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Buccaneers at Patriots recap: Defending champs escape with 19-17 win in Tom Brady’s homecoming

Tom Brady made his long-awaited return to Foxborough on Sunday Night Football and, despite not being at his best, made history en route to a narrow 19-17 win.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New England Patriots Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

For the second time in four games this season, the Buccaneers returned to primetime action on Sunday night, visiting the Patriots in Foxborough for what was a long-awaited homecoming for Tom Brady.

Brady, who signed with Tampa Bay over a year and a half ago after spending the first 20 seasons of his career with New England, returned to Gillette Stadium for the first time as an opposing player in this Sunday Night Football matchup. And the 44-year-old made that return with plenty of history at stake. With 68 passing yards, he would become the NFL’s all-time passing yards leader. With 350, he would take over the league record for most passing yards in a single stadium. And with a Buccaneer victory, Brady would join Brett Favre, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees as the only quarterbacks in NFL history to defeat all 32 teams.

Brady’s homecoming aside, Sunday’s game was a big one for the Bucs, who entered the day at 2-1 on the season after last week’s 34-24 loss to the Rams. They came in having failed to play a complete game in their first three contests, plus they were looking to bounce back without some of their key contributors. Rob Gronkowski (ribs) had to miss his own Foxborough homecoming, while Jason Pierre-Paul (shoulder) missed a second straight game and Sean Murphy-Bunting (elbow) missed his third straight. Jamel Dean (knee) and Giovani Bernard (knee) were also missing from the lineup after leaving last week’s game against Los Angeles.

So, with two corners missing and another (Carlton Davis) coming in banged up, Tampa Bay almost had no choice but to start five-time Pro Bowl and three-time All-Pro selection Richard Sherman, who was just signed this week.

Despite all of the injuries, the defending Super Bowl champion Bucs were road favorites over a young New England team being led by 2021 first-round pick Mac Jones. The Bucs were tabbed as 6.5-point favorites, with ESPN’s FPI Matchup Predictor giving them a 56.6% chance to come away with a second primetime win in as many tries this season.

Tampa Bay once again wasn’t at its best and lost more key players to injury throughout the game, making for a tough back-and-forth battle. The Patriots carried a 7-6 lead into halftime and took a 17-16 lead late in the fourth, but Brady led the offense down the field to set up a 48-yard game-winning field goal from Ryan Succop. It took one last stop from the Buccaneer defense and a missed 56-yard field goal from Nick Folk, but the visitors came away with a 19-17 win to improve to 3-1.

Game Recap

The Bucs won the coin toss and elected to defer, meaning the Patriots faithful would have to wait a little bit to see Tom Brady take the field. With rain pouring down at Gillette Stadium, Bradley Pinion’s opening kickoff went out of bounds, meaning Mac Jones and the New England offense would start things off at their own 40-yard line. The Patriots moved quickly, with Jones finding Hunter Henry for seven yards and Kendrick Bourne for four yards, with Richard Sherman around on both plays. Henry got another five on the next play, getting the ball across midfield into Buccaneer territory. But it was then that Tampa Bay halted momentum, with Joe Tryon-Shoyinka picking up his first career sack, dropping Jones for a loss of four. On 3rd & 9, Carlton Davis came up with a pass breakup, forcing a punt.

After the Patriots’ punt was downed at the 11-yard line, Brady took the field to a chorus of boos (though he received raucous cheers before the game). After an incomplete pass on first down, Brady found Evans for eight yards on second down to bring up 3rd & 2. Tampa Bay went to the ground on third down and Leonard Fournette broke free for his best run of the year, going for 21 yards to the 40-yard line. The drive stalled from there, with a loss of one on first down and a six-yard pass to Antonio Brown preceding a third-down incompletion. That brought Pinion out to punt and he delivered a 51-yarder to the 4, with Gunner Olszewski dropping the kick only for it to hit the pylon for a touchback. With 9:55 to go in the first quarter, it was a scoreless game.

Damien Harris got the carry on first down from the 20, getting forced out of bounds for a loss of four by a host of Bucs. Then, on the next play, the Bucs looked to get the game’s first momentum-changing play, with Shaquil Barrett punching the ball loose after a Jakobi Meyers catch. Devin White scooped up the loose ball, but after the play was reviewed, it was ruled an incomplete pass. Bruce Arians, who turned 69 on Sunday, was none too pleased with the officials on the sideline. Nonetheless, the Bucs had the Patriots facing a 3rd & 14 from the 16-yard line. Jones found Brandon Bolden over the middle for seven yards, but he was stopped to force a punt.

