Tom Brady engineered the 55th game-winning drive of his career in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Week Nine 16-13 victory over the Rams, adding to an increasingly large number of gaudy statistics that illustrate how incredible his NFL tenure has been. That set a new NFL record for "GWDs," and it was his ninth since he joined the Buccaneers in 2020.
For a possession to qualify as a GWD, the team has to be behind or tied at some point in the fourth quarter or overtime and must then score what prove to be the game-winning points in one of those two periods. That's what happened when Brady and his pals got the ball at their own 40-yard line with 44 seconds left against the Rams. With no timeouts to aid the process, Brady directed his team on a six-play, 60-yard drive that ended in his one-yard touchdown pass to rookie tight end Cade Otton. The drive lasted 35 seconds, leaving just nine left on the clock after Otton's score.
So, yes, we've this before from Brady, not that that makes it any less exhilarating in the moment. But in some respects, we haven't seen exactly this from Brady before, at least not since he's donned the red and pewter.
Given the parameters of a drive in the fourth quarter that starts with less than a minute left and the other team in the lead, and with that drive ending in a game-winning touchdown, TruMedia can generate a list of all such possessions in the NFL dating back to the 2001 season. You know how many times that situation had unfolded in that way for the Buccaneers over the 22 seasons on record, before Sunday's win over L.A.?
On September 28, 2014, the Buccaneers were losing to the Steelers, 24-20, in Pittsburgh. They got the ball one last time at the Steelers' 46 with 40 seconds left in the fourth quarter. A 41-yard Louis Murphy catch got the Bucs down to the five, and on third down with seven seconds left, Vincent Jackson made a diving catch of a Mike Glennon touchdown pass to give the visitors the 27-24 win.
Okay, I tried to present that with a little drama, but I was actually being misleading. We shouldn't be surprised that the Bucs had only done it once because, across the entire NFL, it has only been done 20 times in that 22-year span, including Tampa Bay's most recent one. In fact, we should be impressed that the Buccaneers have now done it twice because only three other teams can make the same claim. It's happened three times for the Jaguars and twice each for the Cowboys and Browns. Seventeen of the league's 32 teams have zero drives of that nature since 2001.
This might be the most surprising part. The TruMedia database helpfully covers Brady's entire career as a starter, so we can say with that authority that, before Sunday, Tom Brady had never produced a drive like this. None of his 55 GWDs started with less than a minute left in regulation. I find that stunning.
But wait, there's more. Until Sunday Tom Brady wasn't on the list, but you know who was: His offensive coordinator! And his primary backup!!
That's right, Byron Leftwich produced one of the 20 drives in question in the Jacksonville Jaguars' 20-19 win over New Orleans on December 21, 2003. And Blaine Gabbert got one, too, also for the Jaguars, in a 22-17 win over the Colts on September 23, 2012. No single quarterback makes the list more than once.
Tom Brady had to stay in the league for 23 years (and counting, possibly) to make it on the list. That's surprising, but it underscores what a rare occurrence we all got to witness on Sunday.
Now on to your questions.
A reminder that you can send questions to me anytime you want on Twitter (@ScottSBucs) and they're easier to find if you include the hashtag #SSMailbagBucs. We are also now soliciting questions each week on our Instagram page; look for that story on Wednesdays. As always, if you want to get a longer question into the mailbag and would prefer to email your question, you can do so to email@example.com.
Why didn't Bowles challenge the punt on the 1 yard line?
- @badoofsy (via Instagram)
Because not challenging the play was the right thing to do. And I'll go even a step farther: Had Todd Bowles thrown the challenge flag on that play, the Buccaneers very well may have lost the game.
Let's set the scene. It's early in the fourth quarter and rookie Jake Camarda is in the midst of the greatest game a Buccaneers punter has ever had. Trailing 13-6, the Buccaneers have to punt away from their own 34-yard line. Camarda blasts another towering punt, but as return man Brandon Powell backs up to the five and then lets the ball sail over his head it appears certain to end up as a touchback. The ball strikes the grass right at the goal line and then, amazingly, bounces sideways and comes to rest at around the two-yard line. However, the back judge signals that it is, indeed, a touchback because it hit the goal line. The ball does not have to go into the end zone or land fully on the goal line for the punt to be ruled a touchback, it just has to make the slightest contact with any part of that line.
Did it? I honestly couldn't give you a definitive answer. In the stadium they played the replay over and over again and occasionally paused it just as the ball has struck the grass. I was obviously biased at this point and wanted to believe that it did not, but other just-as-biased folks around me felt like it did. You really couldn't tell.
And that's the point. There's nothing to gain in challenging a play that you are sure they won't overturn, and in fact there is a lot to lose. The officials on the field told Coach Bowles that they couldn't tell, and the staffers feeding him information in his headset from the press box said they couldn't tell either. Based on that, Bowles surely believed that the actual replay officials who would challenge the call wouldn't be able to tell conclusively, either. And the evidence needs to be conclusive for a call to be overturned. I agree wholeheartedly with Bowles that the call would have withstood a challenge. I also believe that if it was originally ruled not a touchback, that call would have stood, too.
With about 13 minutes left in the game, the Bucs didn't really need to save one of their two challenges. But that's not the issue here. Had Bowles challenged the play and lost, it would have by rule cost the Buccaneers one of their three timeouts.
