TAMPA, Fla. — When Tom Brady unretired last March after all of 40 days of retirement that obviously wasn’t blissful, he boldly stated the reasoning for his return as “unfinished business.’’
On Monday night, the GOAT looked finished.
Much like it’s never been good business to bet against the likes of Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan, the same goes for Brady, who’s spent more than two decades defying the odds since the Patriots drafted him in the sixth round 23 years ago.
But the 45-year-old quarterback looked every bit his age in an ugly 31-14 loss Monday to the Cowboys in the NFC wild-card round at Raymond James Stadium.
The win sends the Cowboys to a divisional-round game Sunday at the 49ers.
The loss ends the season for the 8-10 Buccaneers and it begins an offseason of speculation about the future of Brady, who’ll be a free agent and can either remain in Tampa, play for another team or retire again — this time perhaps for keeps.
No moment in this game portrayed Brady as a player ready for retirement more than the Buccaneers’ second-and-goal play from the Dallas 5-yard line on the second play of the second quarter.
As Brady backpedaled in the pocket with two Cowboys pressuring him up the middle, he pump-faked and then floated an absolute duck to no one in particular toward the back of the end zone.
Cowboys safety Jayron Kearse, an accidental tourist of sorts, was the recipient of the rare gift from Brady, picking off the pass to end a 14-play, 70-yard drive with 14:51 remaining in the first half and Dallas leading just 6-0.
How rare was the gaffe by Brady, a mistake that’s usually reserved for jittery rookie quarterbacks with happy feet playing in their first NFL game?
It was his first turnover in the red zone since 2019 when he was still with the Patriots. Brady had made 410 pass attempts, thrown 86 TD passes and rushed for seven more since then.
You could make an argument for that being the worst pass of Brady’s brilliant career.
It completely changed the complexion of the game as the Cowboys took over at their own 20-yard line after the Kearse interception and marched 80 yards on 15 plays and took a 12-0 lead on a beautiful rushing touchdown by quarterback Dak Prescott, who sold a play-action fake to Tony Pollard, rolling to his left and walking into the end zone.
The only thing that kept the offensively anemic Buccaneers in the game — at least on the scoreboard — was Dallas kicker Brett Maher, who missed an NFL-record four extra points on the Cowboys’ first four TDs.
Brady and the Bucs’ offense were unable to answer the Prescott TD, punted and then watched Dallas take an 18-0 lead on a Prescott scoring pass to tight end Dalton Schultz with 27 seconds remaining in the half.
That capped a 95-yard Dallas drive and effectively ended the competitive portion of this night — even with Brady still having a half of football to try to get things right.
At the half, Brady was a paltry 11 of 23 for 96 yards and that ungodly end-zone INT with a 41.2 rating. He finished 35 of 66 for 351 yards with two TDs and one INT.
Brady’s counterpart Prescott, who entered the game maligned for having won only one playoff game in four tries and for leading the NFL in INTs, was 15 of 20 for 189 yards with two passing TD and one rushing TD and a 137.3 rating at the half.
The Tom Brady who entered the game owning almost every significant postseason record for quarterbacks — 35 playoff wins, most games played (47), most Super Bowl titles (seven), most passing yards (13,049) and most touchdowns passes (86) did not look like the same Tom Brady playing Monday night.
That dude wearing the No. 12 white jersey and the pewter helmet looked like an imposter.
“These past two months I’ve realized my place is still on the field and not in the stands,’’ Brady said after his unretirement. “That time will come, but it’s not now.’’
After what the world witnessed last night — and with a 10-year deal worth a reported $375 million to do TV for Fox Sports as soon as he retires in hand — that time for Brady may be now.
Because the GOAT, on this night, in the biggest game of the season for his team, was the goat.
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