After a block in the back on the punt, the Bucs started their second drive from the 18. Fournette picked up 11 yards on first down and one play after Evans got away with an offensive pass interference call on a near-interception, Fournette caught a 13-yard pass to the Bucs’ 42. After a three-yard run by Ronald Jones II, Brady found Evans on back-to-back plays for 13 and 28 yards. The second pass brought Brady to 80,359 career passing yards, making him the new all-time passing leader in NFL history.

After a timeout, Brady found Brown for three yards before two incomplete passes forced a Ryan Succop field goal try. He drilled the 29-yarder, giving Tampa Bay the first points of the game. With 4:57 to go in the opening quarter, it was a 3-0 Buccaneer lead.

Starting drive No. 3 from the 25, Jones hit Bourne for 17 yards across the 40 to the 42-yard line. J.J. Taylor was then stopped by William Gholston for no gain on the next play, then Gholston pressured Jones into an incompletion. On 3rd & 10, Devin White came flying in to pressure Jones, whose pass was tipped by Ross Cockrell and intercepted by Antoine Winfield Jr. at the Tampa Bay 34-yard line.

Fournette got four yards on first down to start the ensuing possession, then Brady missed Tyler Johnson deep to bring up third down. After the Patriots had too many men on the field, a 3rd & 6 turned into a 3rd & 1. A three-yard run by Fournette moved the chains, then Brady and Evans connected for a six-yard gain across midfield on the next play. Evans caught another pass on the next play, only to get stopped for no gain to bring up another third down. This time, the Bucs converted the third-and-short with a pass as Brady linked up with Brown, another former Patriot, for 27 yards to the Patriots’ 21-yard line. A Fournette carry to the 18 then took us to the end of the first quarter with the Bucs leading 3-0 and threatening to add on.

Two straight incompletions to open the third quarter forced the Bucs to settle for another field goal attempt. This time, Succop missed wide right from 36 yards out to keep it a 3-0 game and keep Tampa Bay from cashing in on the Jones interception.

After the missed field goal, New England took over at its own 26. And following a holding penalty on first down, the drive was backed up to the 16. Gholston stopped Jonnu Smith for a one-yard catch on 1st & 20, then Bourne beat Sherman for a 16-yard gain to the 33. Jakobi Meyers got another 15 yards on the next play, getting New England to its own 48. An incomplete pass preceded a five-yard catch by Bourne, with Cockrell hitting Jones hard on a blitz. The Bucs nearly got off the field on third down, but a questionable pass interference call on Sherman extended the drive.

David stopped Harris for no gain on the next play, then another holding penalty on the Patriots moved things back to the 47. Jones went after Sherman again on 2nd & 20, hitting Bourne for 16 yards to bring up a 3rd & 4. A short pass to Bolden then moved the chains again, setting up a New England first down at the Tampa Bay 24. The flags kept coming two plays later, with a late one coming in on Davis. It was another seemingly soft call, but it gave the Patriots a new set of downs. Two plays later, Jones and Henry linked up for an 11-yard touchdown to give the home team its first lead of the night. With the PAT from former Buc Nick Folk, it was a 7-3 lead for the Patriots with 8:28 to go before halftime.

Ronald Jones II opened Tampa Bay’s next drive with a six-yard pickup, but a false start on O.J. Howard took five yards back. On 2nd & 9, Brady and Brown connected for an eight-yard gain to bring up a 3rd & 1. The Bucs converted it with a short run by Fournette, but were then backed up on the next play as Matthew Judon got to Brady for an eight-yard sack. That effectively killed the drive, as an incomplete pass and a one-yard completion to Chris Godwin—on his first target of the night—forced a punt. Pinion’s punt wasn’t a great one, as it went 39 yards to the Patriots’ 32. With 4:54 to go in the second quarter, Mac Jones and the Patriots would get a chance to extend their lead.

Passes of four and 12 yards to Meyers from Jones got the Patriots a quick first down on their next possession, though Meyers stayed down on the field after the second one to lead us into an injury timeout. Then, after Jordan Whitehead stopped Harris for a loss of one on the next play, Harris stayed down injured. Another quick injury timeout latter, Shaquil Barrett dropped Jones for his second sack of the 2021 season to bring up a 3rd & 17.

A double pass on third down picked up 15 of the needed 17 yards, so the Patriots would force a 4th & 2 after the two-minute warning. Coming out of the timeout, New England took a delay of game penalty before lining up for a punt. Jake Bailey’s punt bounced nicely before getting downed at the 5-yard line, giving Brady and the Bucs a long field with two timeouts and 1:49 to work with. But before the offense took the field, Tampa Bay took another devastating hit, with Carlton Davis having to be helped off the field with an injury after the kick.

