TAMPA — The latest riveting passage in the Tom Brady epic will be chronicled as equal parts collective and clutch.
At the seemingly darkest juncture of this otherwise mild Monday night, an anemic effort by the Bucs offense suddenly became an ensemble one. During a six-play stretch in their initial touchdown drive, Tom Brady connected with four different pass catchers. During the winning drive moments later, he completed eight passes to five different guys.
And suddenly, the group effort had segued to a glorious one: Bucs 17, Saints 16.
Rookie tailback Rachaad White had the decisive snag — a 6-yard catch ending with him lunging across the goal line with three seconds to play — but Brady made certain not to overlook anyone in his postgame address.
“At the end of the day, our guys made the plays this week,” he said. “Mike (Evans) made plays, Chris (Godwin) made plays, Cade (Otton) made plays, Rachaad made plays, Lenny (Fournette) made plays, Julio (Jones) made some great plays. Everyone contributed.”
That frantic finish stood in glaring contrast to the first three quarters, when downfield throws seemed at a premium, and barely anyone outside of Fournette and Godwin was touching the ball. At halftime, Evans — a four-time Pro Bowler — had as many targets (one) as rookie tight end Ko Kieft.
And Brady was 15-for-23 for 104 yards, with a 57.2 passer rating.
“We were just missing on some stuff we usually connect on down the field,” said Otton, who had one reception at halftime but finished with six for 28 yards.
“I think the rhythm of our offense is something you don’t think about too often, but it really impacts us. Just getting in a rhythm, getting a few completions, having the confidence to go down the field. Thankfully we found it at the end.”
They discovered it in a high-pressure, high-tempo situation, after the defense forced a critical three-and-out at midfield and Brady and Co. took over at their own 9-yard line with 5:21 remaining.
“We’ve been pretty good in no-huddle, two-minute drills,” Brady said. “A lot of games come down to those types of plays, our guys made them.”
The Bucs never faced a third-down situation on that first touchdown drive, assisted greatly when Evans drew a pass-interference whistle in the end zone on cornerback Paulson Adebo. The next play, Brady found Otton — the fifth different receiver to catch a pass on the drive — for a 1-yard score.
The ensuing possession, following another Saints three-and-out, was equally diverse.
Brady again connected with five different targets. A 9-yard strike to Godwin on second and 5 got the Bucs to midfield. A 10-yard run over the middle by Fournette got them to the Saints 31. Three plays later, Brady found Miller for a 7-yard gain on third and 6.
A first-and-goal holding penalty on left tackle Donovan Smith moved the ball back to the 15, but Brady found Godwin on the right side for a 9-yard gain two plays later.
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That set up the game-winner to White.
“We were just spreading the ball around,” coach Todd Bowles said.
“Tom did a great job seeing where they were doubling and going to the open guy, and everybody was executing well: putting the ball back down, getting lined up, executing, getting out of bounds and understanding what we needed to do.”
By game’s end, Brady had completed 36 of 54 passes for 281 yards, and nine different guys had caught at least one of those throws. Godwin (eight catches, 63 yards) led everybody.
“I mean, we have a very talented group,” said Evans, who finished with four catches for 59 yards. “And everybody’s always ready when their number’s called, and we did a good job down the stretch making plays. Scotty, Julio, Russ (Gage), Chris, myself. We’re happy that we got the (win) tonight.”
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