It may have been a day that we all knew would one day arrive, but that doesn’t make it any easier to come to terms with the idea that we’ll all be moving forward with a Bucs team—and an NFL—without the greatest quarterback of all time.
As much as everyone would’ve loved for Brady to run it back for a third season in red, white and pewter, he gets to head off into his post-football life with his family after leading the NFL in passing yards and passing touchdowns at the age of 44.
It was an incredible two-year run for Brady and the Bucs, and to celebrate what a ride it’s been, we’re diving into the 12 most memorable games of the Brady era in Tampa Bay.
12. Buccaneers 28, Jets 24 (Jan. 2, 2022)
On the surface, a regular season win over a bad New York Jets team shouldn’t be remembered as one of the top 12 games of Brady’s time with the Bucs. Yet, here we are. It was one of those games that you probably had to see to believe. For starters, Tampa Bay trailed 24-10 in the third quarter before Antonio Brown stripped off his jersey and pads and peace-signed his way off the field. From there, Brady led the Bucs back. He threw a four-yard touchdown pass to Cameron Brate to get the Bucs within 24-17 late in the third quarter, then he led the offense 93 yards in 1:57 at the end of the game, capping off the drive with a 33-yard touchdown pass to Cyril Grayson Jr. with 15 seconds remaining. It was a thrilling comeback and even though the Bucs had already clinched the playoffs at that point, Brady proved once again that he could still get the job done with the game on the line. Not to mention, he did it by throwing only to Grayson and Tyler Johnson on that final drive, not his usual targets like Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Rob Gronkowski. In the face of all sorts of adversity, Brady didn’t waver.
11. Buccaneers 47, Lions 7 (Dec. 26, 2020)
When Brady arrived in Tampa Bay, the team hadn’t been to the playoffs since the 2007 season. Something seemed to be shifting when Bruce Arians’ tenure began in 2019, but it was Brady who helped get the Bucs over the hump and back to relevancy—and then the playoffs. It wasn’t always easy for the Bucs in 2020, but they came into Week 16 with a chance to clinch a Wild Card spot. All they needed was a win over the Lions in Detroit, and Brady made sure the result wasn’t in doubt from the very beginning. He made it look easy in the first half, throwing for 348 yards and four touchdowns on 22-of-27 passing. That earned him the rest of the afternoon off and booked the team a ticket to the playoffs for the first time in over a decade. The rest, as they say, is history. More on that later, though.
10. Buccaneers 19, Patriots 17 (Oct. 3, 2021)
As soon as Brady left New England to sign with Tampa Bay in March 2020, everyone pointed to the fact that he would be returning to Gillette Stadium in 2021 as a member of the visiting team for the first time ever. It was a special night for the longtime Patriot, who won six Super Bowls and three league MVPs in his 20 seasons up north. There was plenty of fanfare, and it showed in the television numbers as the game turned out to be the most-watched Sunday Night Football contest in almost a decade. The performance may not have been all that memorable for Brady, as he threw for 269 yards on just 22-of-43 passing and was held without a touchdown, but he led the Bucs to a win over Bill Belichick and the Patriots on a rainy, memorable night. With the win, Brady became the first player in NFL history to earn a victory over all 32 franchises in the league. It was a historic return for the New England legend, and defeating the team that let him walk as a free agent the prior year had to feel extra good.
9. Buccaneers 38, Chargers 31 (Oct. 4, 2020)
For many Bucs fans, the first “holy #@&$ Tom Brady is actually our quarterback” moment likely came in Week 4 of the 2020 season. The Bucs were 2-1 and hosting the Los Angeles Chargers, who came out swinging to the tune of a 24-7 lead. But Brady never blinked and as a result, neither did the Bucs. A late first-half turnover set up a touchdown to get them within 24-14 heading into the locker room, then Brady came out in the second half and threw touchdown passes to O.J. Howard and Scotty Miller to suddenly put Tampa Bay ahead. After a 72-yard Los Angeles touchdown brought everyone back down to earth temporarily and gave the lead back to the visitors, Brady immediately responded by leading a seven-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a nine-yard touchdown pass to rookie Ke’Shawn Vaughn. That gave the Bucs the lead again and they went on to win 38-31. Overcoming 17-point deficits wasn’t something that this franchise would typically do in the past, but Brady turning things around in that game gave everyone a taste of what Tampa Bay could be during his tenure. In a way, it was the beginning of a changing culture.
