It’s time for PewterReport.com’s 2-Point Conversion post-game column, which features two statements, two questions and two predictions based on the latest Bucs game. Tampa Bay rallied from a 17-point deficit to come back and stun the Los Angeles Chargers, 38-31, thanks to five touchdown passes from quarterback Tom Brady. The Bucs outscored the Chargers 24-7 in the second half thanks to Brady’s big day.

2 BIG STATEMENTS

STATEMENT 1. Brady Brings The Bucs Back

Bucs quarterback Tom Brady was absolutely terrific throwing the ball on Sunday, tossing five touchdown passes to five different targets en route to a 369-yard passing day as he out-dueled Los Angeles rookie quarterback Justin Herbert, who completed 80 percent of his passes for 290 yards with a career-high three touchdowns and one interception.

“I thought he just played outstanding,” Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said. “He played fantastic and was lights out in the second half.”

Bucs QB Tom Brady and TE Cam Brate

Bucs QB Tom Brady and TE Cam Brate – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

The Bucs were down 17 points to the visiting Chargers in the second quarter – thanks in part to a Brady pick-six. But the future first-ballot Hall of Fame QB shrugged off that bad play to lead a monumental comeback for Tampa Bay’s third straight victory.

“We knew we had played poorly and it was just a show of character [in] what the second half was going to show,” Arians said. “I can honestly say had this been last year, we’d have gotten our ass beat by 20 [points]. This team has a ton of character and play-makers. We started making plays and you can see when we don’t beat ourselves, we’re going to be a tough team to beat.”

The 3-1 Bucs are still atop the NFC South as they head to Chicago to play the 3-1 Bears on Thursday Night Football.

The win for Brady was No. 222 in his 21-year NFL career, which makes the NFL’s all-time winningest player, surpassing former New England and Indianapolis kicker Adam Vinatieri, who had 221 career victories. Brady also tied Peyton Manning for second place with 93 career 300-yard passing games (New Orleans’ Drew Brees leads the league with 121), and tied Manning for the most 300-yard passing days with at least five touchdowns. Brady and Manning have accomplished that feat seven games, while Brees has done that nine times.

Brady stands alone with the most comeback wins in NFL history, trailing by 10 or more points. Brady has now done that 34 times, and it started with a 3-yard touchdown to seldom-used tight end Cameron Brate to give Tampa Bay an early 7-0 lead.

Bucs TE Cam Brate

Bucs TE Cam Brate – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

After falling behind 24-7, Brady hit Mike Evans for a 6-yard touchdown right before halftime to cut into L.A.’s lead, 24-14, and then tossed a beautiful scoring strike to tight end O.J. Howard for a 28-yard TD to narrow the Chargers’ lead to 24-21. After a 47-yard bomb to Scotty Miller, Brady hit Miller with a 19-yard touchdown on the next play as Tampa Bay retook the lead, 28-24.

Brady’s fifth touchdown pass was a set up by a 48-yard bomb to Evans, as rookie running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn crossed the end zone after a 9-yard catch from the future Hall of Famer. That gave the Bucs a 35-31 lead early in the fourth quarter. Vaughn was the 83rd different player to catch a touchdown pass from Brady in his 21-year career, which is an NFL record.

At age 43, Brady became the oldest player in NFL history to throw for five TDs in a game. The previous mark was set by Warren Moon, who did that at age 40 in 1997.

Brady’s big day came without Pro Bowl wide receiver Chris Godwin (hamstring) and running back Leonard Fournette (ankle), and tight end O.J. Howard was lost for the year in the second half as he ruptured his Achilles tendon. Throw in the fact that Mike Evans suffered an ankle sprain and played through it to post seven catches for 122 yards and a touchdown, and Tampa Bay’s arsenal was far from full strength.

Yet Brady found a way to rally the Bucs regardless.

Brady tried to trademark the phrase “Tom Terrific” in 2019, but was denied by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office because that phrase was previously associated with Major League Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver. Yet Brady wasn’t denied of a comeback win on Sunday – thanks to his simply terrific performance against the Chargers.

