TAMPA, Fla. —
Tom Brady is far more of a fixer than a fixator, so it wasn’t surprising Sunday that the Tampa Bay quarterback was focused on righting his team’s rudderless ship, rather than yet another personal milestone.
But what a milestone it was — 100,000 yards passing for his career, counting the regular season and postseason. After leading the Buccaneers to a come-from-behind 16-13 victory, though, he dismissed that milestone the way he might a six-figure salary.
“It’s all about the win, man,” Brady said, his personal tally now at 100,116 yards. “Never cared about that [milestone].”
It’s worth noting that 100,000 yards is roughly 57 miles, or about the distance from Pasadena to San Juan Capistrano.
Combining the regular season and postseason creates a bloated number; the more accepted statistic is his regular-season record of 83,010 yards. The next four players on that list — Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Brett Favre and Ben Roethlisberger — are either in the Hall of Fame or headed there, and have won a combined six Super Bowl rings. Brady has seven.
This season has been markedly different for Brady and the Buccaneers, however, and Sunday’s game was a prime example. It was an absolute offensive stinker — Tampa Bay generated 10 yards and zero first downs in the third quarter, for instance — and gave the home crowd reason to cheer only on the final drive, when Brady directed the offense 60 yards for the winning touchdown.
The NFL has not been kind to thirtysomething passers this season (see: Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford), let alone the 45-year-old Brady, whose team came into Sunday’s game having lost four of five.
It’s funny, there are striking similarities between the Buccaneers and Rams. Both went out and got their star quarterback — the Rams traded for Stafford a year after Tampa Bay signed Brady — and those players went on to guide their teams to Super Bowl victories in their inaugural seasons. What’s more, the Buccaneers and Rams became the first two franchises to win Lombardi Trophies on their home fields.
The downturn came this season, when both teams had all sorts of injuries to the interior of their offensive lines, no running games and a revolving-door cast of walking-wounded receivers. As a result, both Brady and Stafford have presided over hopelessly sputtering offenses.
Sunday was huge for both clubs. For the 3-5 Rams, it was the fourth loss in five games, and the first time they were defeated by the Brady-led Buccaneers. For Tampa Bay, the win lifted the Buccaneers to a lukewarm 4-5 but a share of first place in the NFC South.
That’s hard to believe with how wobbly both the Buccaneers and Rams looked offensively. The Rams had a paltry 206 yards, and Tampa Bay wasn’t much better with 323 — 60 of which came on that do-or-die drive at the end.
“That comeback was something he’s done his whole career,” Buccaneers quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen said of Brady. “He somehow keeps himself positive. He keeps believing that somehow he’ll make a play at the end. Not many guys do that. With most guys, when things go that bad you just sink along with the atmosphere, and he doesn’t. He fights the tide.”
Even though Brady brushed aside the latest milestone, others did not. CBS play-by-play announcer Jim Nantz, who by his count has called at least 105 of Brady’s games, says he doesn’t believe we’ll see another quarterback throw for 100,000 yards. By way of comparison, Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes and Buffalo’s Josh Allen each would need to average about 5,000 yards per season for another 14 years to be knocking on that door.
“I think this is one of those records, where unless they radically change the rules of the NFL, it becomes flag football or something, this one is going to stand the test of time,” Nantz said.
And then there was Rams team physician Neal ElAttrache, who was walking from the visitors sideline when Brady threw that record-breaking pass, a dump-off to running back Leonard Fournette for 15 yards with 9 minutes, 5 seconds remaining.
Fourteen years ago, ElAttrache, the preeminent sports surgeon, rebuilt Brady’s knee after a catastrophic injury. The two have been close friends since.
“My heart’s broken for our guys,” said ElAttrache, standing outside a Rams bus that soon would leave for the airport. “But of all competitors, you’ve got to think hard to find a better one than Tommy. You can never count him out. If he’s standing, you’d better be ready to play until the last second.”
Brady’s odometer rolled over. His team did not.