TAMPA — It was a shocking image. Tom Brady, the greatest quarterback of all time, known for his conquering control, losing track of downs. He wore a dazed and confused look on his face as he awkwardly held up four fingers to confirm his belief that there was another play to come when, in fact, the game was essentially over.
It happened at the end of the Bucs’ 20-19 loss to the Chicago Bears in Week 5 last season.
Down a point, the Bucs took possession of the ball at their 25-yard line with 1:13 remaining. Brady completed a 12-yard pass to Mike Evans for a first down. But then he fired incomplete to Evans, hit running back Keyshawn Vaughn for 4 yards and threw short and incomplete to Rob Gronkowski before attempting a deeper pass over the middle that missed tight end Cameron Brate.
The Bucs turned the ball over on downs with 33 seconds remaining. When Brady raised those four fingers, the competition to turn the moment into a meme was on.
Brady didn’t address the gaffe after the October 8, 2020 game. But when the Bucs visited the White House and met with President Joe Biden more than nine months later, Brady cracked jokes about it.
“We had a game in Chicago where I forgot what down it was,” Brady said. “I lost track of one down in 21 years of playing, and they started calling me ‘Sleepy Tom.’ Why would they do that to me?”
Brady has used the meme self-mockingly. But often, there are other athletes’ faces digitally affixed to the image and retweeted. Brady did that with LeBron James to congratulate him on winning his fourth NBA title.
Good humor aside, the meme is a reminder of what was arguably the Bucs’ worst game since Brady’s arrival. The Bucs blew leads of 13-0, 16-14 and 19-17 to the Bears during a Thursday Night Football game at Soldier Field.
When the Bucs host the Bears Sunday, the lessons the learned from that game will be pretty evident.
For starters, it was that game that galvanized the Bucs’ belief that they needed to add another experienced receiver. Not just any receiver, but veteran Antonio Brown, who was serving an eight-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.
The Bucs’ passing game in Chicago was limited due to injuries. Chris Godwin missed the game with knee/ankle injuries. Evans played but has admitted he probably should not have because of a severely sprained ankle.
Evans had five catches for 41 yards and a touchdown on nine targets. But his longest reception that night was nine yards. Meanwhile, Brady was left to target receivers such as Jaydon Mickens and Tyler Johnson.
Stay updated on the Super Bowl champs
Subscribe to our free Bucs RedZone newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
Brady finished 25 of 41 for 253 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions, certainly one of his least productive games of the season.
Brown signed with the Bucs 20 days later and recorded 45 catches for 483 yards and four touchdowns during the regular season and added two more TDs in the playoffs, including one in Super Bowl 55.
Of course, Brown is off to a terrific start this season. With 418 receiving yards, he’s only two shy of the club lead behind Evans and is tied with a team-best four TD receptions.
The Bucs also destroyed their chances of winning that night with 11 penalties for 109 yards.
Following that game, Bucs players demonstrated more discipline, and penalties were reduced dramatically.
Finally, the Bucs lost defensive tackle Vita Vea to a leg fracture when he was hit by linebacker Devin White while making a tackle. Vea was sorely missed by the Bucs before he returned for the NFC Championship Game in Green Bay. Although he did not record a stat in 33 snaps, Vea occupied blockers and pushed the pocket so well that outside linebackers Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaquil Barrett combined for five sacks of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
With any luck, Brady will throw four touchdown passes Sunday against Chicago and his four-finger image will reappear all over social media.
That would be a meme come true.
• • •
Sign up for the Bucs RedZone newsletter to get updates and analysis on the latest team and NFL news from Bucs beat writer Joey Knight.