Bucs QB Tom Brady

Bucs QB Tom Brady – Photo by: Getty Images

“We put ourselves in a pretty good hole and we were going to have to dig our way out of it. That’s just the way football works sometimes – just have to tighten some things up,” Brady said. “Glad we came back – defense made a big play for us before the end of the [first] half and that got us ignited a little bit. We made some plays in the third quarter and made some good plays in the fourth quarter. Started the game well [and] finished the game well – that middle part – we have to figure out how to play 60 minutes well.”

I’ve seen plenty of Tampa Bay quarterbacks throw pick-sixes – Trent Dilfer, Josh Freeman, Jameis Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick come to mind – and have their days spiral downward from there. That certainly wasn’t the case with Brady on Sunday in a wild, come-from-behind victory.

STATEMENT 2. A Humbling Moment For The Bucs Defense

Bucs outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week. Tampa Bay linebacker Lavonte David won the NFC Defensive Player of the Month award. Bucs safety Antoine Winfield, Jr. was named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month.

Well, that was last week and that was last month.

The Bucs had a rude awakening to the month of October courtesy of the Los Angeles Chargers and Herbert, the team’s sensational rookie quarterback. The Chargers’ first-round pick completed 80 percent of his passes for nearly 300 yards and three touchdowns as L.A. nearly upset Tampa Bay.

Bucs S Jordan Whitehead and Chargers WR Tyron Johnson

Bucs S Jordan Whitehead and Chargers WR Tyron Johnson – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

The Chargers raced out to a 24-7 halftime lead, outscoring the Bucs, 24-0, after Brady found Brate for a 3-yard touchdown on Tampa Bay’s first offensive possession. Safety Jordan Whitehead got beat for a 53-yard touchdown to Tyron Jackson in the first quarter, then had a 15-yard personal foul penalty on a late hit out of bounds on Herbert.

Tom Brady helped the Chargers out with their next score, throwing a pick-six to cornerback Michael Davis, who returned the ball 78 yards for a touchdown to give Los Angeles an early 14-7 lead. Tampa Bay’s defense had two big penalties on third downs on L.A.’s next scoring drive – first a 15-yard personal foul penalty on a late hit out of bounds on Herbert, and then a 20-yard pass interference penalty on cornerback Carlton Davis III.

After trailing 14-7, Tampa Bay’s defense surrendered a 97-yard scoring drive as L.A. took a 21-7 lead when Herbert found wide receiver Donald Parham, Jr. for a 19-yard touchdown against Sean Murphy-Bunting.

The Chargers added a field goal to increase their lead to 24-7, but gave the Bucs a golden opportunity to get back in the game as Ndamukong Suh forced a key fumble when he hit running back Joshua Kelley at the Chargers’ 6-yard line. Inside linebacker Devin White recovered for the Bucs, and on third-and-goal, Brady found Evans in the back of the end zone for a 6-yard touchdown to cut into L.A.’s lead, 24-14.

Bucs ILB Devin White

Bucs ILB Devin White – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

“That play itself definitely gave us a boost,” Davis III said. “It shifted the momentum in the game and it happened right before halftime, which was good for us because we were able to go back and adjust and make some changes – some corrections – and with that momentum we went out there and took care of business in the second half.”

The Bucs defense recorded their first sack of the game in the second half as defensive coordinator Todd Bowles brought the heat and Whitehead dropped Herbert for a loss on third down on L.A.’s first possession of the third quarter. Tampa Bay’s defense stiffened in the third quarter as the Bucs offense came to life to take a 28-24 lead – until Jalen Guyton beat Murphy-Bunting for a 72-yard touchdown to give the Chargers a 31-28 lead to start the fourth quarter.

Barrett recorded a second half sack and moves into a tie with Jason Pierre-Paul for the team lead with three this year, but Sunday’s performance against the Chargers was a far cry from how well the defense played the first three weeks of the season. Giving up touchdowns to no-name receivers like Johnson, Parham and Guyton is unforgivable, though to be fair, Murphy-Bunting was not at 100 percent.

The Bucs defense forced two clutch takeaways, including a heroic fourth quarter interception by Davis, who held Pro Bowl receiver Keenan Allen to 62 yards on eight catches (7.8 avg.), and limited the Chargers to just 46 yards rushing and a 2.0 average on the ground. If multi-purpose running back Austin Ekeler hadn’t gone down with a hamstring injury in the first quarter it might have been a different story for the Tampa Bay defense, but David, who led the team with 11 stops, personally took out Ekeler with one of those big tackles.