Now fast-forward a little bit to three-minute mark. The Bucs had a second-and-goal at the six with a chance to score the go-ahead touchdown, but they had trouble getting the play off and Brady called a timeout to avoid a delay penalty. That left the Bucs with two timeouts, which became very important when Brady's next three passes were incomplete and the ball was turned over on downs.
At this point, there was 1:52 left in regulation. If the Rams were able to gain a first down, they would have then been able to run out the clock. But the Bucs knew that if they forced a three-and-out and used their final two timeouts along the way, they'd get the ball back with something like 40 or 50 seconds left.
Which is what happened. Brady had 44 seconds to get the Bucs 60 yards and into the end zone and…well, you know the rest. If the Bucs had just a single timeout when the Rams started their last drive, they might not have gotten the ball back at all, if they did it would have been with just a couple seconds left. Time for a Hail Mary, maybe, but nothing else. In fact, if the Rams had to snap the ball on fourth down with just a second or two left, they probably would have just had someone take the ball and run backwards until the clock ran out.
Todd Bowles knew the time was not right to challenge that punt call – which, by the way, would have gained the Bucs' defense about 18 yards total – and thank goodness he did.
How much does Brady have a say in the play calls?
- @molecular_590 (via Instagram)
Well, we know he has some, at least, because it was him who suggested the play that produced Cade Otton's game-winning touchdown, with Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich quickly agreeing it was a good call. This one was fairly easy to see happening if you know what was going on, and it was confirmed by Brady after the game.
"[Leftwich] and I have a great relationship, so we talk about a lot," said Brady. I liked that play and went over, told 'By' and he's like, 'Yes, go for it. Let's go.' So, it was good."
I think the key part of this quote is: "…we talk about a lot." As with any coordinator-quarterback relationship, there is a lot of collaboration – during the week, before the game, during the game on the sideline. Especially considering the incredible depth of his experience, I have to believe that Brady gives a lot of feedback on the plays he'd like to run, and that Leftwich listens to him and trusts his judgment.
That said, I think you're asking me if Brady makes a lot of his own play calls while on the field during the course of a game. Most of the time, he has the freedom to audible off the initial call into a pre-arranged second play. And I'd imagine there are some times, maybe during hurry-up, no-huddle two-minute drills where every second is precious.
However, the majority of the time that he is actually on the field, I think Leftwich is calling the plays and Brady is running what is called. These play calls are coming from a game plan installed during the week that Brady would have intricate knowledge of and would presumably have agreed they were good choices.
What are the odds of the Bucs re-signing Scotty Miller?
- @acdean79 (via Instagram)
Miller is indeed on schedule to become an unrestricted free agent next March. He signed the standard four-year deal as a sixth-round draft pick in 2019, and his fourth season of accrued free agency credit will allow him to hit the open market if he so wishes.
I think a good part of the answer will come down to what happens over the next two months. Miller is coming off his best game of the season, in which he came up with seven big catches, mostly at the end of the game, while the Rams were paying extra attention to Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. Julio Jones was a little banged up by this point and Miller was serving as the primary third receiver.
Overall, though, the Bucs have been rotation through different options as the third target after Evans and Godwin, and Miller has had some games in which he wasn't involved much. He has averaged 2.7 catches and 20.7 yards per game in the seven contests in which he's played. If his production starts to be more consistent in the second half of the season – basically if he is given the opportunity to be more consistently involved in the offense – the Bucs might be more inclined to try to get him to stay beyond 2022.
It could also hinge on how much Miller will be looking for, because the Buccaneers will not have an easy cap situation next season. In pursuit of championships these last few years, the Bucs finally started structuring some contracts so that a larger part of the hit would be felt in future seasons. That was necessary in order to keep the core of this current team together, but it will make things a little tougher to navigate in the next few years. At the moment, Spotrac estimates the Bucs being $49 million dollars over the 2023 salary cap; only the Saints have a larger deficit, at $62 million over. You can't actually go into a season over the cap, so the Buccaneers will have to make some moves to clear some of that out before the start of the new league year.
Of the 53 players on the Bucs' roster right at this moment, 21 are due to become unrestricted free agents in March. That list includes defensive backfield starters Mike Edwards, Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting; inside linebacker Lavonte David and outside linebacker Anthony Nelson, also starters; defensive linemen Will Gholston and Akiem Hicks; wide receivers Julio Jones and Breshad Perriman; and, of course, Tom Brady. Any effort to bring back Miller will be part of a comprehensive overall plan that will determine where the Bucs can best spend whatever free agency dollars they do end up having available.
And whether or not Brady wants to return for at least one more season in Tampa should affect that overall plan pretty strongly. From the players' point of view, whether Brady stays or leaves could affect their own decisions, as we clearly saw it do this past offseason with guys like Ryan Jensen and Carlton Davis. From the team's point of view, staying together with Brady or looking for a new solution at quarterback could once again affect how aggressive they are in free agency and how willing they are to push more contract cap hits into the future.
So, yeah, it's complicated, but in the end it may not be the Bucs' decision. Evans and Godwin are both under contracts, and lucrative ones, for the 2023 season and are entrenched as the starters and primary targets. Miller's decision on his future could depend on where he thinks he has the best chance to play.