The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 31-27 win over the Falcons on Sunday in Atlanta not only improved their record to 9-5, ensuring their second winning season since 2010, but inched them one step closer to their first playoff berth since 2007.
And the play that ultimately got them there came from the one player whom many in league circles questioned truly deserved to be there.
With 6:25 to go in the fourth quarter, quarterback Tom Brady heaved a 46-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Brown -- his first TD catch as a Buccaneer -- to make it 31-27. Brady and coach Bruce Arians both enveloped Brown in celebratory hugs after the reception, which sealed a comeback from 17-0 down, the second-largest rally in franchise history.
"I'm just grateful that these guys believe in me," said Brown, who had 93 receiving yards on the day. "To get the opportunity to come here, be a part of the team, to put my hand in the pile to help these guys win. They were excited for me. I'm super grateful for it."
Brown hadn't caught a touchdown pass since Sept. 15, 2019, during his one-game stint with the New England Patriots.
"It's been a long journey for me," he said. "As soon as I caught it, I went straight to my knees and called God and gave praise. [I'm] extremely grateful to be here with Tampa Bay and have the opportunity to live out my dream and play football -- it's something I love to do. I know not only was I excited, but I know my close friends and family and my kids are all excited for me."
The play was actually one the Bucs ran earlier in the game -- something Arians rarely does -- and involved Brown and Mike Evans running go routes with Chris Godwin running a crossing route on the inside. But instead of hitting Godwin across the middle, Brady went to Brown.
"They both were wide open by 5 yards, and it was just 'pick your poison,'" Arians said. "I was really happy to see AB get in the end zone. It was good for him and good for all of us."
Added Brady: "It was great. He's been working hard at that, and [we] finally got him an opportunity to touch one of those. Mike did a good job on the other side, the safety kind of got stuck in the middle, and AB just ran right by him. I put it out there for him, [and] he made a great catch. Love seeing him get in the end zone."
Brady advocated for the Bucs not only to sign Brown, who is currently on probation for felony burglary and faces a civil lawsuit for sexual assault, but welcomed him into his home and got him in touch with Tony Robbins, the famed motivational speaker.
"Obviously as a teammate, as someone who knows him pretty well, he's done a lot of work to get to this point," Brady said of Brown. "[I'm] just proud of him and his focus, and how he's prioritized different things. A lot of the guys in that receiver group have helped him. He's making great contributions."
Arians ultimately signed off on the move after saying earlier this year that Brown "wasn't a fit" for his locker room. The coach believed Brown could help the Buccaneers' injury-plagued receiving corps.
"He's done a good job," Arians said. "He's doing the best with his opportunities. Really glad to see him get in the end zone. He's been doing extremely well."
Brady now has seven career comebacks when trailing by 17 or more points, tying him with Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers for most in NFL history, according to Elias Sports Bureau data.
The Bucs had been on the wrong side of history when it came to halftime deficits. From 2015 to '19, they were 7-36 when facing a halftime deficit. This season, while slow starts have been the Bucs' Achilles' heel, Brady has led them to three second-half comebacks. After mustering just 60 yards of offense in the first half, Brady calmly led four touchdown-scoring drives and a field goal in the second half. The first was a 1-yard touchdown run from Leonard Fournette that was set up by a 32-yard pass over the middle to Mike Evans, followed by a 4-yard touchdown catch by Chris Godwin.
Then, in the third quarter, following a defensive pass interference penalty on Edmond Robinson, Fournette pushed his way over the pile for a second score before Brady connected with Brown.
Brady's 320 passing yards in the second half were the most of any quarterback in a second half this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
The Bucs' defense clamped down and made plays when it needed to, as well. Cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting surrendered touchdowns to Russell Gage and Calvin Ridley in the first half, and then the defense surrendered a 7-yard touchdown pass to Hayden Hurst.
But cornerback Carlton Davis batted away a pass in the end zone for Gage with 18 seconds left in the half, and safety Antoine Winfield Jr. hustled to bat away a pass in the end zone to Ridley, followed by three sacks from Devin White, who finished with 12 combined tackles (10 solo), four tackles for loss, three QB hits and two passes defensed.
Brady is now 7-0 in his career against the Falcons -- including Super Bowl LI, in which he led the Patriots from a 28-3 deficit to a 34-28 overtime win -- showing that at age 43, the "comeback kid" can still do it.
"I think a lot of it is his track record [with] the belief he kind of inspires in all of us," tight end Cam Brate said of Brady. "He's done it on the biggest stage -- the 28-3 [Super Bowl comeback]. We've seen him do it, and we just have a ton of confidence in him, and he puts that confidence in us, as well."