It was four minutes into the second quarter on Sunday when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers took the lead they would not relinquish in an eventual 45-17 win over the Miami Dolphins. Before that moment, the Buccaneers and Dolphins had each launched two extended scoring drives to come to a 10-10 tie, after which the Buc finally forced the first punt of the game. Tom Brady and the Bucs' offense got the ball back at their own 30 and were in the end zone just three plays later.
Tampa Bay took the 17-10 lead on what would prove to be the longest completion of Tom Brady's tenure as a Buccaneer, but he had a lot of help in racking up those yards. Not only was Antonio Brown's catch-and-run the longest play of his time as a Buccaneer, it was also one of the most impactful plays of the team's entire season so far. NFL Next Gen Stats provide some of the details as to why that is the case.
The snap comes from the Bucs' 38, with the offense facing a third-and-two. Brown is aligned wide to the right, with Mike Evans wide left and Tyler Johnson in the left slot. Tight end Cam Brate is tight at the left end of the offensive line. Brady is in shotgun formation with running back Giovani Bernard to his right after Bernard lines up in the right slot but then motions into the backfield. Evans goes in motion and ends up just behind and to Johnson's right at the snap. At the snap, Bernard leaves the backfield and loops out to the right, Brate releases and runs up the right seam, Johnson bends out to the left sideline and Evans goes shallow from left to right. But it is Brown that Brady will look to first.
The Dolphins have seven defenders tight on the line of scrimmage and rookie Jevon Holland as the single-high safety in the middle of the field, 16 yards back. The Dolphins will end up in man coverage, with star cornerback Xavien Howard lined up over Brown and then following him across the field. At the snap, Brown immediately cuts to his left, getting inside leverage on Howard and eventually working up to 2.6 yards of separation from the defender. Brady backs up several steps – a total of 4.4 yards – after getting the ball, as Miami gets quick pressure on this play. Brady delivers the ball 2.60 seconds after the snap, just completing the throwing motion as he is hit in the chest by outside linebacker Samuel Eguavoen, who quickly got between right guard Alex Cappa and center Ryan Jensen.
Brown runs his crosser above Evans, who is being covered by Byron Jones, another one of Miami's very talented cornerbacks. Brady's pass travels a total of 22.0 yards in the air and gets to Brown at the Bucs' 46, eight yards from the line of scrimmage and midway between the yard line numbers and left hashmarks. The ball had some zip on it and was only in the air for a total of 1.0 seconds. Next Gen Stats gave it a 51.3% completion probability in part because, by the time the ball arrives, Howard has closed the gap on Brown to just 1.9 yards, and that is considered a "tight window" throw.
When the catch is made, Next Gen Stats expects the play to get the first down but not a whole lot more. Based on the receiver's separation from Miami defenders and the results of thousands of similar plays, Brown has an Expected Yards After Catch total of 5.0 yards. Instead, he gets 54.0 for a Yards After Catch Over Expected of 49.0. Both of those numbers are the highest for any Buccaneer on any play so far this season.
When Johnson runs his route he brings cornerback Nik Needham with him out to the left numbers, but Johnson gets big separation when Needham falls down on the receiver's stutter step and cut to the left. Had Brady had more time to survey the field, he might have targeted Johnson instead. The slip actually leaves Needham in position to potentially make a play on Brown, as he is back on his feet and just a few yards away from Brown when the catch is made. However, he is still trying to catch up to Johnson and his back to Brown as the ball arrives.
That's when Brown turns on the jets. He is running 15.69 miles per hour at the point of the catch but immediately turns upfield between Howard and the (unaware) Needham. Brown quickly accelerates to a top speed of 20.95 miles per hour. That is the fastest top speed that any Buccaneer player will reach in the entire game.
In all, Brown will cover 81.46 yards before crossing the goal line. Johnson runs a bit of interference for Brown as he sprints downfield, getting between him and both Needham and Howard. It is Holland that comes closest to getting to Brown, but the combination of routes has pulled him too far away for him to be able to fully catch up in time. Holland drifts a little to his right before the snap, but then comes back to the middle when Evans goes in motion. With both Evans and Brate running towards the right sideline and Bernard also on that side of the field, the Dolphins' safety slides back and to his left and is a bit outside the right hash marks when Brown catches the ball on the other side of the field.
Holland takes a good angle and quickly gets up to 21.58 miles per hours. That is the fastest top speed that any player for either team will reach in the entire game, but it's ultimately not enough. Holland's left foot is just about to hit the one-yard line as Brown starts to leap over the goal line.
According to Next Gen Stats, the Buccaneers had an 1.17 Expected Points Added on that snap. Obviously, they actually scored seven points on the play (counting the successful extra point), which gave the play a total of 5.83 Expected Points Added. And though it only gave the Buccaneers a seven-point lead with nearly three quarters left to play, Next Gen calculated the play as putting the home team close to the 90% favorite at that point. The Bucs' Win Probability before the play was 80.0%, according to Next Gen Stats, and 89.9% after it, for a Win Probability Added figure of 8.9%.