Brady and Brown linked up for four yards to start the possession, then Brady avoided pressure to hit Godwin for 28 yards to the 37. The Bucs called their second timeout there, then Brady and Godwin connected for another 26 yards to the Patriots’ 37 as the clock ticked under a minute in the second quarter. Running no huddle, the Bucs kept it moving as Cameron Brate caught an 11-yard pass to the 26 before an incompletion stopped the clock with 25 seconds to go. Two more incompletions followed as another Buccaneer drive was forced to end with a field goal try. Before Succop’s 44-yard attempt, New England called a timeout. There was no doubt about this one, though, as the veteran nailed it to bring Tampa Bay within 7-6 with 13 seconds left in the half.

The Patriots were content to take their one-point lead into the locker room, though the Bucs were set to receive the opening kickoff to start the second half. It was hard to believe that Tampa Bay could come away happy with its play in the first 30 minutes, especially with the injury to Davis factored in.

Coming into the second half, it was announced on the broadcast that Carlton Davis would be out for the rest of the game with a quad injury. A bad return by Jaydon Mickens on the opening kickoff didn’t help the Bucs’ start to the third quarter either, as they started their drive from their own 14. The team continued to shoot itself in the foot from their, with a 44-yard third-down pass from Brady to Brown negated by an illegal hands to the face call on Donovan Smith. Instead of a big splash play, it was a third-and-long that led to a punt. And another short one by Pinion followed by a decent return set the Patriots up at Tampa Bay’s 38 for their first drive of the third quarter.

Jones and Harris hooked up for an eight-yard gain to the 30 to start the series, then Harris picked up the first down to the 28 on the ground. In dire need of a turnover to swing momentum, the Buccaneer defense got one. After Jones completed a pass to Taylor, Antoine Winfield Jr. knocked the ball loose and Richard Sherman recovered it to give Brady and the offense another chance to get going, this time from their own 32.

Fournette picked up eight yards to start the Bucs’ next drive, then got stopped for no gain on second down to bring up a 3rd & 2. Brady had his third-down pass tipped at the line of scrimmage, meaning the Bucs would once again come up empty after their defense forced a turnover. Pinion delivered a 43-yard punt to the New England 17 and after a six-yard return, the Patriots took over from their 23.

Tampa Bay’s defense continued to step up, with back-to-back sacks from William Gholston and Joe Tryon-Shoyinka forcing a New England punt.

Mickens fumbled the ensuing kick, but Matthew Slater ran down the majority of the field while out of bounds before finally coming back in to make the hit and force the ball loose. So, with an unsportsmanlike conduct call on Slater, the Patriots had to re-kick. After the re-kick, the Bucs took over at their own 48.

An 11-yard pass from Brady to Fournette got the drive going, with the ball down to the Patriots’ 41 for a first down. After an illegal use of hands moved Tampa Bay to the 34, Fournette got seven yards on back-to-back carries to get the ball inside the red zone. Two plays later, Brady found Evans for a nine-yard gain to the 11, bringing up a key 3rd & 1 as the clock ticked under four and a half minutes left in the third quarter. Jones entered the game for that third down and he picked up the first, getting three yards up the middle to set up a goal-to-go situation for the first time all night. On the next play, Jones got the ball again and worked his way around the end for an eight-yard touchdown, his first score of the year. Just like that, it was a 13-7 Tampa Bay lead after the PAT.

New England got right to work in search of an answer on its next drive, with White just missing a sack before Jones found Harris out of the backfield for a 21-yard pickup. Jones and Nelson Agholor linked up for 13 on the next play to get into Buccaneer territory before Jones and Meyers connected for another five yards. N’Keal Harry then picked up 10 more yards, with Jones clearly targeting Pierre Desir, who subbed in for the injured Carlton Davis. Jonnu Smith got 12 more on the next play to get the ball inside the red zone, then Jones and Bolden linked up for 15 yards to the 1-yard line. That brought us to the end of the third quarter with the Bucs leading 13-7, though the Patriots were one yard from potentially retaking the lead.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, Jones found Smith for a touchdown and with the PAT by Folk, New England was back in front by a score of 14-13.

After a short kick and a 10-yard return by Tyler Johnson to the 24, Fournette picked up six yards to the 30 on first down of the Bucs’ next drive. He got another yard on second down, bringing up a quick 3rd & 3. Brady found Brown for seven yards to convert the third down up to the 38-yard line before another four-yard carry by Fournette. An incomplete pass brought up another third down and this time, Brady converted it with a six-yard run. Jones got the ball across midfield to the New England 48 with a four-yard run on the next play, then after a timeout, Brady and Fournette connected again for a 23-yard gain to the 25. A short while later, Tampa Bay converted another third down, with Brady hitting Brate for 18 yards to the Patriots’ 6. But yet again, the Bucs stalled in the red zone. A loss of two by Fournette on first down and two incompletions forced another field goal try, which was successful from 27 yards out. With that, Tampa Bay had a 16-14 lead with 7:58 left.

