By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
FOXBORO (CBS) — At long last, the actual game has arrived. After months of pregame buildup and a week of overwhelming hype, Tom Brady has finally returned to Gillette Stadium.
While the drama and the story lines and pump-up videos and memes and everything else all made for a fun (and dizzying) week, the actual game is what it’s all about. Specifically, the man wearing No. 12 for the Bucs is what it’s all about.
With that in mind, we’ll be tracking everything Brady does, from pregame warmups through the final whistle, right here, all night long.
7:35 p.m.: When Brady visits a stadium, he generally walks out onto the field to sit on the bench, find his landmarks, and get comfortable with his surroundings when he’s still wearing his (million-dollar) suit. He didn’t do that tonight, though; he generally knows his way around Gillette Stadium, and he probably wanted to avoid the circus that would ensue if he left the safety of the locker room.
But Brady did, of course, emerge for warmups at 7:30 p.m. He jogged down the home sideline like he always used to do, albeit in the opposite direction of his old way, and threw a fist pump into the northeast corner of the stadium. The fans reacted with a big cheer.
In his white game jersey, Brady looked like … Brady. With the stands about one-third full, a chant of “BRA-DY, BRA-DY, BRA-DY” broke out.
Brady stopped to give a hug to Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels before retreating to the Bucs’ side of the field.
Brady is back. Jogged the sideline (opposite direction as his old trot), fist pump, hug for Josh, followed by a BRA-DY chant from the fans. pic.twitter.com/AQm3YbwaS7
— Michael Hurley (@michaelFhurley) October 3, 2021
A few minutes later, Mac Jones emerged from the locker room alongside Brian Hoyer and ran down that same sideline, throwing a fist pump into the corner where Brady used to get pumped up before games for so long.
8:05 p.m.: This was interesting. Before departing field after warmups, the Bucs held a team meeting … on the Patriots’ logo at midfield:
Buccaneers gathering at midfield, on the Patriots logo, following their warmup. pic.twitter.com/EORqVXfxja
— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) October 3, 2021
The Buccaneers retreat to the locker room to a chorus of boos from the Gillette crowd after gathering on the Patriots logo at midfield. pic.twitter.com/D3JtCI7y0r
— Marc Bertrand (@Marc_Bertrand) October 3, 2021
You may remember that the Titans did that in Foxboro the night they beat the Patriots in the playoffs in the 2019 season. It looked like Brady wasn’t involve in the meeting, but his team nevertheless borrowed a trick from old pal Mike Vrabel.
8:11 p.m.: The video boards at Gillette played a brief tribute video for Brady before he arrived to the field. He came out from the tunnel leading the Bucs just as it came to an end, with a shot of Brady screaming in celebration after winning one of his six Patriots Super Bowls.
As he jogged across the field, he gave a thumbs up to the fans to acknowledge the cheers, and another round of BRA-DY! BRA-DY! BRA-DY! chants broke out.
And that was it. The stadium got dark for the dramatic entrance for the Patriots after that.
FIRST DRIVE: 12:54 first quarter, 0-0 score
After getting booed from the crowd that cheered him just moments ago, Brady badly overthrew Mike Evans on first-and-10 from his own 11-yard line.
On second down, in an empty set, Brady took a shotgun snap and delivered a strike to Evans on a little comeback route up the right sideline for nine yards.
On third-and-1, Brady gave an inside handoff to Leonard Fournette, who found a hole up the gut and stumbled for 21 yards.
With the ball now at the 40, Brady got under center and pitched to his left, but Fournette was stopped for a loss of a yard by Kyle Dugger. On the next play, Brady hit Antonio Brown on a little stop route for a gain of six.
Faced with another third down — this one a third-and-5 — Brady had a clean pocket but overhtrew Cameron Brate running a deep over route.
The Bucs were forced to punt.
Brady was 2-for-4 for 14 yards on the drive.
Bradley Pinion’s punt was mishandled by Gunner Olszewski, but he caught a break when the ball hit the pylon, resulting in a touchback.
Brady is now 54 yards away from breaking the NFL’s all-time passing yards record.
SECOND DRIVE: First quarter, 8:42, 0-0
Brady almost took over deep in Patriots territory, after it looked like Jakobi Meyers fumbled. But upon review, the replay official ruled that Meyers never properly had control of the pass. (He did, but the NFL is the NFL. So.)
The Bucs then took over at their own 18-yard line. Fournette reversed field and turned a no-gainer into an 11-yard run.
Brady then threw incomplete to a well-covered Evans, who had J.C. Jackson all over him.
