The Tampa Bay Buccaneers went all-in on Tom Brady in 2020 and on Sunday that paid off with a jackpot during their first-ever trip to Las Vegas.
Brady led the Buccaneers to a 45-20 win over the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday at Allegiant Stadium, throwing for 369 yards and four touchdowns on 33-of-45 passes, and also running for a fifth score His four scoring passes included perhaps the best – and at the very least the prettiest – throw of the season, a perfect 33-yard back-corner strike to Scotty Miller just before halftime that gave the Bucs a 21-10 lead.
"It was a sweet play," said Miller. "Tom put it on the money there in the back corner. It was really just a straight go-route, I just ran right at my guy and got on his toes. Tom put it up and I knew it was close to being out of bounds, so I just tried to catch it and dropped straight to my knees to try to get at least one knee down. It ended up working out, but again, he put it right in the breadbasket and made it easy for me."
Brady threw with that type of precision throughout the afternoon and continued his impressive play of late. Over his last five games, Brady has thrown 15 touchdown passes and has just one interception. When he threw his fourth touchdown pass on Sunday he actually moved ahead of Drew Brees, who had two touchdowns in the Saints win over Carolina on Sunday, on the all-time regular-season touchdown pass list. Brady now has 559 to Brees's 558. The two will meet for a second time in 2020 in Week Nine.
"I think it's knowing the guys better, knowing the system better, everything that we change each week," said Head Coach Bruce Arians. "There's such good communication of what we're trying to get done, where the ball should be going versus each coverage. I think it's just total growth of the offense."
The win improved the Buccaneers' record to 5-2, including a 3-0 mark against AFC West teams. The victory, the team's second in a row and second in four road trips this season, kept the Buccaneers in first in the NFC South after the New Orleans Saints improved to 4-2 earlier in the afternoon.
The Buccaneers played their first game ever in Las Vegas, the Raiders' new home this year after a move from Oakland. It was also Tampa Bay's first game against Jon Gruden since he started his second stint as the Raiders' head coach in 2018. Gruden, who was the Buccaneers' head coach from 2002-08, led Tampa Bay to victory over the Raiders in Super Bowl XXVII at the end of his first season at the helm.
After the Bucs hit on Brady they doubled down with his old New England buddy Rob Gronkowski, and that also paid off in Vegas on Sunday. Gronkowski caught five passes for 62 yards and a touchdown, giving the Bucs their first lead at 14-10 in the second quarter with a perfect back-corner fade. Miller led all receivers with 109 yards on six catches, recording his first career 100-yard game. Brady also threw touchdown passes to Chris Godwin and Tyler Johnson in the last half of the fourth quarter as the Buccaneers pulled away with 21 straight points after the Raiders had closed the gap to 24-20. Godwin made a series of big plays in the second half to extend several drives and finished with 88 yards on nine catches.
"He's doing an unbelievable job," said Brady of Godwin. "We're growing together ever day and I have so much respect for him as a player, his style of play, how he complements Mike [Evans] and Scotty. That whole receiving group has done it's job for us. We're 5-2, we're at decent place, we're not quite at the halfway point in the year. We've got a lot of football left. We're going to need everybody and we're going to need everybody's best and we're going to expect everybody's best and we're going to try to meet the challenge every week."
Brady scored on a one-yard sneak for the Buccaneers first touchdown in the first quarter, and RB Ronald Jones II found the end zone with a one-yard dive with seven minutes to play. But the drive that put the game out of the reach for Tampa Bay was a masterful 67-yard march that took 5:21 off the clock in the fourth quarter and ended in Godwin's four-yard touchdown after the Raiders had scored 10 straight points to close the gap to 24-20.
"That was important," said Brady. "We got behind the down-and-distance a few times, too, and overcame some third downs. Leonard [Fournette] made a great play on the one where I got it to him quick and he got vertical and got the first down. Mike got the P.I. on the one where he went out-and-up. There were some really good plays that were made and we finished the game strong against a good football team that played hard."
Antoine Winfield then intercepted Derek Carr's next pass on a ball that was tipped by S Mike Edwards, which led to the 21-point flourish at the end of the game. Arians identified that play and the two-minute drill that produced Miller's long touchdown and put the Bucs up by 11 heading into halftime as the key moments in the victory.
"I thought the drive at the end of the half was big in the ballgame," said Arians. "I thought it flipped the whole game around, to get a touchdown before the half and finish it. We knew the way they were going to play Mike [Evans], Scotty was going to have a game and have opportunities. I thought before the half, the two-minute drive, and that interception were the game-changing plays in the game."
