TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — It doesn’t seem to matter who Tom Brady’s throwing to, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers keep finding ways to win.
Antonio Brown is the latest big-name playmaker the seven-time Super Bowl champion won’t have at his disposal the remainder of the season. Brown was booted off the team after the wide receiver abruptly left the sideline during the third quarter of Sunday’s 28-24 come-from-behind victory over the New York Jets.
Chris Godwin is out with a season-ending knee injury and Mike Evans has been slowed by a sore hamstring. However, that’s just meant more opportunities for lesser-known backups such as Breshad Perriman, Tyler Johnson and Cyril Grayson to contribute.
At 12-4, the reigning Super Bowl champions have matched the most regular-season wins in franchise history. A victory this weekend over Carolina would keep the Bucs in the running for the No. 2 playoff seeding in the NFC.
Several key players on offense and defense are nursing injuries. Coach Bruce Arians made it clear Monday that finishing strong is the priority, not holding players out in hopes of minimizing the risk of injury.
“There is no balance. You play to win. You play to get that second seed, that’s huge,” Arians said. “We’re not resting anybody. We’re playing to win.”
Four weeks ago, Perriman caught a game-winning pass in overtime to beat Buffalo. Grayson’s 33-yard TD reception gave Tampa Bay the lead against the Jets with 15 seconds remaining on Sunday.
Long-time favorite target Rob Gronkowski had seven catches for 115 yards against New York, however, Brady also connected with Grayson — elevated from the practice squad — six times for 81 yards. Johnson had four receptions for 50 yards and Perriman had two for 41 yards.
With Godwin — and now Brown — out, look for Brady to continue to benefit from the experience and confidence Perriman, Grayson and Johnson have gained over the past month.
With 4,990 yards passing, Brady is 120 shy of surpassing Jameis Winston’s single-season franchise record of 5,109 set in 2019. The winning throw to Grayson was the 40th TD pass of the season for the 44-year-old quarterback and his 80th in 31 regular-season games since joining the Bucs in 2020. That ties Josh Freeman for second place on the club’s all-time list behind Winston (121).
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The Jets averaged nearly 6 yards per carry while rushing for 150 yards, leaving Arians less than pleased with the tackling by his defense. The Bucs entered the game allowing 87.5 yards per game, third best in the NFL.
Grayson is a former LSU track star making the most of an opportunity to contribute to Tampa Bay’s bid to repeat as Super Bowl champions. He had a 50-yard TD on his only catch in a loss at New Orleans on Oct. 31 and totaled nine receptions for 162 yards and one TD in wins over the Panthers and Jets the past two weeks.
Brown’s career is on hold again after yet another messy departure from an NFL team. Stints in Pittsburgh, Oakland and New England also ended badly. He took off his jersey, shoulder pads, undershirt and gloves before walking off the field against the Jets, finishing with 42 receptions for 545 yards and four TDs in seven games this season. Arians said Brown is no longer part of the team.
Evans, who sat out the previous week, played Sunday and had a touchdown catch. He’s 54 yards short of becoming the only player in NFL history to begin a career with eight consecutive seasons with at least 1,000 yards receiving. Arians would like to see him extend the record — if he’s healthy enough to play.
“Seeing him (Monday), he said he felt good. We’ll wait and see how it goes,” Arians said. “Obviously, I would love to see him have it.”
53 — Brady moved ahead of Ben Roethlisberger with the 53rd winning drive of his career on Sunday. That’s tied with Drew Brees for second behind Peyton Manning’s 54. He has 42 career fourth-quarter comebacks, second most behind Manning’s 43.
Tampa Bay faces Carolina for the second time in three weeks, with a chance to stay in the running for the No. 2 playoff seeding in the NFC.
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