By Terrance Turner
October 3, 2021
Tonight, Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers came to Foxboro for “Sunday Night Football”. Brady was returning to Foxboro (a Boston suburb) for the first time since leaving the Patriots in 2019. He spent 19 years — and won six Super Bowls — with the New England Patriots. Tom Brady and Patriots head coach Bill Belichick are the most successful coach-QB duo in NFL history, with six championships and nine AFC titles between them. Tonight, after nearly 20 years together, they stood on opposite sides.
Injuries were a factor: tight end Rob Gronkowski, who won three Super Bowls with the Patriots alongside Brady, had a rib injury; linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul was out with a shoulder injury, and cornerback Jamel Dean was also absent because of a knee injury. Injuries have plagued the Tampa Bay secondary, and thus tonight marked the debut of cornerback Richard Sherman, who was signed on Wednesday.
The weather was also a factor: there was heavy and sometimes torrential rain for most of the night. But that didn’t stop the hordes of Patriot fans (some wearing Brady’s jersey!) who packed the house. It was one of the most anticipated NFL matches in recent memory, hyped to the max by NBC. But the game initially didn’t live up to the hype. It took until the fourth quarter for either offense to kick into high gear.
The typically prolific offenses were surprisingly low-scoring at the outset, with both teams going three-and-out on their opening drives. Tampa Bay put the first points on the board, courtesy of a 29-yard field goal by kicker Ryan Succop. New England took the lead when quarterback Mac Jones tossed a touchdown to tight end Hunter Henry. (Jones would eventually finish 31-for-40, with 275 yards and two touchdowns.)
Ryan Succop missed a 35-yard kick, but redeemed himself by drilling a 44-yard field goal before halftime. It was 7-6 at the half.
At the end of the third quarter, Brady and the Bucs jumped out to a 13-7 lead after a rushing touchdown by Ronald Jones. His eight-yard touchdown run gave Tampa Bay the lead. But New England countered with its own TD drive. Mac Jones completed 19 straight passes, equaling Brady’s record. Wide receiver Jonnu Smith caught a pass from Jones for a 1-yard touchdown, pushing the Patriots ahead 14-13.
After a 15-play drive that lasted almost seven minutes, the Bucs pulled ahead. Ryan Succop made a 27-yard field goal to help the Buccaneers regain the lead, with 7:58 to go. But New England kicker Nick Folk drilled a kick from the same distance to edge the Patriots forward. The game came down to two field goal kicks. Succop successfully booted a 48-yard try through the uprights; Tampa Bay led 19-17 with 1:57 left.
The Patriots took over for a potentially game-winning drive that stalled. With just under a minute to go, kicker Nick Folk attempted a 56-yard field goal in the pouring rain — and missed. The ball hit the left upright and bounced off.
That climactic missed kick sealed the victory for Tampa Bay. The Bucs won 19-17, with Brady scoring a victory in his return to the town where he made history. (He did so again tonight, breaking Drew Brees’ record for all-time passing yards.)