Miller had 72 more yards than Evans, his superstar teammate, as Evans was held to two catches for 37 yards. But Miller, along with the rest of his skill-position teammates, understands that the attention being paid to Evans gives them more opportunities to be Brady's target. He appreciated that attention helping him get something he's always dreamed of.
"It's crazy; it's a blessing really," said Miller. "A goal of mine my whole life was to get 100 yards in a game, so it's just an awesome moment for me. Mike is one of the most unselfish superstars in the league. He only had a couple catches today and in the last couple games, but that's really because he's getting double-teamed the whole game, really. That's just making it so much easier for me and everybody else."
View photos of Tampa Bay's Week 7 matchup against Las Vegas.
One week after playing the "cleanest" game in franchise history – the first one with no penalties drawn, no sacks allowed and no turnovers – the Buccaneers came close to duplicating it. They once again avoided any turnovers, and Brady wasn't sacked and was hit only one time, and though there were four penalties they weren't terribly costly except for one Oakland touchdown drive.
"I don't think there's any doubt," said Arians regarding the Bucs' solving their penalty problems. "I think we had one penalty offensively when Tom changed the snap count and got Tristan [Wirfs]. We had that little lapse on defense I don't like. We had three in that series that gave them a touchdown when we were off the field with an interception. We still have to clean it up a little defensively. Four penalties is really nothing to shake about other than we gave up one drive. But nothing offensively."
Johnson's touchdown catch, his second in as many weeks, provided the game's final points after ILB Devin White had sacked Carr on a desperation fourth-and-one play with five minutes left. White finished the game with a career-high 3.0 sacks to go with a team-leading 11 tackles, one tackle for loss, three quarterback hits and a forced fumble. Over the last two weeks, White has 21 tackles, 4.0 sacks, four tackles for loss and five quarterback hits.
"We always knew he was a great blitzer; they both are," said Arians, including ILB Lavonte David in the conversation. "That's the beauty of it. When he comes up the middle, he's a force. They run twists so well together, too. He's a dynamic player. Both of them with such speed they have makes them ridiculous in the pass-rush game."
Johnson's touchdown catch came on third-and-goal and it continued a remarkable streak for the Buccaneers in 2020. The Bucs' offense achieved a first-and-goal five times on Sunday in Las Vegas and scored five touchdowns on those drives. Incredibly, Tampa Bay is now 20 for 20 in 2020 in converting goal-to-go situations into touchdowns.
Additional game details (scoring plays in bold):
The Bucs got the ball to start the game but went three-and-out after Brady missed a wide-open Gronkowski on a play-action pass on the first snap of the game. The Raiders' Hunter Renfrow fair caught Bradley Pinion's 43-yard punt at his own 30. The Raiders quickly got into Buccaneers territory when Carr found WR Nelson Agholor open across the middle of the field for a gain of 28. Two plays later, Carr found TE Darren Waller on a very similar play for another 15 yards down to the Bucs' 25. Carr then got it into the end zone with a 21-yard pass down the middle to Agholor, who was being covered by LB Lavonte David after Sean Murphy-Bunting blitzed out of the slot.
The Bucs got their offense going on the next drive, beginning with another downfield shot to Gronkowski, this time good for 28 yards. Jones then took over with consecutive runs of 13, eight and nine yards before TE Tanner Hudson made a nice sideline catch to make it first-and-goal at the eight. After a pass over the middle that Leonard Fournette took to within inches of the score, and Brady snuck it in himself on third-and-goal.
The second Las Vegas drive appeared to end in three plays when CB Carlton Davis had tight coverage on a third-and-inches rollout incompletion by Carr. However, the Raiders kept their drive alive with a fake punt, snapping it straight to the personal protector, S Jeff Heath, who ran straight up the middle and just got enough for a first down. Three plays later, Carr got it to a wide-open Ruggs out to the left and he ran it down the sideline all the way to the Bucs' 30. That drive nearly came to an end on a turnover when OLB Shaq Barrett hit Carr's arm as he was throwing and it was originally ruled a fumble that DL Ndamukong Suh returned deep into Raiders territory. However, the play was reviewed and ruled an incomplete pass, allowing Daniel Carlson to come on and make a 42-yard field goal.
The Bucs came up empty on the ensuing drive, getting just one first down, but did get enough yards to allow Pinion to punt it down to the Raiders' nine. Las Vegas got the ball out to their 37 before punting it back, after CB Jamel dean nearly intercepted a low pass sent off target by a hit by OLB Anthony Nelson. Jaydon Mickens called for a fair catch on A.J. Cole's punt at the Bucs' 15.