On the opening play of the next drive, Desir nearly had himself a pick six, but the ball went out of his arms and into the arms of Agholor for a 12-yard gain. Two plays later, Meyers beat Sherman for a gain of 21. Then, a reverse pass from Meyers to Agholor for 30 yards got New England down to Tampa Bay’s 9-yard line.

But the Buccaneer defense stood tall there, forcing a field goal try with under five minutes to go. Folk’s kick was good from 27 yards out, giving the Patriots a 17-16 lead with 4:34 left.

Starting from the 25, Brady looked deep to Fournette on first down and though the ball fell incomplete, Fournette drew a pass interference call. That 31-yard penalty placed the ball at the New England 44 with more than four minutes left. A pass interference call on Evans later brought the ball back to a 2nd & 17, but an 11-yard pass from Brady to Evans brought the Bucs back to a 3rd & 6 at the Patriots’ 40 with 3:18 to go. Tampa Bay picked up a huge first down from there, with Brady hanging in the pocket long enough to hit Brown for an eight-yard gain to the 32.

Fournette got two yards to the New England 30 on the next play, forcing the Patriots to call their first timeout at the 2:13 mark. An incomplete pass intended for Brown stopped the clock again with 2:07 left as the Bucs faced a huge 3rd & 8 at the 30. Brady looked for Brown again on that third down and had him in the end zone, but Brown couldn’t quite come up with it. That brought Succop out for a 48-yard field goal attempt for the lead and he just barely snuck it inside the uprights to give the Bucs a 19-17 advantage with 1:57 left.

With one timeout and 1:57 to get into field goal range, Mac Jones and the Patriots offense started their drive from the 25-yard line. New England got a gift on its first play, with Jordan Whitehead called for a 20-yard pass interference penalty on a play in which he broke for the ball and Hunter Henry wasn’t looking for it himself. A nine-yard pass from Jones to Henry got the ball across midfield with 1:35 to go before a false start pushed the Patriots back. Jones and Bolden linked up for a first down to the 44 before an incomplete pass brought up a second down with 1:07 to go. After a seven-yard pass to Meyers brought up a third down, Lavonte David made one of the biggest plays of the game, batting a Jones pass down to force a fourth down.

Former Buc Nick Folk, who missed three kicks in a Tampa Bay loss to New England in 2017, lined up for a 56-yard game-winning field goal in the rain. His kick looked good, but it doinked off the upright and fell to the ground. With that, the Bucs had escaped Foxborough with a 19-17 win.

Quick Notes & Stats

  • The Bucs outgained the Patriots 227-129 in the first half, but an 0-for-2 showing in the red zone led to a 7-6 halftime deficit.
  • Brady wasn’t sharp in the first half, completing 15 of his 27 passes for 182 yards. It wasn’t the best game overall for the seven-time Super Bowl champion, as he completed 22 of his 43 passes for 269 yards and no touchdowns.
  • With a 28-yard pass to Mike Evans in the first quarter, Brady became the NFL’s all-time leading passer, surpassing Drew Brees’ record of 80,358.
  • With the win, Brady became the fourth quarterback in NFL history to beat all 32 teams, joining Brett Favre, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees.
  • Joe Tryon-Shoyinka recorded his first career sack in the first quarter, then got his second in the third quarter.
  • William Gholston and Shaquil Barrett picked up sacks of their own in the win.
  • Antoine Winfield Jr.’s first-quarter interception was the second regular season interception of his career. His third-quarter forced fumble was the third of his career.
  • Leonard Fournette was a key part of the game for Tampa Bay, rushing for 91 yards on 20 carries while catching three passes for 47 yards.
  • Mike Evans went for 75 yards on seven catches, while Antonio Brown totaled 63 yards on seven catches of his own in his return to New England.
  • Ryan Succop missed an early 36-yard field goal, but his 48-yarder won the game late.
  • New England ran the ball just six times in the first half for negative six yards, forcing Bill Belichick to go pass-heavy. The negative six rushing yards was the fewest the Patriots have ever had in a first half under Belichick. For the game, the Patriots were held to negative one rushing yards.
  • Sunday night’s game was the first in NFL history with two head coaches that were 69+ years old.
  • Penalties were once again an issue for Tampa Bay, as the team was flagged seven times for 74 yards. The Patriots were just as bad, getting flagged eight times for 77 yards.
  • The Bucs were 9-for-19 on third downs, while the Patriots were held to a 2-for-9 mark.

The Buccaneers (3-1) will return to Raymond James Stadium next Sunday for an in-state matchup with the Miami Dolphins (1-3). Kickoff is set for 1:00 p.m.