FOXBORO (CBS) — The Patriots nearly stunned Tom Brady and the Buccaneers in Brady’s return to New England. The Patriots were just inches away from taking a late lead on a 56-yard field goal attempt by Nick Folk.
But Folk’s kick banged off the left upright with 55 seconds left, and Brady and his Bucs escaped Foxboro with a 19-17 win over the quarterback’s former team.
The visiting Bucs were favored by nearly a touchdown heading into the game, but Bill Belichick’s defense did its best against Brady throughout the contest. The quarterback completed 22 of his 43 passes, with many of his misses errant overthrows, and finished with 269 yards and no touchdowns or interceptions. But he still walked off the field with a victory, giving him a win over all 32 NFL teams for his career.
Brady received a rousing ovation when he first took the field for warmups, but fans seemed almost indifferent about having the man who brought six Super Bowl titles to New England back on the field when the game started.
Those fans were much more excited for rookie quarterback Mac Jones, who threw a pair of touchdowns. The Patriots took a 7-3 lead in the second quarter after Jones guided them on a 74-play touchdown drive, hitting tight end Hunter Henry for an 11-yard score. New England overcame two offensive holding calls on guard Mike Onwenu on the drive. The Patriots took a 7-6 lead into the locker room at halftime.
The Buccaneers took a 13-7 lead late in the third quarter when Ronald Jones capped off a 54-yard drive with an eight-yard touchdown run. But Jones and the Patriots answered immediately, taking a 14-13 lead when Jones hit New England’s other big free agent splash — tight end Jonnu Smith — for a one-yard touchdown to start the fourth quarter. Jones was Brady-like on the 77-yard drive, hitting six different receivers en route to the end zone.
The Patriots defense had a solid game overall, and received a huge boost when Matt Judon sacked Brady on a first-and-10 play in the second quarter. Right after the Patriots scored their first touchdown, Judon took a pair of Tampa Bay blockers with him on his way to the quarterback and brought Brady down for an eight-yard loss. He later blew up a first-and-goal run by Leonard Fournette in the fourth quarter, and the Bucs had to settle for a 27-yard field goal to take a 16-14 lead with just under eight minutes to play.
The Patriots battled back, and used some trickeration to do so. On their following drive, Jakobi Meyers took a flea flicker from running back Damien Harris and connected with Nelson Agholor for a 30-yard gain down to the Tampa Bay 9-yard line. New England had to settle for a field goal after Jones was nearly picked off by Devin White a few plays later — a play that could have been a game-ending pick-six — and a dump to Brandon Bolden on third-and-goal went for no gain. Nick Folk hit a 27-yard kick to put the Patriots on top 17-16.
That gave Brady the ball back with 4:34 left to go in the game, and Patriots fans are plenty familiar with what he can do with the game on the line in the closing minutes. The Bucs picked up 31 yards on a pass interference call on Kyle Van Noy as he defended Leonard Fournette downfield, and Brady hit Antonio Brown for eight yards on a must-have third-and-6. He forced a deep pass to Brown in the end zone on a third-and-8, and the Bucs had to settle for a 48-yard field goal from Succop to take a 19-17 lead at the two-minute warning, which was the difference in the game.
Jones finished the game 31-for-40 with 275 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. The Patriots got down to the Tampa Bay 37 on their final drive, thanks in large part to a 20-yard pass interference penalty on Tampa corner Jordan Whitehead on the first play of the drive. A seven-yard connection by Jones and Meyers on a second-and-10 had the Patriots facing a third-and-3 with just over a minute to go, but Jones’ pass was batted down at the line. Belichick opted to send Folk out for the long field goal attempt, saying after the game that he didn’t consider going for it on fourth down.
The Patriots can take a lot of positives from Sunday night’s loss, taking the Super Bowl champs down to the wire, but New England is now 1-3 on the season.