FOXBOROUGH — The Patriots put on a pregame show Sunday for Tom Brady. Tom Brady put on yet another late-game show for all of the football world to see.
The plot had an awfully familiar feel, and a bitter ending for New Englanders.
In front of a live audience of his once-adoring fans and millions more on national television, Brady led the Buccaneers to a 19-17, come-from-behind victory before 65,878 at Gillette Stadium.
As he’s done nearly two dozen times before in this venue, Brady led an efficient, late drive to deliver the win, this time via Ryan Succop’s 48-yard field goal at the two-minute warning.
Rookie Mac Jones nearly authored a nifty plot twist, leading the Patriots into Buccaneers territory with under a minute to play. However, Nick Folk’s 56-yard kick clanked off the left upright, snapping his personal streak at 36 consecutive made field goals and sealing the win for the reigning Super Bowl champions.
Jones was nails in the fourth quarter, twice leading his team to scoring drives that gave it the lead.
“He keeps showing he’s got some guts,’’ said center David Andrews of Jones, who connected on 31 of 40 passes for 275 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Jones absorbed four sacks and was hit a dozen times in total, but in Brady-like fashion, he kept standing in the pocket and making plays to put his team in position to win.
“It’s an honor to play with him,” said Andrews. “He battles. He’s a tough kid.”
While Brady was the franchise’s face of the past, Jones made it clear on this night that he’s the here and now.
“He’s one of the guys now. He’s not a rookie. We expect him to lead. We expect him to be our quarterback,” said Devin McCourty. “That’s how respected he is in that locker room.”
Jones had a brief exchange with Brady following the game.
“He told me to keep my head up and keep working,” said Jones.
The loss dropped the Patriots to 1-3, with all three losses coming at home.
New England’s defense, using different disguises and looks, kept Brady off balance for long stretches and allowed the Buccaneers (3-1) just one touchdown in four trips to the red zone.
The Patriots deployed a shadow strategy on Tampa’s top receivers with J.C. Jackson on Mike Evans, Jalen Mills on Chris Godwin, and Jonathan Jones on Antonio Brown. They did yeoman’s work against one of the top receiving trios in the league, making them scratch and claw for every catch and yard.
Jones started hot out of the gate after Bradley Pinion’s kickoff went out bounds, giving New England the ball at the 40. Jones completed his first three passes to Hunter Henry and Kendrick Bourne, but an all-too-familiar problem derailed the drive.
The rookie, who has been under siege often this season, was dropped for a 4-yard sack, and his third-down pass to Nelson Agholor fell incomplete, forcing a Jake Bailey punt to the 11.
Brady took the field to his first chorus of boos — they let him have it on every drive after warmly welcoming him back prior to kickoff — and he couldn’t muster much on his first Gillette Stadium drive as an enemy.
The Patriots went three-and-out, and Brady subsequently led the first scoring drive of the night, a 71-yard march fueled by back-to-back strikes to Evans good for 41 yards. Brady’s final two passes fell incomplete, however, and the visitors settled for Succop’s 29-yard field goal.
More familiar bugaboos got Jones on the next drive, as he threw an ill-advised pass with blitzing linebacker Devin White bearing down on him. The floater, meant for Agholor, was tipped by Russ Cockrell and intercepted by teammate Antoine Winfield.
Brady put his team in position to score again with a 27-yard connection to Antonio Brown, who was also serenaded by the boo birds. After a pair of incompletions, Succop’s 36-yard kick sailed wide right, sending the crowd into a frenzy.
Jones used that momentum to construct an 11-play, 74-yard drive, culminating in an 11-yard touchdown pass to Henry to take a 7-3 lead.
Showing poise and precision, Jones completed passes of 16 yards to Kendrick Bourne, 15 yards to Jakobi Meyers, and 16 more to Bourne. Buccaneer corners Richard Sherman and Carlton Davis helped fuel the drive with pass interference penalties.
On the scoring strike, Jones looked off a defender and hit Hunter at the 5. The tight end shrugged off Winfield to waltz into the end zone.
The teams traded punts, with Brady ending up with the ball at the two-minute warning. He proceeded to do Brady stuff, namely consecutive passes to Godwin for 28 and 26 yards to put his club in prime position for a quick score. Two passes to Brown went off the receivers’s hands, though, and Succop had to come on for a 44-yard field goal to trim the hosts’ lead to 7-6 at the break.
The New England defense stifled Brady & Co. coming out for the second, forcing a three-and-out. Gunner Olszewski’s 11-yard return set the Patriots up at Tampa’s 38. The fun only last three plays, however, as J.J. Taylor’s fumble following a short catch from Jones was recovered by Sherman.
Brady again couldn’t do anything as the Patriots defense rose up. Specifically end Deatrich Wise Jr., who elevated to knock down the quarterback’s third-down pass.
Tampa flattened Jones on the ensuing possession, with back-to-back brutal sacks by William Gholston and Joe Tryon ending the drive before it ever got started. Brady pounced quickly, leading the Buccaneers on an eight-play, 52-yard drive capped by Ronald Jones’s 8-yard run and the visitors took a 13-7 lead.
Jones was brilliant on the next drive. With the running game nonexistent — eight rushes, minus-1 yard on the night — Jones completed seven straight passes, the final one a 1-yard touchdown pass to Jonnu Smith to give the Patriots a 14-13 lead on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Succop’s 27-yard chip shot gave Tampa back the lead at 16-14, but Folk matched it with a 27-yarder of his own — set up by a 30-yard Meyers pass to Agholor — to give the Patriots a 17-16 advantage.
Brady took over from there, bleeding the clock and setting the stage for Succop’s winner.
“You know, we had our chances. Just could have done a couple things a little bit better,” said Bill Belichick, who “didn’t really” consider going for it on fourth-and-1 rather than have Folk try from 56 yards. “I thought our team really prepared well this week, and that’s what we’ve got to do every week, and coach a little bit better and make a few more plays and start winning these close games.”
More Patriots-Buccaneers coverage
Patriots notebook: Patriots right tackle Trent Brown misses his third straight game