On second-and-10, Brady hit Fournette on a screen, as the running back was lined up wide left. That play was well-blocked and went for 13 yards. After a five-yard run, Brady hit Evans with a bullet over the middle after the receiver ran a simple in-cut against Jackson. That one went for 13 yards.
With a fresh set of downs at the Patriots’ 42-yard line, Brady went right back to Evans over the middle again, this one for a gain of 28 yards.
With that pass, Tom Brady passed Drew Brees for the NFL’s all-time passing yards record.
Brady kept going about his business, only throwing a ball to the sideline after he hit Antonio Brown for a 3-yard gain on a play coming out of a timeout.
Brady then threw two bad incompletions into the end zone from the 11-yard line, and the BUcs had to settle for a field goal. Ryan Succop’s kick was good, giving Tampa a 3-0 lead.
THIRD DRIVE: First quarter, 3:39, 3-0 Buccaneers
After Mac Jones was picked off (on a bobbled pass in traffic by Nelson Agholor), Brady had Tyler Johnson open but badly overthrew him. That was his third or fourth notably bad throw of the night.
But on third-and-4, Brady did not throw a bad one. He threw a dandy — a back-shoulder throw to Antonio Brown up the left sideline that went for a gain of 27 yards.
Two plays later, Brady threw to Mike Evans running a slant, but Evans let the ball slip through his hands. (It is wet out there.)
On third-and-7 from the Patriots’ 18-yard line, Brady was pressured by Matt Judon, who forced a rushed throw to the feet of Fournette. The Bucs had to settle for another field goal try, but Succop’s kick sailed wide right.
Despite some notable misfires, Brady is 9-for-17 for 104 yards.
FOURTH DRIVE: Second quarter, 8:28, 7-3 Patriots
After Mac Jones hit Hunter Henry for a touchdown, it was Brady’s turn to respond.
He did not.
After picking up a first down, Brady was sacked by Matt Judon, who muscled his way through his blocker to get to the QB. Judon kind of leaned on Brady while getting up from the ground to celebrate, and Brady did not like that one bit. Brady got up quickly and thought to make a move at Judon, but then thought better of it.
Brady was flushed from the pocket on the next play and threw incomplete, and his wide receiver screen on third-and-18 went for just one yard.
The Bucs were forced to punt, and the Patriots are in control of this football game.
Brady is now 11-for-20 for 113 yards with no touchdowns or picks.
FIFTH DRIVE, Second quarter, 1:49, 7-3 Patriots
The Patriots thought about going for it on fourth-and-2 near midfield, but rushed the punt team onto the field after the two-minute warning. After taking a delay of game penalty, Jake Bailey’s short punt had some magic spin to it, spinning its way to the 5-yard line.
That’s where Brady and the Bucs took over, looking to grab a lead before halftime.
On a second-and-6 from the 9, Brady escaped the pocket and ran to his right, throwing on the run and hitting a wide open Chris Godwin up the right sideline for 28 yards.
Now at the 37-yard line, Brady went back to Godwin, this time dropping a BEAUTIFUL rainbow in the bucket up the left seam. That one went for 26 yards, giving the Bucs half the field in a span of two snaps.
Brady then went to Cameron Brate for 11 yards on an out, before finally throwing incomplete deep on the next play. With 25 seconds on the clock, and with the ball on the 26-yard line, Brady overthrew an open Brown running a hitch on the right side.
That brought up a third-and-10, and Brady once again missed an open Brown in the same spot.
Brady’s thrown some really poor passes tonight. He’s thrown some nice ones, too, but he has been wildly inconsistent by any QB’s standards, let alone his own.
Succop’s 44-yard field goal in the rain was good, cutting the Pats’ lead to 7-6.
Brady is now just 15-for-27 for 182 yards.
SIXTH DRIVE, Third quarter, 14:55, 7-6 Patriots
On a second-and-6, Brady’s first pass of the second half … went right through Cameron Brate’s hands. He might have been off to the races for 20-plus yards if he had caught that one.
On the resulting third down, Brady threw deep to Antonio Brown, and connected for a huge 44-yard gain. It was by far Brady’s best ball of the night. But it came back for an illegal hands to the face penalty on Donovan Smith, who blocked Judon up high. That was massive.
On third-and-15, Fournette ran for six yards before getting stopped.
SEVENTH DRIVE, Third quarter, 11:11, 7-6 Patriots
New England was poised to expand on that lead, but J.J. Taylor fumbled after making a catch in the flat, giving the ball to Tampa at their own 32-yard line.
The Bucs didn’t do anything with that free possession, though. Brady threw toward O.J. Howard on third-and-2, but Deatrich Wise batted the ball at the line of scrimmage. The pass popped into the air and fell harmlessly to the turf.
