ARLINGTON, Texas – Given all the drama surrounding Tom Brady since last seen in a real football game, the primetime opener on Sunday night at JerryWorld teased us with more intrigue:
Is this the same Brady?
Well, pretty much. The iconic Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback – who retired for 40 days last spring, then took an 11-day leave of absence during training camp – found some normalcy in beginning his 23rd NFL season in the winner’s circle again.
And typically, he sliced up the Dallas Cowboys again.
Brady passed for 212 yards to help the Bucs douse the Cowboys for a 19-3 victory. Yes, he’s still a Dallas slayer. That result kept Brady’s perfect record against the Cowboys intact (7-0) while also marking the first time in NFL history that a quarterback started a game at 45 years old.
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Most importantly, the performance turned the page on the most unusual offseason and preseason in Brady’s history. He didn’t seem too rusty despite missing the training camp reps. And he didn’t seem so distracted, either, as speculation swirled about his personal life amid his absence.
Instead, Brady looked to be comfortable enough on the field. He wouldn’t be the first star athlete to tune out off-the-field drama upon returning to the stage. But for a man who is so detailed and calculating in his approach to the game, it was fair to wonder whether he would be the same ol’ TB12.
No, he wasn’t dominant. He completed 18-of-27 passes, with a TD and an INT, with an 87.3 passer rating. Ho hum. The Bucs didn’t score a touchdown until late in the third quarter when Mike Evans made a spectacular one-handed catch on a high lob to finish off a fade route for a 5-yard score. And on top of a handful of other throws off the mark, Brady threw an ugly interception in the fourth quarter by grossly underthrowing Evans on a slant route.
It helped that the Bucs’ offense came with balance as Leonard Fournette rushed for 127 yards
Yet Brady, who led the Bucs to four drives that ended with Ryan Succop field goals, was efficient – especially when compared to struggling Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott – and the arm strength was there.
On Brady’s prettiest incompletion, a deep heave that Breshad Perriman couldn’t haul in, the football traveled more than 50 yards in the air.
Prescott, meanwhile, had one of the least impressive outings of his career. He didn’t complete a pass over 16 yards until garbage time late in the fourth quarter, posted a 47.2 passer rating (14-of-29, 134 yards, one INT) and the Cowboys were 3-of-15 on third-down conversions. Prescott was replaced by Cooper Rush late in the fourth quarter after suffering a right hand injury.
Brady can certainly point to his own set of concerns as the Bucs start another season as a legit Super Bowl contender. Left tackle Donovan Smith didn’t return after suffering an elbow injury, which added to the litany of setbacks for an injury-riddled O-line. Also, Chris Godwin, making his return after suffering a torn ACL and torn MCL in December, couldn’t finish after suffering a hamstring injury.
You don’t have to tell Brady that the grind of an NFL season is a marathon, not a sprint. But at least the Bucs opened the curtain on possibilities to build on for the long haul, including the vitality of the oldest quarterback in NFL history.