Tom Brady’s 40th fourth-quarter comeback proves Buccaneers can win ugly as title defense begins

Tom Brady again orchestrated a fourth-quarter comeback, leading to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers outlasting the Dallas Cowboys in Week 1.

TAMPA, Florida — Same as it ever was for Tom Brady. The years change. He ages (although we still need to see ID to believe he’s actually 44). But regardless of the decade and the uniform, Brady keeps stealing souls. The latest chapter of the longest, most predictable story in NFL history finished late Thursday night like so many that preceded it. Brady led a comeback victory as the Buccaneers defeated the Cowboys 31-29 to open the season.

Tom Brady leads yet another fourth-quarter comeback

NFL season No. 102 opened with fourth-quarter comeback No. 40 for the G.O.A.T. — an absurd total that inched him closer to Peyton Manning’s record (43).

“I’ve played a long time,” Brady said with a chuckle when we reminded him of that number in the early Friday morning hours. “A lot of football.”

It was a nice gesture of humility, but we’re here to praise Brady, not humor him — he deserves it.

And we’ll try to figure out, once and for all, why he’s so clutch.

“It’s just competition at its best,” Brady said when asked why he’s at his best when the stakes are the highest. “NFL football challenges you in a lot of different ways. We worked a lot on our two-minute, so it just comes down to execution and sometimes we’re going to need it. You never know when you’re going to need it.”

“Situationally, a lot of things are coming up. We’ve got to be on top of things. You have to string together a lot of communication about these critical moments and how to make the important plays when you need to. I think the important part about the last drive of the game is we executed a lot of really good plays at the right moment. It was great to see. It’s going to give us a lot of confidence.”

Brady made more history in Week 1 of the 2021 season

For as long as he plays, Brady will likely have a chance of breaking one all-time QB record or another on a regular basis. This game was no different as Brady took over the record of the most touchdown passes on kickoff weekend games (43).

He took the record from Drew Brees who had 41 touchdown passes. If Brady plays on opening weekend in 2022, he could also take the passing yards record from Brees, which currently stands at 5,566 (Brady has 5,311 after this game).

Brady also became the second player, after Brees, to reach 100 games in which he threw for 300 or more passing yards. It is fitting that Brady would reach 100 times passing for over 300 yards on his 300th NFL start, the first QB to reach the milestone. He is now just 23 games behind Brees for the all-time record for 300-yard-plus passing games. You wouldn’t bet against him reaching it either.

Unsurprisingly, Brady also made history with his good friend Rob Gronkowski. The pair is now No. 3 in regular-season touchdown connections (86) in NFL history, surpassing Steve Young and Jerry Rice (85). Gronkowski also took the record for most touchdown catches on opening weekend by a tight end (10).

Tampa Bay’s offense executed the final drive to perfection

There were two plays of Tampa’s 57-yard game-winning field-goal drive, in particular, that were the difference.

A 20-yard pass across the middle to Rob Gronkowski carried Tampa across the 50 with less than a minute left in regulation. It was Gronk’s eighth catch on 8 targets Thursday, a total that included 2 touchdowns from Brady.

The other was Chris Godwin’s ability to create separation from Cowboys DB Jourdan Lewis — perhaps legally, perhaps not. The gentle nudge gave him the space to pull in a 24-yard reception and set up Ryan Succop’s game-winning field goal. Godwin, of course, was adamant that he didn’t interfere offensively, and upon replay, he’s probably right.

Miscues made the contest closer than it could have been

The catch was a redemptive moment for Godwin, who nearly cost Tampa Bay the game five minutes earlier. With Tampa looking for the dagger, Godwin coughed up the ball at the goal line, giving the Cowboys possession and the chance to score.

It was one of far too many miscues by the defending champs, who managed to win despite playing below their capabilities. Tampa turned the ball over 4 times, committed 11 penalties, and allowed a resurgent Dak Prescott to roast them for 403 yards. Yet, they still won.

They won because they had the G.O.A.T. And the G.O.A.T. had the ball with 84 seconds left and a timeout, only needing a field goal to win. In truth, the Cowboys had already lost.

“There was no doubt we were going to win the game,” Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians said. “The confidence is real and it’s earned.”

Arians knows the Bucs didn’t play particularly well Thursday. But they played well enough to give Brady a chance — that’s all he ever needs.

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