Tom Brady took on one of the NFL’s quarterbacks of the future Sunday in Justin Herbert. But Brady reminded everyone that the present is still his.
Brady threw for 369 yards and five touchdowns as the Buccaneers (3-1) beat the Chargers (1-3) 38-31 in Tampa. Herbert threw for 290 yards and three touchdowns in defeat. Brady (43 years, 62 days) and Herbert (22 years, 208 days) presented the largest age gap between starting QBs in an NFL game since at least 1950.
Herbert and the Chargers impressed in the first half, jumping out to a 24-7 advantage. After the Chargers’ ESPN win probability peaked at 90.2 percent, Brady began to involve his secondary receivers en route to the comeback win. This is the seventh time Brady has thrown at least five touchdowns in a game in his NFL career, and the first since 2017.
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Brady and the Bucs looked ready to run the Chargers off the field on the game’s opening drive. He completed five of his first six passes, including 24- and 17-yarders to Mike Evans before finding tight end Cameron Brate for a touchdown.
Things changed quickly, though. Brady threw his second pick-six this season on the next possession, although Bucs coach Bruce Arians took the blame for it postgame. Then the Bucs had back-to-back three-and-outs. The Chargers’ pressure wasn’t getting home on Brady, but the defense was deflecting passes at the line of scrimmage and locking up a Tampa Bay receiving corps that was down Chris Godwin (hamstring). The Chargers were about to end the half leading 24-7, but a fumble while trying to run the clock gave Brady the ball back at the LA 6.
The turnover proved costly as Brady found Evans for a 6-yard score on third down. That made the Bucs’ halftime deficit a much more manageable 10 points.
Brady dominated the second half. Tampa Bay scored on its first three possessions after the break, all on Brady passes: a 28-yarder to O.J. Howard, a 19-yard score to Scotty Miller and a 9-yard TD to Ke’Shawn Vaughn. Brady just missed the third six-touchdown game of his career on Tampa Bay’s final meaningful possession; he threw two incompletions into the end zone before the Bucs settled for a field goal. He’d already done plenty, though.
“He played fantastic and was lights out in the second half,” Arians told reporters postgame.
Herbert fell 10 yards shy of becoming the first player to throw for 300 yards in each of his first three NFL games, but he still made history. His 931 yards passing through his first three games are second only to Cam Newton’s 1,012 (in 2011) for a player beginning their NFL career, according to the CBS broadcast.
The Chargers weren’t expected to turn to Herbert this early in the season, but he took over as the starter in Week 2 when Tyrod Taylor suffered a punctured lung during a pregame procedure. Herbert may have Wally Pipp’d Taylor; he has thrown for 311, 330 and 290 yards while totaling five passing touchdowns and a rushing touchdown.
One thing that has never been in doubt about Herbert is his arm talent. On his 53-yard passing touchdown to Tyron Johnson, the ball traveled 62 yards in the air. That’s the second-longest throw in the last two seasons, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.
Herbert added a 19-yard touchdown pass to Donald Parham Jr. and a 72-yard score to speedy wideout Jalen Guyton on a throw over the top that temporarily put LA up 31-28. But once Tampa Bay took the lead back, Herbert took a sack on the first play of a three-and-out and then was intercepted on a downfield throw by Carlton Davis to effectively end the game.
Herbert said Brady told him postgame to just “keep (his) head up, keep playing.”
“He hung in there, made a lot of good throws on some big plays,” Brady told reporters postgame. “We blitzed him a little bit and he just stood in there and took it. He’s got obviously all the abilities, got a great arm.”