8. Buccaneers 31, Cowboys 29 (Sept. 9, 2021)
The Bucs experienced a lot of unfamiliar territory under the Brady’s direction, and Week 1 of the 2021 season was just one example. After winning Super Bowl LV, Tampa Bay entered year two of the Brady era as the league’s top dogs. Hosting the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday Night Football to open the season, the Bucs had plenty of eyes—and a big target—on them. Brady had been there before, and he once again made that evident by staying calm, cool and collected late in the game when the Bucs needed a game-winning drive. Down 29-28 and getting the ball back with 1:24 to go, Brady marched the offense 57 yards in 11 plays to set up a game-winning 36-yard field goal by Ryan Succop. The win got Tampa Bay’s title defense off to a good start, with Brady throwing for 379 yards and four touchdowns on 32-of-50 passing to start off what turned out to be a phenomenal final season.
7. Buccaneers 33, Bills 27 (Dec. 12, 2021)
No one has ever tortured the Buffalo Bills and their fans quite like Tom Brady did over the course of his New England career. As a Patriot, he went 32-3 against Buffalo. Just for good measure, he extended that record to 33-3 this past December as a member of the Bucs. It was a spectacular performance overall for Brady, as he threw for 363 yards and two touchdowns on 31-of-46 passing. But after the Bills erased a 27-10 Bucs lead to force overtime, Brady had to step up and lead another game-winning drive in the clutch. Tampa Bay’s defense forced a three-and-out to start overtime, then “Touchdown Tom” sent Raymond James Stadium into party mode with a walk-off 58-yard touchdown pass to Breshad Perriman. It was the 700th touchdown pass of Brady’s career, and it was fitting that it came on the final play of a 94-yard game-winning drive. Brady had better games as a Buc, but this one featured one of the more memorable finishes of any game we saw in his Tampa Bay career.
6. Buccaneers 30, Saints 20 (Jan. 17, 2021)
For whatever reason, one thing largely stayed the same for the Bucs when Brady arrived, and that was their inability to figure out the New Orleans Saints. In fact, Tampa Bay was 0-4 in the regular season against its division rival over Brady’s two years. But that really doesn’t matter when you consider the fact that Brady and the Bucs got it done when it mattered most. After getting swept by them in the 2020 regular season, the Bucs took care of the Saints in the NFC Divisional Round on the third Sunday in January, beating them 30-20 in their own stadium. The game is largely remembered for the effort of Tampa Bay’s defense, but Brady threw for two touchdowns and ran for another to help send the Saints home for the offseason. It ended up being the last game of Drew Brees’ career as well, which put the exclamation point on what was a night of euphoria for Tampa Bay fans. Oh, and there was the small fact that the win earned the Bucs a spot in the NFC Championship Game the following week.
5. Buccaneers 31, Washington Football Team 23 (Jan. 9, 2021)
The Bucs went all in for 2020 when they signed Brady and then continued to upgrade the rest of the roster as they saw fit. In came Rob Gronkowski, Leonard Fournette and eventually Antonio Brown, but the team was still just 7-5 heading into its bye week. However, from there, it rattled off four straight wins to finish 11-5 and make the playoffs as the NFC’s No. 5 seed. That set up a Wild Card matchup against the Washington Football Team, and you know the rest. One week after Washington’s Chase Young proclaimed that he was coming after Tom Brady, he was held shut down by Donovan Smith while Brady threw for 381 yards and two touchdowns on 22-of-40 passing. The Bucs held off a spirited effort by Taylor Heinicke to win 31-23 and advance to the NFC Divisional Round. The win was Tampa Bay’s first in the playoffs since Super Bowl XXXVII, nearly 18 full years earlier. The Bucs brought Brady to Tampa to win the Super Bowl, and this was the first step of the team’s playoff journey.
