A relieved Tom Brady stepped to the podium with a big smile.
“Just like we drew it up,” the seven-time Super Bowl quarterback said after throwing a pair of touchdown passes in the final three minutes on Monday night to help the Tampa Bay Buccaneers rally from a 13-point deficit with just over five minutes to go and beat the New Orleans Saints 17-16.
It was the 44th fourth-quarter comeback of Brady’s career, giving him sole possession of the NFL record, which he previously shared with Peyton Manning.
Clearly frustrated and on the verge of being held without a TD pass at home by the Saints for the third straight season, Brady led scoring drives of 91 and 63 yards and the Bucs (6-6) back to .500, tightening the team’s grip on first place in the weak NFC South.
“We’ve had a lot of games come down to the end,” Brady said. “Some we’ve won, some we’ve lost, which is why we’re 6-6. It’s not where we want to be, but we’ll keep fighting.”
The 45-year-old quarterback tossed a one-yard TD pass to rookie Cade Otton, to make it 16-10 with exactly three minutes remaining. He got the ball back with 2:29 to go, then won the game with a six-yard throw to another rookie, Rachaad White, with three seconds left.
“They played hard, they showed grit. It was a complete team effort, obviously,” Bucs coach Todd Bowles said. “Defense got the ball back, the offense cashed it in. Got it back one more time, cashed it in one more time.”
The Saints (4-9) swept the season series between the division rivals each of the past two seasons, holding Brady without a TD pass in a 38-3 New Orleans rout in 2020 and again in a 9-0 road victory in 2021.
Tampa Bay ended a seven-game, regular-season losing streak in the series with a 20-10 victory in Week 2, sacking Jameis Winston six times and forcing five turnovers.
Andy Dalton, who didn’t play in the earlier meetings, threw for 225 yards and a touchdown without an interception for New Orleans on Monday. However the Saints ultimately paid for having to settle for three field goals by Wil Lutz on drives deep into Bucs territory.
The Bucs rebounded from an overtime loss to Cleveland to extend their division lead over the Atlanta Falcons to 1.5 games.
The last-place Saints missed out on an opportunity to pull into a tie for second with the Falcons. None of the four teams in the NFC South has a winning record.
“I’ve got to go into a bye week knowing that we should have beat this team,” Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan said. “The first time we should have beat this team. This time we should have. … We should have beat a lot of other teams. We didn’t.”
Brady, who before the game exchanged greetings with the biggest prize on this winter’s baseball free agent market AL MVP Aaron Judge, finished 36 of 54 for 281 yards and two touchdowns.
“Tom Brady is Tom Brady. He was meticulous in staying to the plan of his dink and dunk,” Jordan said. “He had the one prayer that he sent out there and got bailed out with the flag.”