Tompa Bay! Brady's Five TDs Key Comeback Win over Chargers
Tom Brady threw five touchdown passes and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers flipped their own script in Week Four, in the process came away with one of the top comeback victories in team history, a 38-31 decision over the visiting Los Angeles Chargers at Raymond James Stadium.

After logging consecutive wins over Carolina and Denver with dominant first halves and dormant second halves, the Buccaneers fell behind 24-7 in the second quarter Sunday before rallying for 21 straight points. That still wasn't enough to turn back rookie QB Justin Herbert and the very game Chargers, as they took the lead back on the final play of the fourth quarter. But Brady threw three of his five touchdown passes in the second half and the Bucs secured their third straight victory.

"I thought he just played outstanding," said Head Coach Bruce Arians. "I've just got to coach him up better on that one play [that was intercepted] and just get it coached better. But he played fantastic and was lights-out in the second half."

The 17-point margin is tied for the second biggest one the Buccaneers have overcome to win a game. They most recently did that against Minnesota on Sept. 18, 2011, coming back from a 17-0 deficit to win 24-20.

"I think there were some times when we hit a little bit of a lull but I thought from the last 50 seconds [of the first half] to the end of the ballgame we made plays to win the ballgame. Very seldom does our defense give up a lead, but they did and we bounced right back and got the score. Then we got the huge interception to ice it. I think we can play better, but we're getting there."

The win gave Tampa Bay its first 3-1 start since that 2011 season and kept them in first place in the NFC South. The New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers both won on Sunday to improve to 2-2.

Brady and the Buccaneers' offense opened the game with a 75-yard drive ending in Cameron Brate's three-yard touchdown catch but otherwise had difficulty moving the ball in the first half, settling for mostly underneath passes. However, Brady began pushing it down the field in the second half, connecting with Scotty Miller, Mike Evans, O.J. Howard and Rob Gronkowski on big gains that sparked scoring drives. Howard had three catches for 50 yards and a score before leaving the game with a season-ending Achilles tendon rupture.

"We've got to do a good job forcing them to cover everything," said Brady. "The passing got a little compressed and then we made some plays down the field and it opened some things up. You've got to make them defend everything.

"We put ourselves in a pretty good hole and we were just going to have to dig our way out of it. That's just the way football works sometimes. We've just got to tighten things up. I'm glad we came back. The defense made a big play for us just before the end of the half and that got us and that got us ignited a little bit. We made some plays in the third quarter, made some good plays in the fourth quarter. We started the game well, finished the game well, that middle part we've just to figure out how to play 60 minutes well."

Brady finished the game with 369 yards on 30-of-46 passing. It was his first 300-yard game as a Buccaneer but it was the seventh time he has topped 300 and thrown at least five touchdowns in a game. That's tied with Peyton Manning for the second-most such performances in NFL history, two behind Drew Brees and his nine.

As Brady alluded to, the Bucs actually started their comeback just before halftime when Ndamukong Suh forced a fumble by RB Joshua Kelly at the Chargers' nine-yard line with 38 seconds left in the half. Brady turned that into another score on a scrambling six-yard touchdown pass to Mike Evans. He then connected on touchdown passes of 28 yards to Howard, 19 to Miller and nine to rookie RB Ke'Shawn Vaughn. Arians said it was the Suh forced fumble, with Devin White recovering for the Bucs at the seven-yard line, that swung the game's momentum in their direction.

"I don't think there's any doubt," he said. "We were making plans to go into halftime, thinking they were going to take a knee. We had one timeout. They decided to run the ball and Suh does a great job of getting it out, and then Tommy makes a great play for the touchdown. Three points right there would have been a deflated win, but the touchdown really made a difference."

Suh added two quarterback hits to go with his big defensive play and Lavonte David led the team with 11 tackles, a tackle for loss and a pass defensed. Shaq Barrett followed up his two-sack effort in Denver in Week Three with another sack to go with seven tackles. But the biggest play of the game for the Bucs' defense was Suh's timely takeaway.

