Herbert showcases new QB prototype
As much as this game was about Brady, there’s also another quarterback story here.
With the loss, the Chargers dropped to 1-3, and yes, that stinks for them. Yet, the NFL in 2020 is all about the quarterback — throwing it, running it, sometimes doing both at the same time. Teams that want to compete in a meaningful way better have a QB capable of doing all that in high-pressure situations.
And although Herbert, the sixth overall pick in this year’s draft, is 0-3 as an NFL starter, he looks like the real deal. His rare, powerful arm strength gives him an opportunity to fit balls into spaces most NFL quarterbacks can only dream of.
Plus, when combined with his imposing size (6-foot-6, 240 pounds) and athleticism, Herbert fits the new prototype for the position. He’s a big, fast dart-thrower a franchise can build around, the type of quarterback necessary to compete long-term in the AFC West, where Patrick Mahomes figures to lurk for the next decade-plus.
“I told Anthony [Lynn] after the game — you’ve got a great one,” Arians said, referring to Herbert. “That retreating play, that looked like Mahomes where we had an all-out blitz and he just kept retreating and threw a dime down the field.
“For rookies to make plays like that, you know they’re special.”
Arians would know. He has been around so many special quarterbacks in his career, including the current one.
Fittingly, Brady also came away impressed by the Chargers’ young quarterback in a game that had the largest age gap ever between two QBs (21 years). Herbert completed 20 of 25 passes for 290 yards, three touchdowns and an interception against a good Bucs defense.
“He was very impressive today. He played great,” Brady said of Herbert, who grew up idolizing Brady. “He hung in there, made a lot of good throws. We blitzed him a little bit, and he just stood in there and took it. He’s got a great arm, moves really well, the team believes in him so he’s off to a great start.”
And now, so are the Bucs with a solid 3-1 record, leading the NFC South, in The Tom Brady Era.
Could Tom Brady follow in Joe Montana’s footsteps?
I’ve been doing this long enough to know that some will surely point out the poor opponents the Bucs have fed on to pad their record, as the Chargers, Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers are a combined 4-8. And that’s fair criticism.
But the resilience Brady showed Sunday — and some of the impressive throws he made along the way — makes me optimistic about the Bucs, who are teaming their aging star quarterback with a defense that can rush the passer, stop the run and figures to keep getting better as a young secondary gains experience.
It all feels a little like Joe Montana’s experience with the Chiefs in 1994 when he led them to the AFC championship game following his trade from San Francisco. I love that Brady wasn’t close to satisfied with his performance.
“It’s a long season and we’re 25 percent of the way through, so it’s not early anymore,” Brady said. “We’ve got to figure out what we’re good at, what we’re not good at, and keep working to get better.”
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