FOXBORO, Mass. — In a dramatic, low-scoring, rain-soacked thriller at Gillette Stadium, Tom Brady guided the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a 19-17 victory over the New England Patriots in his return to Gillette Stadium.
Here’s a closer look at how Brady and his rookie Patriots counterpart, Mac Jones, performed in this highly anticipated primetime matchup:
Brady took the field to rousing cheers and “BRA-DY, BRA-DY” chants from the capacity crowd in Foxboro, but he heard a chorus of boos when he and the Bucs’ offense jogged out for their first possession. That drive ended in a punt after Brady overthrew an open Cameron Brate on a third-down deep ball.
Overthrows and high passes plagued Brady — who broke Drew Brees’ all-time NFL passing record during the opening quarter — throughout the first half, during which he completed just 55.6 percent of his passes (15 of 27). Whether the rainy condition or the nerves that accompanied his homecoming were to blame, Brady was off-target on 10 of his first-half attempts, according to ESPN Stats & Info, higher than his total from any of the Bucs’ first three full games.
After the Patriots, leading 7-3 at the time, chose to punt on fourth-and-2 from midfield with 1:49 remaining, Brady began assembling one of his patented two-minute drills, finding Chris Godwin for back-to-back completions of 26 and 28 yards. But he misfired on two short passes to Antonio Brown near the Patriots’ red zone, and the Bucs settled for a field goal.
Tampa Bay had another promising first-half drive that ended with back-to-back drops (by Mike Evans and Leonard Fournette) and a missed field goal.
Brady went three-and-out on his first two drives after halftime but found paydirt on the third, benefiting from a rare unsportsmanlike conduct penalty by Matthew Slater on a Patriots punt. The Bucs took over near midfield and drove 52 yards in eight plays, with Fournette (one catch, 11 yards; three rushes, 15 yards) doing most of the heavy lifting. Ronald Jones finished the job with an 8-yard touchdown run.
A 23-yard catch-and-run by Fournette and an 18-yard dart to Brate on third-and-9 brought the Bucs into the red zone on their next possession, but the Patriots’ defense held, forcing a third-down Brady throwaway. Tampa settled for a field goal.
On Tampa Bay’s next drive, Brady found targeted linebacker Kyle Van Noy in man-to-man coverage on Fournette deep downfield, picking up a 31-yard defensive pass interference penalty. He then capitalized on a Patriots injury, going right at fill-in cornerback Justin Bethel when Jonathan Jones was briefly shaken up. Brown beat Bethel for a first down on third-and-6.
Two heaves into the end zone to Brown followed, with both falling incomplete. (The second was placed perfectly, hitting the wideout in the hands.) Ryan Succop jogged on and booted what proved to be the game-winning field goal.
Brady’s final line: 22 of 43, 269 yards, no touchdowns, no interceptions. He was hounded throughout the game, especially by edge rusher Matt Judon, but was sacked just once and hit three times.
As has been the case in every game this season, the Patriots struggled to protect their rookie quarterback in the opening half, surrendering two sacks and six QB hits over the first two quarters. Jones absorbed a number of hard shots from Tampa Bay’s talented front seven, including one from blitzing linebacker Devin White that helped force a first-quarter interception.
Jones was efficient in the opening half, though, completing 15 of 20 passes against a Buccaneers secondary that was missing two of its top three cornerbacks. He was especially successful when throwing at newly signed veteran Richard Sherman, who struggled to keep pace in his first game appearance since last season. The Bucs proceeded to lose starting corner Carlton Davis to a quad injury late in the second quarter, further taxing their depth at the position.
The Patriots moved in fits and starts for much of the first half — four of their first five drives covered fewer than 25 yards — but found the end zone at the end of an 11-play, 74-yard possession. The Patriots overcame two Mike Onwenu holding penalties during that series and converted three third downs, benefiting from two defensive interference penalties. Jones capped it by finding Hunter Henry for an 11-yard touchdown, the tight end’s first as a Patriot.
Jones’ first drive of the second half ended swiftly, with J.J. Taylor losing a fumble on the third play, and his second was a three-and-out with back-to-back sacks. But his third was the best the Patriots’ offense has staged all season.
Taking over at his own 23, Jones marched the Patriots down the field with a flurry of quick completions, hooking up with a different Patriots pass-catcher on six consecutive plays.
First came a catch-and-run by Damien Harris for 21 yards. Then a 5-yard slant to Jakobi Meyers in between curls to Nelson Agholor (13 yards) and N’Keal Harry (10 yards). Then a designed dump-off to Jonnu Smith that picked up 12 yards, followed by a screen to Brandon Bolden for another 15 down to the Tampa Bay 1. Jones finished the drive by lofting a play-action pass to Smith — New England’s other big-money tight end — in the back of the end zone.
The touchdown put the Patriots ahead 14-13 seconds into the fourth quarter.
Before Sunday, New England had converted on an NFL-worst 2 of 8 red-zone opportunities, and neither Smith nor Henry had caught a touchdown pass.
Jones stayed hot on his next drive, opening with three straight completions, including a 21-yard jump ball to Meyers down the right sideline. Meyers then added a long completion of his own, delivering a perfect ball to Agholor on a reverse pass. (The former high school QB also hit Bolden on another trick play earlier in the game.)
That drive lost momentum near the Bucs’ goal line, though, with Jones missing on back-to-back passes to end his streak of consecutive completions at 19. One of those incompletions was nearly intercepted by linebacker Devin White. The Patriots kicked a field goal that put them ahead 17-16.
After the Bucs responded with their own go-ahead three-pointer, the Patriots regained possession with 1:57 remaining. Jones brought them into Tampa Bay territory, but after pass to Meyers was batted down at the line, head coach Bill Belichick opted to attempt a 56-yard field goal on fourth-and-3. Nick Folk’s kick had the distance but clanged off the left upright, sealing a win for Brady and the visitors.
Jones finished 31-of-40 for 275 yards and two touchdowns with one pick — an admirable effort by a first-year pro against the defending Super Bowl champs. His arm carried a Patriots offense that finished with -1 (yes, minus-1) rushing yards in the loss.