Brady is now 15-for-29 on the night.
EIGHTH DRIVE, Third quarter, 7:17, 7-6 Patriots
The Bucs almost didn’t get this drive, as Jaydon Mickens fumbled his punt return. But Matt Slater was penalized for running out of bounds while covering the punt, so the fumble and the Patriots’ recovery was negated.
On the replay of the down, Mickens returned the punt to the Tampa Bay 48-yard line.
Brady threw a screen to Fournette for 11 yards to start the drive, and he really didn’t have to do much more. He rolled to his right after escaping a collapsing pocket, getting shoved to the turf by Christian Barmore while throwing incomplete. But then he hit Mike Evans with a strike on an out route on the right side, which went for nine yards. On third-and-1, Ronald Jones ran for three yards. Jones got the handoff on the next play, too, and he found the right pylon for a touchdown.
Succop’s PAT made it a 13-7 Buccaneers lead.
Brady is 17-for-32 for 202 yards, still with no touchdowns or interceptions.
NINTH DRIVE, Fourth quarter, 14:57, 14-13 Patriots
After Mac Jones (rather easily) led the Patriots on a 77-yard touchdown drive, the Patriots kicked short and Mickens was tackled at the 25-yard line.
Faced with a third-and-3 after two runs, Brady went back to his favorite target, hitting Brown on the left sideline for a gain of seven yards and a fresh set of downs.
Brady felt a bit cramped in a collapsing pocket on his next throw, leading to a pass thrown at some feet. That brought up a third-and-6 near midfield. Brady avoided the rush of Josh Uche and then actually took off up the middle for a six-yard gain to move the chains. It wasn’t quite Brady-Urlacher in 2006 jets from the QB, but he can still move.
DUAL THREAT QB😤
— PFF (@PFF) October 4, 2021
Two plays later, after burning a timeout, Brady did a great job of hitting Fournette in stride to take him away from a defender for a screen pass. An imperfect throw there, and the play gets blown up. But that throw allowed Fournette to take off for 23 yards.
The Bucs faced a third-and-9 at the Patriots’ 24-yard line, and Brady easily hit Brate on a slant over the middle for 18 yards.
That set up a first-and-goal at the 6-yard line. Fournette ran into a wall on first down, losing two yards. Then Brady threw a pass to Fournette that was notably NOT pefect, leading to third down again.
On this one, Brady gave the okey-doke to Van Noy to avoid a sack, then ran right. But with nowhere to go with the ball, he threw it over the heads of the end zone militia, leading to yet another field goal attempt for the Bucs.
Succop hit the 27-yarder, and the Bucs are once again in the lead, 16-14.
TENTH DRIVE: Fourth quarter, 4:37, 17-16 Patriots
The potential game-winning drive for Brady began with the QB picking out a matchup he liked: Leonard Fournette vs. Kyle Van Noy up the right sideline. Brady threw up a jump ball to give Fournette a chance to make the catch, but Van Noy broke it up. It looked good for the Pats for a moment, but two yellow flags came in for pass interference.
A short pass to Evans was negated by an offensive pass interference penalty, leading to a second-and-17 near midfield.
An unpressured Brady hit Evans on a crosser for a gain of 11, setting up a third-and-6 at the Patriots’ 40-yard line.
With the crowd roaring, Brady and the Bucs broke their huddle after a timeout for third-and-6. Brady calmly bounced around the pocket and waited for Antonio Brown to get himself open on an out route. Brady delivered a strike, the play went for eight yards, and the Bucs had a fresh set of downs in field-goal range.
On second-and-8, Brady threw a rainbow into the end zone for Brown, but the two weren’t on the same page.
On the resulting third-and-8, after a timeout, Brady went right back to Brown in the same spot. Brown tried to make a catch at full speed in the back right corner of the end zone, but he couldn’t hang on.
With the crowd rocking, Succop stepped up and confidently drilled a 48-yard field goal.
The Bucs now lead 19-17 with 1:57 left in the game. Brady is 22-for-43 for 269 yards. No touchdown. No picks.
ELEVENTH DRIVE: Fourth quarter, :55, 19-17 Buccaneers
And Brady’s ending this game in a familiar position: On a knee, with the ball cradled in his hand.
The Patriots led what could have been a game-winning drive, but Nick Folk’s 56-yard field goal attempt doinked off the left upright. The Patriots came that close to beating the defending champs.
And that’s how it’ll end. What a game.
Brady finished just 22-for-43 for 269 yards with no touchdowns or picks. Counterpart Mac Jones was 31-for-40 for 275 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.