Rams And Buccaneers Play Game For The Ages With Biggest Result (Tom Brady) Looming

It was a heart-stopping, bizarre, unreal, terrible, wonderful, big-play filled game that was at the same time a clinic on resiliency and on how to choke away a good thing.

If this was the final game for Tom Brady he’ll never forget it.

And we’ll never forget it.

The Los Angeles Rams blew a 27-3 lead against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday and then after the Buccaneers’ comeback forged a 27-27 tie, the Rams used the final 42 seconds to drive 63 yards for a game-winning field goal as time elapsed.

The victory sends the Rams into next weekend’s NFC Championship game against the San Francisco 49ers.

And it sends the Buccaneers and the rest of the football world into a limbo until Brady decides whether or not he’s returning for his 23rd NFL season in 2022 at age 45.

Brady, by the way, was giving no clues on that front after the game.

“I haven’t put a lot of thought into it so I’ll take it day by day and we’ll see where we’re at,” he told reporters afterward.

Best anyone could tell there was no sentimental moment on the sideline during this game for Brady and there definitely was not an emotional departure from the field when it was over.

“No, I was just thinking about winning,” Brady said. “That was kind of my mentality to be out there to win, to give my team a best chance to win.”

Pressed about what factors he’ll weigh in making his decision, Brady pushed back.

“Truthfully guys,” he said, “I’m thinking about this game and not thinking about five minutes from now.”

But here’s the point: Brady is obviously contemplating a retirement he’s held off long enough to have two NFL careers — because he had a chance to say he’s returning and never said that.

Brady is signed with the Buccaneers for the 2022 season so this is not about him going elsewhere in the NFL. It’s also not about his physical abilities because he was arguably the NFL’s best quarterback during the regular season and said, “I feel great. Physically I feel great.”

This is a choice between him going on with his life or continuing to fight for yards and victories and championships.

And this really is speculation here so let’s be clear about that right now, but Brady sounded different after this game when addressing what winning and losing means to him.

For two decades he’s been driven about winning.

And he’s been obsessive about not losing.

But after Sunday’s game he seemed to have come to terms with the idea that he’s done both a lot and adding another season won’t affect his legacy one bit.

So this decision is not about coming back one more year to prove anything.

Because Brady has won seven Super Bowl rings which is more than most NFL teams have won. But this game marked the fourth time Brady lost a game in the divisional round or earlier. And he’s lost four conference championship games and three Super Bowls.

Brady understands being on a good team and being a good player, and working hard doesn’t guarantee him or anyone anything. And it sounded sobering when he articulated that truth.

“It’s the reality of football: It’s one team one year and it’s never the same after that,” he said. “You got to work hard to put yourself in a position to be successful. We certainly worked hard and every team at this point does.

“Every team is really qualified when you get to the final 8, then the final 4, then the final 2. It doesn’t feel good losing in one of those games and I’ve lost at each of those stages so at the end there’s going to be only one team that’s going to be happy.

“It feels good to move on when you move on and obviously when you don’t, whether it was last week or this week or next week or two weeks after that, if you’re the loser in that game, it all sucks to lose in the end.”

Brady has often talked of playing until he’s 45 and that would carry him into next season. But he’s also made it clear he wants to devote time to his family who will have the biggest say in his looming decision.

His teammates recognize that. They know they really have no say in the matter.

“I don’t have to say nothing to him,” receiver Mike Evans said. “He’s self-motivated. He knows what he wants. And hopefully we get him back next year. He’s the best player ever and one of the best teammates and one of the best leaders I’ve ever seen. Hopefully we get him back.”

For the record, and perhaps even for history’s consumption, Brady was not at his best this game. His quarterback rating was only 72.2 as he threw 1 TD and 1 interception.

But after his team fell behind by those 24 points, it was because Brady was on the Buccaneers that anyone really imagined a comeback was possible.

“You’re never out of it with Tom Brady on your side,” coach Bruce Arians said.

The Rams helped. They tried to nurture their lead but were horrible at that. This is how they nurtured on six consecutive possessions:

Fumble.

Punt.

Fumble.

Missed FG.

Punt.

Fumble.

The Buccaneers climbed back to even with Brady throwing a 55-yard touchdown to Evans as part of the comeback. It felt like that fateful comeback against Atlanta in the Super Bowl.

But in the end the Rams roasted Tampa’s defense in the final minute to set up for the eventual winning field goal.

“It was a great comeback and it took a lot, and guys made a lot of great plays to get us back into it,” Brady said. “And you don’t have a lot of margin for error at that point and the defense had to come out big and sometimes we made it and sometimes we didn’t.”

Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

Written by Armando Salguero

Armando Salguero has covered the NFL since 1990 for the Palm Beach Post, Miami Herald and ESPN. He was a 2016 Associated Press Sports Editors Top 10 columnist. He is a Pro Football Hall of Fame selector and AP All-Pro team voter.

5 Comments

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  1. There is always a tendency – especially with sportswriters – to parse every word and every micro-expression of a high profile athlete/coach for “what he is REALLY saying is ….”. Sometimes (most of the time) a ham sandwich is simply a ham sandwich.

  2. Those last two plays in the 42 seconds you might think a SB defense wouldn’t let that happen Brady once again almost made it happen but the defense just allowed too many points in the first half I was pulling for the Bucs and really thought they would handle the Rams but there you go any given Sunday

    • That SB defense had a very strong front 7 and KC was missing both OT’s for that game. The pressure the Bucs got on Mahomes masked a lot of the deficiencies in the secondary. Prior to last year the Bucs pass defense had been bottom of the barrel for years so the collapse wasn’t totally surprising.

      Offense equally responsible for the first half deficit.

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