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Ben Volin | Instant Analysis

Chargers learn the hard way Tom Brady will figure it out and make opponents pay

Tom Brady had plenty to celebrate in Sunday's win after throwing five TD passes for the seventh time in his career, first since 2017.James Gilbert/Getty

A defense can confuse or frustrate Tom Brady for a quarter or a half. But if you don’t mix up your defense in the second half, Brady is going to figure it out, and he’s going to slice you apart.

The Chargers learned that Sunday in the Buccaneers' 38-31 win. They frustrated Brady in the first half Sunday with more Cover 2 looks than he expected, forcing him into another pick-6. But Brady and the Bucs' offense figured it out at halftime, and Brady was surgical in the second half, compiling a perfect 158.3 passer rating in the comeback win.

“Outstanding,” Bucs coach Bruce Arians said of Brady. “He played fantastic, and was lights out in the second half.”


Brady finished the game with 369 yards, an interception, and five touchdowns to five different receivers. It was his seventh career five-TD game and first since 2017. Brady was a maestro after halftime, completing 15 of 17 passes for 263 yards and three touchdowns, turning a 24-14 deficit into a convincing win.

Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady throws a touchdown pass to tight end O.J. Howard during the second half of Sunday's game.Mark LoMoglio/Associated Press

Brady said the Bucs' offense had been too “compressed” in the first half, and took more deep shots against the Cover 2 in the second half. Brady’s four longest completions of the day, for 28, 29, 44, and 48 yards, all came in the second half.

“We’ve got to do a good job forcing them to cover everything,” Brady said. “That was just a good way for us to do some things in the second half, and we’re going to have to keep doing it.”

Other takeaways from the Buccaneers' win, which improved them to 3-1 and first place in the NFC South:

▪ Despite the solid win and his big numbers, Brady still wasn’t overly pleased with the team’s performance. After opening with a touchdown, the Bucs let the Chargers score 24 straight points, including 7 off another Brady pick-6, his second of the year and fourth in six games dating to last year.


The Bucs should have trailed, 24-7, heading into halftime, but the Chargers fumbled at their 9-yard line with 38 seconds left and gifted the Bucs a touchdown.

Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady hugs tight end Cameron Brate after Brate caught a touchdown pass from Brady during the first half of Sunday's game.Mark LoMoglio/Associated Press

The Bucs were sloppy in the first half, with dropped passes, a few inaccurate passes, and a missed 44-yard field goal. After starting 5 of 6 for 54 yards and a touchdown on the opening drive, Brady was just 10 of 23 for 52 yards, a touchdown, and the pick-six for the rest of the first half.

“Started the game well, finished the game well,” Brady said. “It’s just that middle part — we’ve got to figure out how to play 60 minutes well.”

▪ For the second time this year, Brady had a deep out pass that was jumped by the cornerback and returned for a touchdown. Sunday, it was Chargers cornerback Michael Davis reading Brady all the way and returning the pick 78 yards for the score.

In Week 1 against the Saints, Arians put the blame squarely on Brady for the pick-6. Sunday, Arians notably took responsibility.

“I just got to coach him up better on that one play, and get it coached better,” Arians said.

Brady, though, put the blame on himself, and his answer was short and sweet.

“Just execution,” he said. “Just got to execute better. That’s all it comes down to.”


Tampa Bay tight end Rob Gronkowski goes for a pass against Los Angeles free safety Nasir Adderley during the first half of Sunday's game.Jason Behnken/Associated Press

▪ Rob Gronkowski remains completely invisible. He did have one classic Gronk catch, out-jumping and out-muscling a linebacker for a 29-yard catch down the right seam late in the fourth quarter. But it was his only catch of the day, on three targets, and he was the only Bucs tight end not to get in the end zone.

O.J. Howard had three catches for 50 yards and a touchdown, and Cameron Brate caught a 3-yard touchdown.

Gronk has been a nonfactor this season, with just nine catches for 88 yards and no touchdowns through four games. But the Bucs are going to need him to step up now. Arians said after the game that Howard likely ruptured his Achilles' tendon and is out for the rest of the season.

“He’s just been a great player for us,” Brady said. “It sucks to lose him. It’s a tough injury.”

▪ Brady has developed a solid rapport with second-year receiver Scotty Miller, another receiver in the Julian Edelman/Wes Welker mold. Miller had five catches for 83 yards Sunday, including back-to-back catches for 63 yards and a touchdown.

Questionable to play all week with hip/groin injuries, Miller thanked not only the Bucs' trainers for getting him ready to play, but the TB12 trainers. The kid is a quick learner.

Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com.