When Tom Brady hit Breshad Perriman on a crossing route and Perriman turned up the field for a 58-yard game-winning touchdown in overtime against Buffalo in Week 14, we used Next Gen Stats to help illustrate how this huge play came to pass. Well, now it's time to do it again, because another unlikely hero has produced another bolt-out-of-the-blue game-winning score for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
This time it was Cyril Grayson, who was elevated from the practice squad for the second week in a row to play against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium. Joe Tryon-Shoyinka's stop of a fourth-down QB sneak attempt by Zach Wilson gave Brady a chance to work one of his miracles with 2:11 left, no timeouts and the Buccaneers down by four. Brady responded with the 53rd game-winning drive of his unmatched career, and it ended with a 33-yard touchdown strike to Grayson.
Grayson scored on a 50-yard touchdown in New Orleans in Week Eight and also set up another score with a 62-yard reception in a Week 16 win at Carolina, but Sunday's game-winning score against the Jets was undoubtedly the most significant play of his career to this point. It was also one of the most important plays of the season for the Buccaneers.
Let's start with this: NFL Next Gen Stats says the Bucs' probability of winning before that play was just 13.0%. After Grayson scored it was 92.6%, for a win probability added total of 79.9%. That's the biggest positive swing in win probably on any play for the Buccaneers this season.
On the previous play, Grayson ran a simple curl and Brady hit him for 10 yards but cornerback Bryce Hall was able to close the gap quickly and undercut the receiver before he could dash out of bounds. That kept the clock running, so the offense regrouped quickly and Brady got the next snap off with 21 seconds left.
On the play, Grayson lines up wide right with tight end Cam Brate in the slot. There is nothing complicated about the route that Grayson runs, but there was an important element to the combination of routes on that side of the field. While Grayson simply runs straight up field, bending slightly towards the sideline, Brate goes forward six yards and then cuts out to the sideline. Grayson doesn't accelerate to top speed; in fact, he never goes faster than 15.03 miles per hour at any point, well below his capabilities. Rather, the receiver is looking for the biggest patch of open grass he can find.
The first key to the play happens so fast that you might have missed it on first watch. As Brate cuts out toward the sideline, Brady turns his way and gives a hard shoulder fake. It's reasonable to believe that, in this situation, Brady would be looking for a pass-catcher at the sideline so he could get out of bounds and stop the clock. That's clearly what Hall thinks.
At the start of the play, Hall is lined up over Grayson but is giving him 8.6 yards of cushion and is backpedaling at the snap. Brady pumps toward Brate just as Grayson is crossing the 25-yard line. Hall, who is at the 20, reacts by breaking forward towards Brate which given the Jets' defensive alignment at the moment, was probably what he was supposed to do. At the moment of the pump-fake, safety Elijah Riley is at the Jets' 18 yard-line but, crucially, is about midway between the hash marks and the numbers. At this moment, there is 12.55 yards of separation between Grayson and Riley, who is going to be the only defender that has a shot to break up the play.
Brady has a lot of time to throw. After the pump-fake he locks onto Grayson, takes three small hops forward from the 41 to the 39 and lets the pass go on a low, hard arc. This occurs 3.34 seconds after the snap, which is well above Brady's 2021 average of about 2.5 seconds from snap to throw. The Jets have brought a four-man rush but none of those defenders is closer than 2.7 yards away from Brady when he throws. None of the four are credited with a pressure.
For his part, Grayson clearly recognizes how important that protection was to the play.
Brady's pass travels 40.1 yards in the air from his hand to Grayson's hands and is caught 27.8 yards downfield from the line of scrimmage. It is in the air just 1.7 seconds, traveling at 48.25 miles per hour.
As Brady releases the ball, Riley has closed the gap between him and Grayson, who is crossing the 16-yard line, to 6.2 yards. As he crosses the 10-yard line, Grayson slows and spins counterclockwise to get in position to make the catch. At that spot, the separation between him and Riley is 5.09 yards. As the receiver slows and spins, the desperate Riley tries to dive in front of him and knock the pass away. He's too late, the separate at the arrival of the ball is still 1.50 yards…not a lot, but enough to get the job done for the Buccaneers. As Riley flies by, Grayson catches the ball while completing his spin and stumbles across the goal line, diving with the ball out to make sure it crosses the plane.
The whole operation, from the snap to Grayson crossing the goal line, only takes six seconds. That's how long it took Brady to transform the situation from dire to almost certain victory. There may not be another single play that does more to affect positively the Bucs' chances of winning this entire season.