Fournette's juggling 11-yard catch got the next drive off to a nice start and Brady then found Godwin for 16 yards on a deep crossing route. That got the Bucs to their 43 and Fournette got them across midfield with a 24-yard run, showing great patience to allow Godwin to spring him with a great block on the edge. Two plays later, Brady had all day in the pocket and eventually went deep to Gronkowski, who held on for 26 yards down to the four despite taking a big hit. Two plays later, Gronkowski split out wide, got man-to-man coverage from CB Nevin Lawson and hauled in the perfect back-corner fade pass from Brady for the go-ahead touchdowns.
The Raiders had to punt from their 45 on the next drive after an 11-yard sack by White put them into too deep of a hole on third down. Brady converted a third-and-four with a quick dart over the middle to Godwin on the first play after the two-minute warning. Lawson then came back with a great play to break up a deep post to Scotty Miller at the last moment, but Miller followed on the next play with a great sideline play, spinning out of a tackle and getting a first down and getting out of bounds at the Las Vegas 28 with a minute left. After the officials picked up a pass-interference flag on a third-down incompletion in Miller's direction, the Bucs went for it on fourth-and-three and converted on another pass over the middle to Godwin. After a spike to stop the clock, Brady went for it all and threw perhaps his finest pass as a Buccaneer so far, a high-arcing deep ball to Miller in the very back left corner of the end zone.
Las Vegas had the ball first to start the second half and got the ball to midfield but Carr then took a pair of deep shots that fell incomplete, the second one broken up by CB Carlton Davis inside the 10-yard line. The resulting punt only went 30 yards and was fair caught by Mickens at the 20. Brady got the Bucs into Raiders territory with another perfect deep pass to Miller, this one good for 35 yards. However, another pass to Miller on third-and-12 from the 20 came up short and the Bucs sent out Ryan Succop to get three points. Succop hit the 29-yard field goal try straight down the middle to improve the Bucs' lead to 14 points.
The Bucs appeared to end the Raiders' next drive on two consecutive plays with a Mike Edwards interceptions and an Ndamukong Suh sack but both were erased by penalties away from the ball. Carr capitalized by going deep to Agholor for a 44-yard completion down to the Bucs' four-yard line. Two plays later, Carr saw man-on-man coverage for Waller split wide to the left and hit him on a quick slant for a two-yard touchdown.
The Bucs finally lost their offensive momentum on the next drive, thanks in part to a false-start penalty. Brady tried to hit Miller deep once again but the pass was out of his reach. The resulting punt went out of bounds at the Las Vegas 29 with two-and-a-half minutes left in the third quarter. The Raiders immediately mounted another scoring drive, kept alive near midfield when Carr scrambled for nine yards on third-and-seven. ILB Lavonte David made a big play to keep the Raiders out of the end zone, forcing Waller out of bounds at the 17, a yard short of the sticks on third-and-four. The Raiders sent out Daniel Carlson and he hit a 35-yard field goal to make it a four-point game with 12-and-a-half minutes left in regulation.
The Bucs got a good kickoff return from Mickens out to the 33 on the ensuing drive and Brady got them out of an early hole with a pass over the middle to Fournette that got just enough on third-and-12. A defensive-holding call against the Raiders on third down gave the Bucs another set of downs but also prevented what looked like it could be a big play down the sideline to Evans. Two snaps later, Evans went across the middle on a play-action pass and caught a 15-yard pass down to the 22. Brady converted another third down with an out to Miller that the receiver turned upfield for 12 yards down to the four. On first-and-goal, Brady slid to his right, extending the play long enough for Godwin to get open for a four-yard score.
The Raiders next drive didn't last long. Winfield dived to the turf to pick off a deflected pass on the Raiders' first play, then got up and returned it 16 yards to the 24. The Bucs brought in a jumbo unit but Brady dropped back to pass and got Godwin for 23 yards. Brady hurried the same personnel up to the line and handed off to Jones, who dived over the top for his fourth touchdown of the season.
Down by 18 with six minutes to go, the Raiders had to be aggressive when they quickly fell into a fourth-and-one hole at their own 34. White kept that from being converted with his third sack of the season. Taking over at the Las Vegas 32, the Buccaneers ran twice but Brady dropped back to pass on third-and-seven and hit Evans for 22 yards down to the seven. After Fournette got the ball down to the one on a sweep left, Brady converted the third-and-goal with a long-developing play on which he threw a laser of a pass to Johnson in the back of the end zone.