For 30 minutes, you saw the offense you dreamed of with Tom Brady
It was second and goal, and Tom Brady had just heaved another incompletion out of bounds. The Bucs were losing by a ton, and Brady had completed exactly half of his 28 passes for a pathetic average of 3.6 yards per attempt.

You could almost hear the whispers of the crowd scattered around the Raymond James Stadium. He looks old. He looks rattled. This is what happens when an athlete stretches the imagination farther than anyone has ever known. The world is never patient when it comes to judgment.

So it was no small matter when Brady stepped forward to avoid the rush on third down and found Mike Evans in the back of the end zone with a pass that could not have been delivered any better.

And that began what may be the most pristine 30 minutes of football a Tampa Bay quarterback has ever played. It was certainly the greatest afternoon a 43-year-old quarterback has ever known. "I think we can still play better," Bucs coach Bruce Arians said, "but we're getting there."

You shouldn't often toss around words like perfection, but Brady was close to flawless as the Bucs methodically erased a 17-point deficit and beat the Chargers 38-31 Sunday afternoon.

Consider his passing numbers on the first four drives of the second half:
Drive No. 1: 5-of-5 for 64 yards and a touchdown pass to O.J. Howard.
Drive No. 2: 2-of-2 for 63 yards and a touchdown pass to Scotty Miller.
Drive No. 3: 5-of-6 for 87 yards and a touchdown pass to Ke'Shawn Vaughn.
Drive No. 4: 3-of-4 for 49 yards and an eventual field goal.

If you add in the pass to Evans at the end of the first half, Brady was 16-of-18 for 269 yards and four touchdowns in a stretch of 28-plus minutes. This is what you were imagining when the Bucs signed Brady nearly seven months ago. This is the offense you were shocked did not show up in New Orleans for the season opener. This is what you get when you add a precision passer to a collection of high-end receivers. "We need him to play like that week-in and week-out if we want to be the special team that we think we are capable of being," Evans said.

You could argue that the Chargers are not a great defensive team but, really, they're not that bad. Before this, they had faced Patrick Mahomes and Teddy Bridgewater in back-to-back weeks and had given up an average of only 22 points.

"We've gotten a little bit better offensively every single week," Miller said. "There's still stuff we have to clean up, just communication-wise being on the same page. But the more we do that, when we're clicking, when we're not having penalties, it's very difficult to stop us."

This is what is possible if the Bucs can come up with a consistent running game. Having Ronald Jones barrel through the middle for 111 yards, as he did Sunday, opens up the play-action pass for Brady, and that is really all he needs.

He never had a rocket launcher for an arm, but Brady could always deliver the deep pass when given time in the pocket. And he proved that's still a legitimate option. He had two completions of more than 40 yards and a handful of others in the 25-yard range.

The key is making sure Brady's pocket is as airtight as a vault. The one place where his age is a factor is his mobility and, potentially, his durability. Once defenses realize he can still pick them apart, there's going to be a renewed emphasis on ratcheting up the pressure.

The best way to avoid that is with an effective running game. "I don't think Tom really went down unless he held it for a while," Arians said. "(The offensive line) did a heck of a job in the run game and the passing game. When you run the ball that well, you're going to have some nice, wide-open play action."

In the end, it was only half a game. With Brady's second pick-six interception of the season, the offense had given up as many points as it scored in the game's first 29 minutes. It's premature to assume all of your most fervent wishes of Brady and this offense are about to come true. But now, you at least know it's possible. For 30 minutes on Sunday, the Bucs offense may have never been better.

John Romano, Tampa Bay Times, published 5 October 2020