Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady helped end the NFL’s second-longest playoff drought by throwing four touchdown passes in a 47-7 blowout win over the Detroit Lions on Saturday, clinching Tampa Bay’s first playoff berth since 2007.
Brady, appearing in his 300th game in the same city his career began — Detroit, 20 years ago on Thanksgiving Day — led five TD-scoring drives in the first half, before giving way to backup Blaine Gabbert in the second half, compiling 589 yards of total offense.
Facing a skeleton crew of Lions coaches due to a COVID-19 scare this week, plus the absence of Desmond Trufant, Jeff Okuda, Kenny Golladay, and the loss of Matthew Stafford in the first quarter, Brady put together the best first half of his career, completing 22-of-27 passes for 348 yards. Brady matched his personal best as the only player over the last 40 seasons with at least 240 passing yards and four TDs before halftime (he threw for 345 yards and five TDs in the first half against the Titans in 2009), according to Elias Sports Bureau.
On the opening drive, Brady found Rob Gronkowski on a deep fade route for a 33-yard touchdown, before hitting Mike Evans on a go-route for a 27-yard touchdown on the very next possession — the first time since Week 4 that the Bucs have scored a touchdown on the opening drive, and the first time all season they scored a touchdown on their first two possessions, as slow starts have been a problem.
Following a 4-yard touchdown run up the gut by Leonard Fournette – who filled in for the second week in a row for Ronald Jones, Brady hit Chris Godwin on a 7-yard crossing route for a one-armed diving TD catch. Brady then delivered a 12-yard strike to Antonio Brown to make it 34-0 at the half.
Brady was particularly sharp on the deep ball – an area of concern for many of his critics who said that, at 43, he didn’t have the arm strength to orchestrate Bruce Arians’ high-flying offense. He went 5-of-7 with two TDs on passes of 20+ air yards, matching his most such completions for an entire game over the last 15 seasons, according to ESPN Statistics & Information.
Pro Bowl wide receiver Mike Evans caught 10 passes for 181 receiving yards and two TDs, and now needs just 40 yards against the Falcons next week to become the first player in NFL history to record 1,000 receiving yards in each of his first seven season. Evans is currently tied with Pro Football Hall of famer Randy Moss as the only two players with 1,000 yards in their first six seasons.
Also catching two TDs was Gronkowski, whom Brady lured out of a one-year retirement. He tacked on a 25-yard touchdown from Gabbert on his first play in the third quarter.
The weekend’s not over for Brady and the Bucs. Should the Los Angeles Rams fall to the Seattle Seahawks tomorrow or Arizona Cardinals next week, the Bucs would move into the fifth seed in the NFC, assuming the Bucs defeat the Atlanta Falcons next week. That would pit them against the NFC East winner — currently Washington — in the opening round of the playoffs in two weeks.