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It wasn’t the stuff of fantasies, but Tom Brady got his homecoming

John Romano | The quarterback had an uneven performance in New England but still led the Bucs to victory.
Bucs quarterback Tom Brady (12) calls out a play during the third quarter against the New England Patriots Sunday in Foxborough, Mass.
Bucs quarterback Tom Brady (12) calls out a play during the third quarter against the New England Patriots Sunday in Foxborough, Mass. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Oct. 4
Updated Oct. 4

“Some things will never change. Some things will always be the same. Lean down your ear upon the earth and listen.”

From Thomas Wolfe’s “You Can’t Go Home Again”

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Surely, this was not the homecoming of his dreams. Passes that were dropped, passes that were overthrown, passes that clearly had no business on the resume of history’s most prolific quarterback.

He had trouble finding the end zone and trouble coming up with the big play. If the world was expecting a show of shock and awe, it was given something that was more disheveled and dispirited.

And yet, when it came time to decide who would walk away as winner and loser, he was Tom Brady all over again. Maybe not as precise, maybe not as in command, but still history’s best when it comes to scoreboards and standings.

What a strange and unpredictable night it was. Brady coming back to New England for the first time in a Tampa Bay uniform and facing his old coach Bill Belichick in a steady rain. The crowd chanted Brady’s name before the game and cheered every indignation he suffered in the three hours that followed.

His final two passes of the night were thrown needlessly deep when there was still plenty of time on the clock, and it took a 48-yard field from Ryan Succop to bail him out with a 19-17 Tampa Bay victory Sunday.

But in the end, Brady came out on top. As he has so many times before.

“It’s been a very emotional week,” Brady said. “These guys are like my brothers, you know what I mean. I have two groups of people, all of my Bucs teammates that I love … and there’s another group of guys that I (love), and those are my friends that have been here a long time.”

• • •

“Make your mistakes, take your chance, look silly, but keep on going. Don’t freeze up.”

From Thomas Wolfe’s “You Can’t Go Home Again”

This wasn’t a sequel. It was more like a coda. A final comeback, a final wave, a final memory for the millions who had followed Brady for two decades and six Super Bowl titles in New England.

He didn’t need to prove himself Sunday night. He had done that countless times before in this stadium. And if anyone had any doubt that he was largely responsible for New England’s success, he dissuaded the world of that idea by winning the Super Bowl in Tampa Bay.

Yet it was important for Brady to not flop in this game. The entire reason he left New England was because Belichick and Patriots owner Bob Kraft did not seem to think he could still be a star as he moved into his mid 40s.

And so with more than 65,000 people in the stadium and millions more watching on NBC, Brady seemed to be playing two a crowd of two.

“Very careful,” Bucs coach Bruce Arians said when asked to describe how Brady played. “He wasn’t going to make any mistakes that cost us the game. Crunched in crunch time, the two-minute drive before the half. When we had to have field goals, he got us down the field.”

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Meanwhile, there was a younger version of himself doing the things that Brady has done so many times before. On the night of Brady’s homecoming, Patriots quarterback Mac Jones discovered his own path in the rain, in the noise, in the expectations of a crowd that seemed willing to fall in love all over again.

If nothing else, Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels reminded Brady of what he left behind in New England. This is the offense that Brady knows and perfected. This is an offense in which receivers find seams and tight ends are all alone in the back of the end zone.

The Patriots did not throw low-percentage passes on deep sideline routes, and they did not throw bubble screens with no blockers. The Patriots did not look like their playbook had run out of pages whenever they got inside the red zone.

Yes, the Bucs were playing without tight end Rob Gronkowski, but his absence should not have this much effect on the offense. Not when you have three 1,000-yard receivers, a Hall of Fame quarterback and a high draft pick at running back.

So was this success for Brady and the Bucs? Of course it was. A win on the road in the NFL is difficult, no matter the opponent or the motivation. The record books will show that Brady came back to Gillette Stadium and took the Bucs on a 45-yard drive in the final few minutes for the 41st fourth-quarter comeback of his remarkable career.

There will be time later to dissect the foibles and shortcomings and near misses of the night. It likely wasn’t the night Brady wanted, but in the end it was what he earned.

• • •

“With a sharp stab of wonder he reminded himself as he had done a hundred times in the last few weeks, that he had really come home again.”

From Thomas Wolfe’s You Can’t Go Home Again

Contact John Romano at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @Romano_TBTimes.

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