By Andy Villamarzo
Hernando Sun correspondent
TAMPA- The last time the Tampa Bay Buccaneers started off their regular season 3-1 was back in 2011. That very team, though, ended up finishing a dismal 4-12 after such a promising stretch. That team was also under the watch of Raheem Morris and this time around doesn’t feel anything like nearly 10 years ago.
Behind a vintage performance from quarterback Tom Brady, the Buccaneers dominated the second half for the first time this 2020 season and defeated the Los Angeles Chargers 38-31 at Raymond James Stadium. Brady throws for 5 touchdowns, becoming the oldest player ever to do so at 43 years old. It became the first time the stadium has allowed fans in this season. The next time they will look to bump it up to 25 percent capacity when they welcome the Green Bay Packers into town.
In the process of the victory, however, Tampa Bay head coach Bruce Arians confirmed after the game that they have likely lost tight end, OJ Howard, for the remainder of the season due to an Achilles heel injury. Howard did exit the game in the second half, entering Cameron Brate into the lineup. Brady will look towards longtime teammate Rob Gronkowski and Brate at the tight end position.
Tampa Bay (3-1) was coming off a dominating 28-10 victory over the Denver Broncos last weekend, with the Chargers fresh off a 21-16 loss to the Carolina Panthers. It looked as if the Buccaneers would have themselves a very long evening with rookie quarterback Justin Herbert, who had a perfect passer rating of 158.3 after the first half of play.
A gift just before halftime by the Chargers helped fuel the Buccaneers’ comeback, as Los Angeles’ running back Joshua Kelley couldn’t handle the handoff from Herbert, giving Tampa Bay the ball inside LA’s 10-yard line. Brady (30-of-46, 369 yards) and crew would capitalize and connected with Mike Evans on a 9-yard touchdown pass to put Tampa Bay down 24-14 at halftime.
The momentum would roll right into the second half for Tampa Bay, as Brady threw for three touchdowns and got himself in quite a rhythm despite not having Chris Godwin and Evans (122 yards receiving) being banged up all game long. Ronald Jones had himself a good afternoon running the ball, ending the game with a team-high 111 yards on 20 carries. Scotty Miller had another strong game for the Buccaneers, adding 83 yards and a touchdown.
Now the Buccaneers shift their focus to Thursday night, as they now have a very short week and travel up to Soldier Field to face the Chicago Bears. Brady and the offense have continued to improve week to week, as they posted their best numbers to date. The former New England Patriots’ star is now up to 11 touchdown passes on the season, and is currently on pace for 44 scoring throws. The watch will be on if Brady will have his full complement of offensive weapons at his disposal.
Andy Villamarzo can be reached at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @avillamarzo.