Tom Brady throws four touchdowns in 45-20 win over Raiders
Maybe there's no better place to talk about a big gamble than a few blocks from the Vegas strip. Tom Brady had just finished throwing for 369 yards and four touchdowns to as many receivers and rushing for another score in Sunday's 45-20 win over Jon Gruden's Raiders at Allegiant Stadium.

Scotty Miller had six catches for 109 yards, the first time he has surpassed the century mark in his career. It included a sliding 33-yard touchdown to cap a two-minute drill seconds before halftime. The Bucs are 5-2 and their celebrity quarterback is one of the league's high rollers with 15 touchdown passes and only one interception in his past five games.

Despite all this embarrassment of riches at the receiving position - Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Miller and rookie Tyler Johnson - the Bucs want to push Lady Luck. Instead of focusing on the explosive win Sunday, the subject naturally turned to the Bucs' decision to risk it all by signing troubled receiver Antonio Brown to a one-year contract.

"It's an insurance policy," coach Bruce Arians said. "You know, when we don't have Mike and we don't have Chris, why not have another Pro Bowl-caliber player that's available that fits our camp and fits everything else? So why not? We have good players. You can't have enough of them. In Chicago, we've got one of our top guys out there on one leg. Why not have another one?"

It's true that a few games ago, when Evans was limping, Miller had no targets a Godwin was out with a hamstring strain, the Bucs looked bad in losing to the Bears 20-19. Apparently, that's when the discussions ramped up between general manager Jason Licht and Arians about Brown, who still is serving an eight-game suspension for violating the league's conduct policy.

Brady, who now has 559 career passing touchdowns, surpassing Drew Brees (558) for most in NFL history, gets the credit or blame for lobbying for the Bucs to sign Brown, who is on probation for battery on a moving van driver and still faces a sexual assault allegation.

"I think he's matured. I believe in second chances," Arians said of Brown, who was traded by the Steelers and cut by the Raiders and Patriots in the past year. "You know, everybody wants to say that Tom picked him. Tom didn't have nothing to do with it. This was something Jason and I have been talking for a couple weeks, ever since the injuries to our other guys. When the time was right, would we see if we could pull the trigger and fit it into what we want to get done? And we'll see. If Antonio does what I think he's going to do, he'll be fine."

For three hours on Sunday, the Bucs didn't look like they need him. Tampa Bay fell behind 10-7 before Brady capped touchdown drives of 88 and 85 yards with scoring passes to Rob Gronkowski and Miller. The Raiders and quarterback Derek Carr cut the lead to 24-20. The Bucs faced third and 13 when Leonard Fournette slipped out of the backfield, caught a short pass and stretched for the first down.

Brady capped the drive with his short touchdown pass to Godwin. The Bucs got the ball right back when safety Mike Edwards tipped a pass that rookie Antoine Winfield caught for his first interception. Brady connected with Godwin again for 23 yards and Ronald Jones scored his fourth touchdown of the season with a 1-yard run.

"We did not get enough pass rush today, and if you let Tom Brady sit back there and survey the field, he's proved it for 20 years, he's proving it for 21 years, that he's still one of the very, very best," Gruden said. "They have an arsenal of weapons, credit to them."

But it's not enough. The Bucs are wagering that this time, Brown will be a good soldier and not disrupt what they have in that receiving room. Evans is the Bucs' biggest star outside of Brady and he did not have a target until late in the third quarter Sunday. He finished with two catches for 37 yards and had only one catch last week in a 38-10 win over Green Bay.

"Mike is one of the most unselfish superstars in the league," Miller said. "He only had a couple catches today and the past couple games but that's because he's getting double teamed the whole game, really. That makes it so much easier for me and everybody else."

Perhaps no player will be as affected by Brown as Miller. They both are smallish, speed receivers and aren't going to supplant Evans or Godwin. "Like you said, we have a lot of really great players and adding one at the receiving position to our room is scary," Miller said. "I'm excited to meet (Brown) and really just excited to learn from him. … I think he can really help my game out in the future."

Brown, who signed an incentive-laden contract that could earn as much as $2.5 million, won't be eligible to play until the Bucs host New Orleans in Week 9 (Nov. 8). Brady only played one game with Brown last season but has been pushing the Bucs to add him since last spring.

"He's a tremendous football player and I played with him for a brief period of time," Brady said. "...He's a very hard-working guy. We're going to all go on the practice field and do what we can do and see how it all fits together. We're fighting a lot of continuity from a lot of other teams, a lot of other coaches. Bruce has had tremendous patience with me. Watching me grow in the offense and I totally appreciate that and respect that and feel I'm getting to a more comfortable place."

Brady also was quick to take the roll call of the receivers he has worked with since March, the ones who have helped him transition to a new team after 20 years with the Patriots.

"I'm not getting into personal conversations we've had together," Brady said of Brown. "The guys we have are amazing players and teammates. Mike, Chris, Scotty, Tyler (Johnson) caught a touchdown today. Cyril (Grayson). Mick (Jaydon Mickens). The tight ends, Huddy (Tanner Hudson), Gronk, Cam (Brate), obviously. They're all doing a great job. We miss O.J. (Howard) out there. We've got a good group. We're trying to win football games and we're here to do a job." In the end, it's about keeping the hot streak alive. Brady believes he can deliver the Bucs to a Super Bowl and he's starting to look like he could run the table.

On Sunday, the Bucs left the city where profit prevails and red or black can be your biggest choice. But even with all the winning, they're willing to bet on Brown.

Rick Stroud, Tampa Bay Times, published 26 October 2020