"It created some momentum for us," said Suh. "Tom and the offense did a great job of punching it in, getting a touchdown and allowing us to build off of that. That's what we have to do as a defense, make sure we give them as many opportunities to score points because we know we've got plenty of firepower over there."

Brady did throw one interception to go with his TD barrage, with CB Michael Davis returning it for a 78-yard score. That came moments after Chargers rookie QB Justin Herbert had tied the game with a 53-yard touchdown pass to WR Tyron Johnson. Herbert also threw over a blitz in the third quarter to hit WR Jalen Guyton on a 72-yard score that temporarily put the visitors back ahead, 31-28. Herbert, in just his third NFL start, completed 20 of his 25 passes for 290 yards.

However, his last pass was intercepted by Carlton Davis with less than three minutes left in the game. Brady was supported by a running game that produced 115 yards and 4.3 yards per carry. Ronald Jones ran for a career-best 111 yards and clinched the game after the Davis pick with a 14-yard run for a first down. Jones ran hard throughout the game and Arians credited that for allowing the offense to finally open things up in the second half.

"He just kept pounding, kept pounding and finding holes, finding the soft spot and then breaking tackles," said Arians. "I thought he broke a bunch of tackles today, made four-yard runs into 10s and 11s. Most of [the deep passing] was due to the runs we were setting up. We were running it very well, and then we got some crossing routes of the play action. Scotty in the seam, O.J. in the seam and then it was just, throw it up to Mike."

Vaughn also got his first chance to play on offense after injuries took Leonard Fournette before the game and also hit LeSean McCoy and Kenjon Barner during the contest. His go ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter came on a difficult catch that he then turned up and powered through two defenders to get to the goal line.

"I can't say enough about Ke'Shawn stepping in there for his first time and getting a big touchdown catch," said Arians. "All these young kids, they've missed so much, especially the ones that were sick or got hurt. But Tyler [Johnson], Keyshawn…about two or three weeks ago [he] was down. He didn't think he was going to get much action. I told him, 'Hey, you never know, and when it comes it's going to be extremely important so be ready. He was. Hell of a catch, hell of a run getting that thing into the end zone. He played really well."

Brady's top target was Evans, who caught seven passes for 122 yards and his 256th career 100-yard game. He also scored a touchdown for the fifth straight game, a new franchise record dating back to last year's season finale. On what proved to be the game-winning drive that ended in Vaughn's nine-yard touchdown catch, Evans made up for an offensive pass interference call by making a remarkable 48-yard catch two snaps later. That marked the third time in three tries that the Bucs converted a goal-to-go situation into a touchdown; they are now 11-for-11 in that situation this year.

"I'm sure the guys were saying, 'Keep fighting, keep playing and things are going to go our way," said Evans of the turn of momentum sparked by his score. "And they did. I knew in the back of my mind that we were getting what we wanted on offense. We just didn't make the plays we could have made, and in the second half we made more plays."

Brady's offensive outburst and the team's big comeback had more witnesses than the Bucs' first home game, a Week Two win over Carolina. After playing that game with no fans in the stands due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bucs were able to open their gates to approximately 10,000 attendees Sunday. Arians said it made a difference, especially when the fans were voicing their displeasure over the slow start.

"It wasn't quiet quiet," said Arians. "You could hear them hollering, and I could hear them bitching, too. That was great. They needed to bitch there for a while. So I was loving it when they were doing it, and I think our guys heard them, too. So that's awesome."

Ryan Succop finished the scoring with a 26-yard field goal with 2:40 to go. Succop also misfired on a 44-yard attempt in the second quarter but otherwise the Bucs' special teams had another good day. Bradley's three punts went for 58, 57 and 56 and two of them were downed inside the 20, including one that led to Suh's big forced fumble. Jaydon Mickens got 27 yards on three punt returns and also had a 24-yard kickoff return, and Barner ran back a kickoff 33 yards before leaving the game with a concussion.

The Buccaneers will try to follow up their encouraging comeback win with a fourth straight victory on a short week. Tampa Bay plays at Chicago on Thursday night to kick off the NFL's fifth week.

Scott Smith,, published 5 October 2020