FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The first battle between Bill Belichick and Tom Brady goes to the quarterback. With a minute remaining in the game, kicker Nick Folk's 56-yard field goal attempt through the New England rain was no good, clinching the Buccaneers a 19-17 victory in Brady's first trip back to Gillette Stadium since leaving the organization as a free agent in the spring of 2020.
After trailing by one with 4:34 to play in the game, Brady was able to move the Buccaneers offense 45 yards down the field to set up a Ryan Succop field goal to give Tampa Bay the edge. At that point, Bruce Arians' defense was able to fend off New England's offense from setting up a more manageable field goal attempt with the clock ticking under a minute. Brady finished his night completing 22 of his 43 throws for 269 yards.
While the Buccaneers were able to come out on top, it was a valiant effort by the Patriots, especially by rookie quarterback Mac Jones, who at one point completed 19 straight passes. Jones finished 31 of 40 passing for 275, two touchdowns and an interception.
Prior to the game, Brady was honored with a one-minute video tribute by the Patriots, highlighting his many accomplishments with the franchise. The Gillette Stadium video board also recognized when Brady surpassed Drew Brees to become the NFL's all-time leading passer early in the first quarter with a pass to Mike Evans.
Why the Buccaneers won
The Patriots made just enough mistakes to give them an opening and they capitalized on it. Jones threw an interception. J.J. Taylor lost a fumble. Special teams ace Matthew Slater committed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that nullified a muffed punt and fumble recovery. Facing 14-13 and 17-16 deficits in the fourth quarter, Brady engineered back-to-back field goal drives that totaled 22 plays, 113 yards, and took a combined 9 minutes and 36 seconds off the clock. In the biggest moment of the game, Tampa's star defender Lavonte David made a huge play, and forced the Patriots into a tough decision of whether to go for it on fourth-and-3 just inside the 40-yard line, or kick a 56-yard field goal. They chose the latter, and the Football Gods smiled on the Buccaneers this time around.
Why the Patriots lost
They didn't take advantage of the Buccaneers' offensive struggles. Tampa totaled just six points on five first-half drives, but the Patriots could manage only a 7-6 lead at the break. The Pats held Brady to just 6.3 yards per attempt as he completed only 22 of 43 passes, but the Patriots gave up several crucial third-down conversions and took uncharacteristic penalties at inopportune times. They also made a couple puzzling decisions to punt the ball back to Tampa. Given two chances to hold a one-point lead in the fourth quarter, the Pats let Brady walk down the field to retake the lead each time.
For a game that was a back-and-forth affair throughout the evening, it's tough to pick just one turning point. In the end, we settled on a play that is not necessarily typical of what you'd expect from Brady, but was an enormous lift to his team when it needed it the most.
Facing third-and-6 from his own 42-yard line, Brady stepped up through the pocket while under pressure. And then he sprinted as fast as he could (which is not all that fast these days) to pick up 7 yards and a first down.
Nine plays later, the Buccaneers took a two-point lead on a Succop field goal. That lead would not hold up, as Jones led the Pats on a field goal drive on the ensuing possession, but it put Tampa in position to retake the lead for good on the final competitive drive of the night.
Play of the game
Can I interest you in a little trickeration? Having already run a throwback pass earlier in the game, the Patriots broke out a Philly Special-style reverse pass from wide receiver Jakobi Meyers. A high-school quarterback, Meyers hit Nelson Agholor in stride for a 30-yard gain down the right sideline.
The Pats broke out the play on one of the biggest drives of the game, and the wide receiver to wide receiver throw was reminiscent of those made by Julian Edelman in the past. The drive ended with New England kicking a field goal to take a late fourth-quarter lead. They'd ultimately relinquish that lead, but it was an impressive play nonetheless.
Odds and ends
Brady became the NFL's all-time passing yards leader, passing Drew Brees on a 28-yard completion to Mike Evans early in the game. There was supposed to be some sort of acknowledgment of the record, but because it came on a play where the ball was moved ahead 1 yard after initially being spotted, all that happened was a brief graphic appeared on the Jumbotron behind the end zone.
Jones at one point completed 19 consecutive passes, tying the Patriots' all-time record. It was the most consecutive completions for a rookie quarterback in at least 30 years.
The Buccaneers are now 3-1 and in first place in the NFC South, via the tiebreaker over the Panthers. After playing in back-to-back road games, the Bucs welcome the Dolphins to Raymond James Stadium next Sunday.
The Patriots are now 1-3 and in third place in the AFC East, in a virtual tie with both the Dolphins and Jets, two games behind the Bills. After playing back-to-back home games against NFC South opponents, they travel to Houston to take on the Texans in Week 5.