TAMPA — With six seconds remaining in the first quarter Sunday, Tom Brady fired a pass to Mike Evans in the back of the north end zone at Raymond James Stadium for a touchdown.
It was the first of three scoring passes to the Bucs receiver in a 38-3 win over the Chicago Bears. As he did with each TD catch, Evans found somebody in the first row to hand the football to as a souvenir.
What Evans didn’t know at the time was the one he gave to 29-year-old Byron Kennedy of St. Petersburg represented the 600th TD pass of Brady’s career.
The Bucs exchanged another football with Kennedy for the transcendent one, with the promise of other keepsakes to come.
“It’s really cool. I’ve got it in the bag over there,” Brady said, glancing at the prize that sat next to his daughter, Vivian, in the interview room. “Mike gave it away. He said, ‘Man, I’m sorry, I gave it away.’ I said, ‘That’s all right, I’m sure I’ll figure out a way to get it back.”
“I don’t actually keep too many things. In that circumstance, that might be a good one to keep.”
Here’s the lesson the Bucs learned Sunday: When you keep getting the ball back to Brady, records will fall.
The Bucs defense forced five turnovers of Bears rookie quarterback Justin Fields. Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaquil Barrett sacked Fields and forced fumbles. Defensive backs Dee Delaney, Jordan Whitehead and Pierre Desir recorded interceptions. The Bucs improved to 6-1, the best start in franchise history.
The Bucs and Brady used the short fields ― including one provided by the 43-yard punt return by rookie Jaelon Darden to start the game ― to build a 35-3 halftime lead.
All three of Evans’ TD receptions came in the first half, and he beat the Bears’ double coverage each time.
A couple of weeks ago in a 19-17 win at New England, Brady entered the game needing just 68 yards to surpass Drew Brees’ all-time passing yardage record of 80,358. He did it by completing a 28-yard pass to Evans, who leads the Bucs with seven touchdowns.
“He got a lot of double coverage,” Brady said. “He got open on the deep route, which was great. He caught the ball on the fade. He just does a great job. He’s an incredible receiver. He’s so gifted in every way. He’s quick, he’s tough, he’s strong, he’s physical. He just does an incredible job for us, out there every day in practice, doing everything he can to help the team win.”
The Bucs rolled up 408 yards of total offense, including a season-high 182 on the ground. But head coach Bruce Arians wasn’t impressed.
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Early in the second half, Ronald Jones lost a fumble on fourth-and-goal at the Chicago 1-yard line. The Bucs again drove to the Bears’ 1, but Leonard Fournette lost 3 yards on first down and two Brady misfires led to Ryan Succop’s 22-yard field goal.
“Offensively, we left about 20 points out there,” Arians said. “We scored 38 points and really did not play very well offensively.”
Arians is right. Brady finished 20-of-36 passing for 211 yards, a season low. In a way, he felt good that despite the lopsided win, the Bucs had something to focus on heading into next Sunday’s game at New Orleans.
“The defense was amazing,” Brady said. “They played great. We got off to a fast start and we had a couple goal-line stands there where we just didn’t quite get it in, which was kind of good to leave a little bitter taste in our mouths, some meat on the bone.
“We’ll get back out there this week and try to get better. We have a huge division game against the Saints in the dome on Halloween night, which will be a great environment for football. So take the time to see what we can learn in this game and get better.”
At 44, there isn’t likely to be a quarterback who will play 21 seasons and approach the records Brady seems to set with each completion.
“I doubt there will be another team like the ones he was on and the one he’s on now, because he has a bunch of individual records in a team sport,” Arians said. “I always harp about it. It’s not just Tom, there’s 10 other guys out there with him and 11 on defense.”
Brady was not sacked Sunday, erasing the stain of the Bucs’ 20-19 loss to the Bears a year ago.
The defense still is shorthanded, especially in the secondary, and Pierre-Paul is playing with a torn labrum and fractured finger.
Brady was glad to get the football back from his 600th touchdown pass, but he says he shares that record with a lot of players.
“I just think about all the guys that shared it with me,” Brady said. “That’s the reality. There’s nothing about this sport that you do by yourself. It’s the ultimate team sport. It challenges you physically, mentally, emotionally every week. Every day at practice.
“This is not a sport you can go in and mail it in. It takes 100 percent of what you have every single day to go out there and be successful. I’m just grateful to have amazing teammates, coaches. To be able to do it for as long as I’ve had is really an incredible blessing in my life.”
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