Bucs CB Carlton Davis III

Bucs CB Carlton Davis III – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Maybe Tampa Bay’s youthful defenders were reading about how good they were and got a little too full of themselves. If that was the case, Sunday served as a humbling moment – perhaps a needed wake up call – for a young Bucs defense that is good, but isn’t great yet. Bowles’ unit will have a chance to redeem itself on Thursday Night Football as the Bucs travel to Chicago to take on a Bears team that scored just 11 points behind quarterback Nick Foles, who replaced Mitchell Trubisky as the starter two weeks ago.

2 PROBING QUESTIONS

QUESTION 1: How Much Will The Bucs Miss Howard?

A lot. Howard had his most productive day of the season, catching three passes for 50 yards, including a 28-yard touchdown, which was his second score of the season, before rupturing his Achilles tendon. That injury will be season-ending, and deals a big blow to Tampa Bay’s offense. Howard’s fourth season in Tampa Bay comes to a premature end with 11 receptions for 146 yards and two TDs.

Bucs TE O.J. Howard

Bucs TE O.J. Howard – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

“It’s a tough injury,” Brady said. “I think everyone feels for O.J. and what his commitment’s been to the team through the offseason [and] training camp. He’s just been a great player for us and it sucks to lose him.”

Now you see why the Bucs wanted to stockpile talent at the tight end position and trade for future Hall of Famer Rob Gronkowski after Brady lured him out of retirement. And you see why Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht wisely didn’t trade Brate this offseason.

Yes, it’s a luxury to have a third-string tight end make $4.25 million this season, but Brate is now the No. 2 tight end behind Gronkowski due to Howard’s injury. Brate’s first catch of the year was a 3-yard touchdown, and it was his 28th career score. Howard will be missed, especially his run-blocking due to the fact that Antony Auclair is on the short-term injured reserve list, but the veteran Brate is capable of stepping in, especially in the passing game.

QUESTION 2: Does Tampa Bay Win If Ekeler Doesn’t Get Hurt?

They might not have. Ekeler came into Sunday’s game averaging 5.0 yards per carry while rushing for 236 yards and a touchdown. The multi-dimensional Ekeler also had 16 catches for 142 yards through three games after catching 92 passes for 993 yards and eight scores last year. Without wide receiver Mike Williams in the lineup, Ekeler was going to be the No. 2 weapon for Herbert behind Allen on the Chargers’ target hierarchy. That was a big loss for L.A.

Bucs LB Lavonte David, Bucs S Antoine Winfield, Jr. and Chargers RB Austin Ekeler

Bucs LB Lavonte David, Bucs S Antoine Winfield, Jr. and Chargers RB Austin Ekeler – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Ekeler had two runs for 12 yards and one catch for two yards on Sunday and severely injured his hamstring while being tackled by David and Winfield early in the first quarter. Without Ekeler, the Chargers had to turn to rookie Joshua Kelley, who had seven yards on nine carries (0.8 avg.) and three receptions for 26 yards.

Kelley had a critical fumble on the Los Angeles 6-yard line on a run that shouldn’t have even been called by head coach Anthony Lynn right before halftime with the Chargers up 24-7. If Ekeler hadn’t gotten hurt, he would have likely taken that handoff and probably wouldn’t have fumbled. That costly turnover let the Bucs back in the game as it led to Brady’s 6-yard touchdown toss to Evans on third-and-goal.

2 BOLD PREDICTIONS

PREDICTION 1: Surprise! Bucs’ Winning Streak Continues

In my original Bucs’ 2020 season predictions, I accurately forecast a 3-1 start by the Bucs, and it’s worked out just the way I envisioned. But in those predictions, I had Tampa Bay losing to Chicago in Week 5, snapping the team’s three-game winning streak.

Bucs RT Tristan Wirfs

Bucs RT Tristan Wirfs – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

I’m changing my prediction, and I don’t think the Bucs lose against the Bears for two reasons. First, Chicago is a bad 3-1 team with comeback wins over some of the lesser foes in the league like the Lions, Giants and Falcons before losing to the Colts, 19-11, on Sunday.

And second, right tackle Tristan Wirfs has been even better than advertised, and hasn’t allowed a sack through four games. Wirfs has proven he can handle big-time edge rushers like New Orleans’ Cameron Jordan and Los Angeles