Brady throws five touchdowns as Bucs rally to beat Chargers
It was just another comeback for the ageless. Forty-three-year-old Tom Brady and the Bucs were trailing by 17 points to the Los Angeles Chargers late in the first half Sunday. He had even helped dig the hole, throwing another interception that was returned for a touchdown.

But with Brady, there always seems to be enough time on the clock. After all, during his 20 seasons in New England, he had four comebacks bigger than the one he pulled off in Sunday's 38-31 win over the Chargers. Heck, he was down 25 to the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl 51 and won in overtime. Just when some folks in New England think Brady may be washed up, he starts cleaning up with the Bucs.

What was the belief in Brady on the Tampa Bay sideline Sunday, watching him pass for 369 yards and a franchise-tying five touchdowns? "He's the GOAT," Bucs cornerback Carlton Davis said. "That's as simple as I can put it. The GOAT. Tom Brady. You know? He's a great player. ... He just gives the whole sideline energy for the comeback that we had."

Wide receiver Scotty Miller said it was as simple as helping Brady make some plays. "First of all, how could you not believe in him?" Miller said "He's the greatest to ever do it. Just go in there and follow his lead. We know he's going to do his job, so we've just got to do what we do and help him out a little bit."

Receiver Mike Evans, who played through a tweaked ankle and caught seven passes for 122 yards and a score, never had any doubts. "We all know his track record, and his resume speaks for itself," Evans said. "We need him to play like that week in and week out if we want to be the special team we're capable of being, and we have the utmost confidence in Tom and he had a hell of a game today."

In the end, Brady had to outduel the Chargers' 22-year-old quarterback, Justin Herbert, who was pretty spectacular in passing for 290 yards and three touchdowns. That included scoring bombs of 72 and 53 yards to help the Chargers build a 24-7 lead.

"I told (Chargers coach) Anthony (Lynn) after the game, I said, ‘You've got a great one," Bucs coach Bruce Arians said of Herbert. "That retreating play, that looked like (Patrick) Mahomes when we had an all-out blitz and he just kept retreating and threw a (53-yard) dime down the field. For rookies to make plays like that, you know they're special."

Nobody was as special Sunday as Brady. But for all of his heroics, the biggest play of the game came from the Bucs defense. With the Chargers backed up to their own 9-yard line, only 38 seconds remaining in the second quarter and getting the ball first after halftime, Lynn should've had Herbert take a knee. The Bucs had one time out left.

Instead, Herbert handed to running back Joshua Kelley, who was stripped of the football by Bucs defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. Linebacker Devin White recovered at the Los Angeles 6-yard line. Three plays later, Brady tossed to Evans in the back of the end zone for a touchdown to cut the deficit to 24-14.

That play helped the Bucs erase an awful first half. Brady threw another pick six on an out route to Justin Watson, similar to the one he had returned for a TD in New Orleans. Cornerback Michael Davis intercepted and brought this one back 78 yards for a score. Ryan Succop missed a 44-yard field goal, and footballs kept going over the head of the Bucs secondary.

Even when Brady gave the Bucs their first lead with passes of 45 and 19 yards to Miller, the second one for a TD, they couldn't hold it. Hebert connected with Jalen Guyton for a 72-yard TD pass to put the Chargers up 31-28. Oh, but Brady has 37 fourth-quarter comebacks in the regular season, second only to Peyton Manning's 43.

The Bucs had success running the football with Ronald Jones rushing for a career high 111 yards on 20 carries, and that opened up the play-action passing game. But it was a surprise that the winning score was a nine-yard TD strike to rookie Ke'Shawn Vaughn, who had not played an offensive snap until Sunday, with 11:05 remaining. Davis sealed the game with an interception with 2:22 remaining. "We just had to get our head out of our butt," Davis said.

The Bucs are 3-1 and headed to Chicago Thursday for a game against the Bears. They lost tight end O.J. Howard for the season to an Achilles injury. Receiver Chris Godwin still won't be able to play. Running back LeSean McCoy left the game with an ankle sprain. It will be a tough week.

"We put ourselves in a pretty good hole, and we were going to have to dig our way out of it," Brady said. "That's just the way football works sometimes. We've just got to tighten some things up. I'm glad we came back.''

As Bucs fans will come to realize, it's just what Brady does.

, Tampa Bay Times, published 5 October 2020