With 1:13 to go Thursday night against the Chicago Bears and trailing 20-19 at Soldier Field, Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers got the ball at their own 25-yard line. In Brady’s dazzling, 21-year career, he had orchestrated 59 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime, the most by any NFL quarterback since the AFL merger.
But on third-and-6, a pass sailed over the fingertips of trusted tight end Rob Gronkowski. And on fourth-and-6, with 38 seconds to go, Brady failed to connect with tight end Cameron Brate, with safety DeAndre Houston-Carson draped all over Brate.
After the last pass was ruled incomplete — and the Bears took over on downs — Brady flashed four fingers and appeared confused, before showing visible frustration when he got back to the sideline.
Brady went over to the bench and slammed his helmet repeatedly into the ground before jogging off the field as the Bears ran out the clock in victory.
Had he thought it was third down and not fourth down?
“Yeah, he knew,” Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians said, blaming the loss on “poor coaching.”
When asked about Brady flashing the No. 4, Buccaneers running back Ronald Jones II said, “I didn’t really see that. I think we knew the down and distance. We were just looking — it looked like it was a bad call. It could have went the other way.”
Brady said his mind was solely focused on yardage.
“Yeah, you’re up against the clock and you’re up against the — I knew we had to gain a chunk, so I should have been thinking more first down instead of chunk in that situation,” said Brady, who has now dropped three consecutive prime-time contests dating to last season.
“I knew we needed a chunk and I was thinking about more yardage. It was just bad execution. We had a great opportunity there so … just didn’t execute when we needed to.”
Brady and the Buccaneers had jumped out to a 13-0 lead; and Brady had won 42 consecutive starts dating to 2015 when his team had led by 13 points or more — the longest active streak for an NFL signal-caller. But the Bucs were slapped with 11 penalties, and their proficient red zone scoring — 80% heading into Thursday night’s game — dropped to just 33% against the Bears.
“We just had some negative plays in the second half,” Brady said. “When you get behind in down and distance, that’s not where you want to be. So we all have to do a better job. This isn’t any one position. This isn’t any one player. This is a teamwide thing that we all got to collectively learn each other quickly and make improvements quickly. We all have to do a better job.”