By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- If there's one place that no football team ever wants to be, it is on the opposite sideline when Tom Brady is coming off a bad performance.
The no-longer-undefeated Green Bay Packers can attest to that truth.
More than a week removed from his forgetful fourth down gaffe on national TV, Tom Brady took the field Sunday opposite Aaron Rodgers in the big national window of Sunday afternoon's football slate. Every eye in the football world tuned in for this marquee matchup, and most people who don't particularly enjoy seeing Brady succeed (and even many New Englanders who loved and revered him for the past two decades) were hoping to the "decline" of the greatest quarterback in history to drop even deeper.
Instead? Whoa, buddy. Instead those poor souls got to see a crisp, dominant, vintage Tom Brady performance, one that left no doubt as to whether the 43-year-old quarterback can still do what he does best.
If one were to merely peek at the box score, the story of Brady's excellence on Sunday wouldn't be immediately evident. The quarterback finished with just 166 passing yards. That low total, though, was due only to the fact that the Buccaneers had the previously dominant Packers beaten so soundly that there was little need or pressure to throw the ball while holding a 28-point lead in the fourth quarter.
At halftime, Brady was 14-for-16 for 111 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, a casual 135.2 passer rating for Brady coming off that prime-time mistake.
On the other side, Rodgers looked ordinary -- or perhaps even worse. An MVP front runner entering the game, Rodgers completed just 16 of his 35 passes (45.7 percent) for 160 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown. He was taken out of the game in the fourth quarter, with the Packers giving some action to a quarterback named Tim Boyle.
Brady didn't take the final snaps for Tampa, though his circumstances were slightly different. Blaine Gabbert did the honors of finishing off the 38-10 victory for the Bucs.
Suffice it to say, The Great Quarterback Matchup Of 2020 didn't quite live up to the hype. But it wasn't the old man who failed to hold up his end of the bargain.
In the second quarter, Brady was simply masterful.
With his team ahead 14-10 (thanks to Rodgers' two picks), Brady delivered a strike over the middle to Rob Gronkowski for 13 yards. Three plays later, on a third-and-6 near midfield, Brady stood patiently in the pocket, striking a pose as a statue while waiting for Chris Godwin to run himself free over the middle. Brady delivered a pass in the perfect spot, allowing Godwin to fall forward for the first down.
That Brady did this while taking a shot to the eye speaks to his toughness, an element of his game that has somehow remained greatly underrated. (How anything about Brady remains underrated at this point in time, I'm not sure. Take it up with Congress. But I can assure you: Joe Football Fan likely lacks an appreciation for the toughness of Tom Brady.)
Brady threw a tight end screen to Gronkowski after taking that shot to the face before converting another third down through the air, this time with an easy pass to LeSean McCoy in space on a third-and-2 -- a conversion made more with Brady's brain than his body.
Three plays after that one, well, it was pure Tom Brady. Staying cool after a bad snap, patience in the pocket, awareness and subtle mobility to slide up in the pocket and buy extra time ... and then, of course, the perfect throw to the open man:
That touchdown -- to rookie Tyler Johnson, who was drafted in the fifth round this year -- put the Bucs up 21-10, and after Lavonte David sacked Rodgers on third down to force a Green Bay punt, Brady got right back to work. A quick pass to Godwin gained eight, before a pair of Ronald Jones runs ate up 13 more yards.
Then Brady did this:
The arm is anything but a noodle.
Moments later, Brady did something he had not done since December 9, 2018 by throwing a touchdown to Rob Gronkowski.
That superhuman duo made that back-shoulder connection look far too easy countless times before, and that one right there was the picture of perfection.
The touchdown helped jump-start the Brady-Gronk connection, which has been heating up a bit since O.J. Howard was lost for the year due to an Achilles injury.
In the opening minute of the second half, Brady threw his finest pass of the afternoon, connecting with those giant mitts of No. 87:
That 31-yard connection helped set up a Tampa field goal, and later in the third quarter, Brady unleashed another perfect pass for his best bud:
"This throw right here," Troy Aikman said on the broadcast. "That's as good as it gets."
That drive led to another Tampa touchdown, giving the Bucs a 38-10 lead that would hold for the final 17:43 of the football game. Brady happily handed the ball of to Jones, who ran for 113 yards and two scores. But if the game called for Brady to keep on throwing, his performance indicated that he was more than happy to answer that challenge.
On the season, Brady now has 14 touchdowns and four interceptions, a 64.1 percent completion rate, and most importantly, a 4-2 record.
Again, a casual glance at the stat sheet would not lead anyone to believe that the GOAT had a memorable performance. When historians look at the box score from Brady-Rodgers III, they'll wonder why both QBs were so bad.
Yet anyone who watched that game knows that the quarterback position was played at an exceptional level for the home team. More importantly, the Bucs were given a shot in the arm and a reminder of what they have.
And anyone hoping to see The End™ for Tom Brady? They can give it another go next week. After a performance like the one Brady put forth vs. the Packers, those folks seem likely to be disappointed once again.
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