Only Tom Brady could help the Bucs squeeze past the Rams

TAMPA — Several minutes had passed after Tom Brady threw a touchdown to rookie Cade Otton to beat the Rams 16-13 on Sunday.

All heaven was still breaking lose. Strangers high-fived. The sideline bubbled over with emotion and spilled onto the playing field.

Brady had just taken a seat on the bench when offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich picked through the bodies and spotted him.

Brady leaped to his feet, slapped hands with Leftwich, then the two men hugged hard, squeezing like long-lost family members reuniting at an airport.

“We did it, baby!” lip readers will tell you Brady said.

Bucs fans, players and coaches got a treat Sunday: one more example of how the greatest quarterback who ever lived can still make the highly improbable, possible.

It was Brady’s 55th game-winning drive, most in league history. Of course, it came in a game when he eclipsed the 100,000-yard passing mark as well.

Even by his own incredible standards, this was special stuff. With no timeouts, Brady drove the Bucs 60 yards in 35 seconds.

“It’s just like when I was a kid watching Tom Brady drive down the field,” cornerback Jamel Dean said. “He’s known for his two-minute offense, so to see that happening live, it’s like, ‘Yeah, he’s still got it.’ ”

Rookie punter Jake Camarda, who was born one year before Brady was drafted by the Patriots, said he knew the outcome before the triumphant drive began.

“I’m pretty sure when there were forty-something seconds left, I walked up to one of the guys on the sideline and said we are going to score,” Camarda said. “There was no doubt in my mind that we were going to score. ... One hundred thousand (percent) and he’s Tom (Brady). So, we got a lot of confidence from that.”

The fact that the Bucs appeared to have blown their final chance at winning with two minutes to play, when they failed to score a touchdown on four plays from the Rams’ 7-yard line, made the comeback seem unlikely even by Brady’s standards. Worse yet, receiver Scotty Miller dropped a touchdown pass in the end zone and Otton couldn’t hang onto one in traffic at the goal line.

Brady is said to be at his calmest when the pressure is the highest.

“He was just like, ‘Let’s get it y’all. We’ve been here before,’” Miller said of Brady. “Let’s do it again,’ and that’s what we did.”

Of course, outside of the two last hurry-up drives, the Bucs offense mustered little but field-goal attempts.

Every series ended in a kick, including three made field goals by Ryan Succop. For all the talk about wanting to get the running game going, the Bucs gained 51 yards on 20 carries, matching their season average for attempts. In fact, 141 of the Bucs’ 323 yards came with Brady controlling the two-minute offense.

Knowing receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin would receive most of the focus from the Rams defense, Brady began trusting passes to Miller and Otton.

“Great execution. They were doubling Mike (Evans) and Chris (Godwin) and Scotty (Miller), and Cade made some timely catches,” Brady said. “Leonard (Fournette) made a good catch going down that way, so those other guys started making plays and we spread the ball around a little bit.”

Leftwich has been under fire from inside and outside of the Bucs facility for an offense that is last in rushing attempts and average. The offense didn’t come alive until Brady increased the tempo.

“It was a grind. For three quarters, it was a grind,” coach Todd Bowles said. “We either had something going, we either got a setback with a penalty or we got a holding call or we got a false start and shot ourselves in the foot. Those guys stuck with it. They were determined to fight this thing out to the end.

“We knew we had to keep a close game. Usually when we played (the Rams) in the past, they get ahead of us pretty good and we become one-dimensional, but I thought those guys fought hard and they scrapped and they came through.”

Brady came through, the way he had done on 54 previous game-winning drives. After three straight losses, two of them in a span of four days, with his divorce that was final a day after the loss to the Ravens, he was calm, cool.

“You run out of things to say about him,” Bowles said. “... We always have a chance with him. We’re grateful to have him. He got over 100,000 yards. That’s a long playing career for anybody. He still plays at a high level. We love the guy to death.”

• • •

Sign up for the Bucs RedZone newsletter to get updates and analysis on the latest team and NFL news from Bucs beat writer Joey Knight.

Never miss out on the latest with the Bucs, Rays, Lightning, Florida college sports and more. Follow our Tampa Bay Times sports team on Twitter and Facebook.