Tom Brady’s Massive First Half Lifts Buccaneers to First Playoff Berth Since 2007 in his 300th Career Start

Tom Brady leads the Bucs against the Lions on Saturday. Dale Zanine, USA TODAY Sports

Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady helped end the NFL’s second-longest playoff drought by throwing four touchdown passes during a 47-7 blowout win over the Detroit Lions on Saturday, clinching Tampa Bay’s first postseason berth since 2007.

“It’s just the beginning. Our goal when we started out, especially this year, was just to get in the dance,” coach Bruce Arians said. “And now it’s to win 11 games. And see where we stand and where we’re going, know who we’re playing.”

“[I’m] really, really proud — our guys did a great job of preparing this week. You could feel — this was the playoff practice week. Even with the holidays, they handled their business well.”

Brady, appearing in his 300th game in the same city his career began — Detroit, 20 years ago on Thanksgiving Day — led five TD-scoring drives in the first half, before giving way to backup Blaine Gabbert in the second half, compiling 589 yards of total offense — the most in Buccaneer history.

“Any time you have a 158 quarterback rating and throw for over 300 yards in the half, back-to-back, it’s pretty special,” Arians said. “And he’s a pretty special player.” The 300-game milestone, achieved by just 11 other players in NFL history, wasn’t lost on the 43-year-old Brady, nor was the significance that it happened 45 minutes down the road from Ann Arbor, where Brady’s journey from seventh-string QB at Michigan helped forge one of the NFL’s greatest Cinderella stories, and one of the greatest underdog stories in all of professional sports.

“I love playing and the teammates that I have — I always feel like I never want to let them down,” Brady said. “I know it’s been that way for 21 years of my career. I just try to show up and do the best I can do every week and every day, and realize that the competition isn’t only on Sunday. The competition is every day of the week and I’ve got a lot of guys on this team this year that have made a great commitment to one another and we’re committed to being the best we can be.”

Brady put together the best first half of his career, completing 22 of 27 passes for 348 yards. He is the only player over the past 40 seasons with at least 240 passing yards and four TDs before halftime, according to Elias Sports Bureau. (Brady also threw for 345 yards and five TDs in the first half against the Titans in 2009.)

“The goal was to dominate. They were a depleted team. There were no coaches,” wide receiver Mike Evans said. “We did want to come out and dominate and we did that.” “We’ve been scratching and clawing every single year to try to make the tournament. It’s been seven years for me, nine for Lavonte [David] and eight for Will Gholston. It’s been a journey, but we are happy we finally accomplished it and that’s just where it starts. We want to go as far as we can.”

On the opening drive, Brady found Rob Gronkowski on a deep fade route for a 33-yard touchdown, before hitting Mike Evans on a go-route for a 27-yard touchdown on the next possession. It was the first time since Week 4 that the Bucs scored a touchdown on the opening drive, and the first time all season they scored a touchdown on their first two possessions.

Following a 4-yard touchdown run up the gut by Leonard Fournette — who filled in for the second week in a row for Ronald Jones — Brady hit Chris Godwin on a 7-yard crossing route for a one-armed, diving TD catch. Brady then delivered a 12-yard strike to Antonio Brown to make it 34-0 at the half.

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SOURCE: ESPN, Jenna Laine