TAMPA — Those who saw Tom Brady engineer a fourth-quarter comeback against the Saints on Monday Night Football won’t soon forget it.
The 17-16 win came with touchdown passes to a pair of rookies — tight end Cade Otton and running back Rachaad White — in the final three minutes. The game-winner to White arrived from 6 yards away, literally in the nick of time with three seconds left.
“Just like we drew it up,” Brady said as he stepped to the podium for his post-game news conference. Laughter filled the interview room.
In fact, Brady’s 44th fourth-quarter comeback, which passed Peyton Manning for most in NFL history, was no accident.
The touchdown pass to White was drawn up during the week of practice, and Brady went to the sideline and called specifically for the rookie from Arizona State.
“Two-nine! Two-nine!” Brady yelled at offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich.
Three plays earlier, Brady’s apparent winning touchdown to Chris Godwin was erased by a holding penalty on left tackle Donovan Smith with 16 seconds remaining. Brady connected with Godwin again for 9 yards before the Saints called their second timeout.
“The next thing I heard like, ‘Two-nine!,’” said White, who wears No. 29. “They were asking for me because Lenny (Fournette) was in the game at that time. I just remember TB calling the play and when I heard it in the huddle, I knew what route I had to run and I ran my route and I was in my spot and he threw me the ball and I was making sure I was getting into the end zone.”
White shook off an earlier fumble when he was stripped of the football by Saints defensive end Cam Jordan in the third quarter.
Now Brady was not only calling for White to be in the game, he wanted that specific play.
“I just ran a little angle return route,” White said. “I just broke in. I’d seen (Saints linebacker) Demario (Davis) had me in coverage. I just broke in and came back out on him.”
That’s what makes the 45-year-old Brady so special. For 57 minutes, the Saints defense had kept the Bucs out of the end zone.
They had done so in two previous games at Raymond James Stadium, allowing a combined three points.
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Brady has a way of elevating the play of everyone around him in those moments, and his trust in rookies such as Otton and White is proof he can still do that.
In the Bucs’ previous game at RayJay in Week 9, Otton caught a 1-yard score for the game-winner with nine seconds remaining in a victory over the Rams.
“It’s so surreal,” Otton said. “There’s times when I’m in the huddle and I look around and see who I’m in the huddle with and it’s unbelievable to me. You know, at the same time, you hear the play, you line up and you know you have a job to do and that’s the biggest thing.”
The Bucs improved to 6-6 overall and got more breathing room in the downtrodden NFC South where the Falcons (5-8), Panthers (4-8) and Saints (4-9) fell farther behind.
The Bucs took the opening kickoff and needed 16 plays to march 72 yards. But Saints safety Marcus Maye dropped Fournette a few yards shy of the goal line after he caught a pass from Brady on third and goal at the 5.
Ryan Succop kicked a 21-yard field goal to give the Bucs a 3-0 lead, but it felt like a win for the Saints.
The Saints pulled ahead when Andy Dalton threw a 30-yard strike to Taysom Hill, then Wil Lutz tacked on three field goals to leave the Bucs trailing 16-3.
Then the Brady magic took over. He went 14-of-18 for 118 yards and two touchdowns on the final two drives.
“There’s something about the way he takes charge,” said Bucs defensive tackle Akiem Hicks, a teammate of Brady’s in New England. “There’s something about how when everything is on the line, he’s able to make that one play that will make the difference.”
When the Bucs defense was able to get the ball back to Brady with 2:29 remaining, Hicks turned to teammate Deadrin Senat. “I told him, ‘If anybody can do it, Brady can,’” Hicks said.
When White was told his touchdown catch provided Brady with a record 44th fourth-quarter comeback, he couldn’t believe it.
“It’s just amazing,” White said. “I didn’t even know things like that. I believe I was born just as Tom got into the league. I was born in ’99. Just to be able to be part of that years later down the road, you’ve got to be grateful and just cherish these moments.”
Not much is right with the Bucs offense, even with the remarkable comebacks. As Brady noted, it gets tougher with a game Sunday at San Francisco, then home against the Bengals.
“We’ve had a lot of games come down to the end where somebody won and somebody lost which is why we’re 6-6. Not where we want to be but we’ll keep fighting,” he said.
Brady always gives his team a fighting chance.
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