TAMPA — If it was his last game, it may be a fitting way to remember Tom Brady.
The odds stacked as high as the upper deck against him. Down 27-3 to the Los Angeles Rams in the third quarter of Sunday’s NFC division playoff game, the 44-year-old quarterback had one more miraculous comeback left.
Key players were being carried off left and right with injuries. Brady was under siege all day by an unrelenting pass rush, sacked three times and knocked down on six other occasions with six passes batted down behind a makeshift offensive line.
His lip was bloodied but still he fought. The enduring and endearing thing about Brady has always been the belief he instilled in his teammates, and for two seasons, into the entire Bucs organization.
Remember how Brady brought the Bucs back, throwing a 55-yard touchdown to Mike Evans. And on fourth and 1, how he handed off to Leonard Fournette for a 9-yard touchdown to tie the score at 27 with 42 seconds left.
The Bucs lost after inexplicably failing to cover Cooper Kupp on two passes totaling 64 yards to set up Matt Gay’s 30-yard field goal as time expired in a 30-27 loss.
But Brady nearly matched the improbable 25-point comeback he pulled off against the Falcons in Super Bowl 51.
“When you’ve got Tom, you’re never out of it,” coach Bruce Arians said.
Now the biggest question of the offseason: Is Brady coming back?
“I haven’t put a lot of thought to it,” Brady said after the game. “So we’ll just take it day by day and see where we’re at.”
When he signed a contract last March that would tie him to the Bucs through the 2022 season, Brady sounded like he wanted to play until he is 45.
Despite a tweet from TB12 that was posted after the game — which read in part, “greater things are coming. #Keep going” — it appears now that Brady could walk away.
As the final Rams kick sailed through the goal posts, sending them to next Sunday’s NFC Championship Game against the 49ers, Brady didn’t stop to consider the Man In the Arena may be exiting it for the last time.
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“Truthfully, guys, I’m thinking about this game and I’m not thinking about anything past five minutes from now,” Brady said.
Certainly, if Brady decides to call it a career, he didn’t do it by winning a Super Bowl, but he still goes out on top. He led the NFL in passing with 5,316 yards and 43 touchdowns this season. He took over a Bucs franchise that had not made the playoffs in 12 seasons and went 29-10, including 5-1 in the postseason.
On Sunday, Brady was playing incredibly short-handed. Right tackle Tristan Wirfs was out and will need surgery on torn ligaments in his ankle. Center Ryan Jensen and backup tackle Josh Wells were playing with leg injuries as well.
Of course, Chris Godwin is out with a torn ACL. Antonio Brown was released. Tyler Johnson went down, forcing Cam Brate to move to slot receiver.
“It was a great comeback,” Brady said. “It took a lot. Guys made a lot of great plays. The defense kept coming up big. Sometimes we made it, sometimes we didn’t. ... We didn’t have a lot of healthy bodies but we found a way to get it in the end zone there against a really good defense.”
The Rams made a ton of mistakes. Cam Akers fumbled twice, once at the Tampa Bay 1-yard line and again when Ndamukong Suh stripped him and Lavonte David recovered to set up Fournette’s game-tying touchdown.
“I thought, ‘This has got to be a dream,’ but our guys just kept battling,” Rams coach Sean McVay said.
A lot of NFL coaches see Brady in their nightmares. Brady had authored another rally for the ages until defensive coordinator Todd Bowles gambled with an all-out blitz that wasn’t communicated to the entire defense. Matthew Stafford and Cooper made them pay.
“You want to play a clean game to give yourself the best chance to win and if it’s less than that, you won’t have a great chance to win,” Brady said. “You may have a chance to win, but not the chance to win we needed.”
Now the waiting begins. When will the Bucs address Brady’s future?
“That’s up to Tom,” Arians said.
Brady knows he still is one of the best players in the NFL and can play longer. But his wife and three children have made a lot of sacrifices and that could push him toward retirement.
Evans called it a privilege to play with Brady.
“He knows what he wants,” Evans said. “Hopefully, we get him back next year. Best player ever and one of the best teammates and one of the best leaders I’ve ever seen.
“Nobody had any clue he would leave New England. I feel very privileged to play with him.”
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