4. Rams 30, Buccaneers 27 (Jan. 23, 2022)
The only loss on this list, Brady’s last game isn’t one that will be forgotten any time soon. Missing Tristan Wirfs and Chris Godwin (while also dealing with a banged-up Ryan Jensen and Josh Wells), the Bucs were up against it with the Rams coming to town for the NFC Divisional Round. Tampa Bay fell behind 27-3 by the third quarter and everything looked completely lost, with Brady struggling to find time to get the ball away against a furious Los Angeles pass rush. Yet, with help from the Buccaneer defense, the greatest of all time led one last miraculous comeback attempt. A 55-yard touchdown pass to Mike Evans on Jalen Ramsey—which proved to be the final touchdown pass of his career—got the Bucs within 27-20 with 3:20 to go in the fourth quarter. Then, after the Rams’ fourth turnover of the second half, Brady engineered a game-tying drive. Leonard Fournette ultimately found the end zone from nine yards out on 4th & 1 to knot the game at 27 with 42 seconds left. The game was seemingly headed for overtime, but an ill-advised zero blitz call and subsequent miscommunication within Tampa Bay’s defense allowed the Rams to quickly get in position for what turned out to be a game-winning field goal from 30 yards out. In a way, it feels wrong for Brady’s career to end like that. But in another way, it’s somewhat fitting. The man who once led the Patriots back from a 28-3 deficit to win the Super Bowl helped the Bucs erase a 27-3 deficit and thrilled football fans one last time, only to come up just short. We’ll always be left wondering what could have been had the blitz been effectively communicated, had it gotten home or had it not been called at all. Perhaps Brady would’ve eventually made it to one last Super Bowl. He could’ve won ring No. 8. But at the very least, the 44-year-old legend went out swinging—that’s for sure.
3. Buccaneers 31, Falcons 27 (Dec. 20, 2020)
If the win over the Chargers in Week 4 of the 2020 season wasn’t enough to prove to everyone that Brady still had that comeback magic in him, he did it again in Week 15 against—who else?—the Falcons. Brady and the Patriots overcame that 28-3 deficit against Atlanta back in 2017 and this time, he and the Bucs came back from down 24-7 in the third quarter to beat the Falcons 31-27. It was a shockingly bad first half for Tampa Bay as it fell behind 17-0, but two Leonard Fournette touchdown runs and two Brady passing touchdowns—the second of which was the 46-yard game-winner to Antonio Brown with 6:19 to go—got the job done. It was a massive win for the Bucs, as it put them at 9-5 on the year and set them up to clinch a playoff spot the next week. Had that comeback not occurred, the path to the Super Bowl could’ve been much less clear. Plus, who doesn’t love a good Atlanta Falcons collapse?
2. Buccaneers 31, Packers 26 (Jan. 24, 2021)
Just one week after retiring Drew Brees and sending the Saints packing, Brady led the Bucs into the toughest environment they’d play in all year. The NFC Championship Game at Lambeau Field featured a rematch between the Bucs and the Packers, who met in Tampa back in Week 6. The Bucs rolled in that game, winning 38-10. It wasn’t quite as easy this time around, thought it looked for a while like it might be. Tampa Bay went up 28-10 early in the third quarter after a wild sequence. It started when Brady threw a 39-yard touchdown pass to Scotty Miller with no time left in the first half, then Jordan Whitehead forced a fumble early in the second half to set up an eight-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Cameron Brate. And while the three second-half interceptions that Brady threw are better left forgotten, the Bucs held on late to win the NFC Championship and earn a spot in Super Bowl LV. Even better was that, with the third of its three straight postseason road wins, Tampa Bay had earned the right to be the first team in NFL history to play for the Lombardi Trophy on its home field.
1. Buccaneers 31, Chiefs 9 (Feb. 7, 2021)
There was no better choice for the top spot here, as nothing can be more memorable about Brady’s time in Tampa than the night he and the Bucs won it all on their home field at Raymond James Stadium. Facing the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs, it was all Tampa Bay the whole way. The Buccaneer defense was absolutely dominant against one of the league’s best offenses and Brady finished 21-of-29 for 201 yards and three touchdowns—two of which went to longtime teammate Rob Gronkowski. The performance earned Brady his fifth Super Bowl MVP and his seventh Super Bowl ring—both of which are records that aren’t about to fall any time soon. The Glazer Family, Jason Licht and Bruce Arians brought Tom Brady to Tampa Bay to win football’s biggest prize, and on that magical February night, their plans came to fruition in dream fashion. For as remarkable as the whole two-year run in Tampa was for the game’s best-ever quarterback, the image of him holding up that trophy inside Raymond James Stadium will likely be what fans remember most… or maybe it will be the trophy toss from boat to boat during the team’s Super Bowl parade.
Thanks for the memories, TB12.