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It remains to be seen whether Sunday afternoon was the last we ever see of Tom Brady on the football field, but if that was the final game, Brady went out the way he came in: Showing the Los Angeles Rams why he is the GOAT.

But unlike Super Bowl 36 back in 2001, when Brady’s last-minute drive for the New England Patriots launched two decades of legendary performances, Brady left time on the clock after his touchdown drive for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers tied the Rams in Sunday’s Divisional Round game.

Then Cooper Kupp ruined the storybook finish and saved the Rams from one of the worst collapses in NFL Playoffs history. But even in defeat, even if this was the denouement of his Hall of Fame career, Brady added another chapter to the legend.

For nearly three quarters, the only Brady comeback that mattered was about the 2022 season

Tom Brady may have played his final NFL game Sunday
Tom Brady | Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The talk that dominated before the Rams and Buccaneers took the field on Sunday was an ESPN report that was the strongest signal yet that Brady was considering retirement after 22 seasons at age 44.

Then the game started and all the dominating was being done by the Rams, who raced to a 27-3 lead with 7:07 left in the third quarter.

Given the way the game had gone so overwhelmingly in the Rams’ favor, despite a fumble at the goal line by Cam Akers late in the first half that denied the Rams an even bigger lead. Even Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth devoted air time to the Brady rumors, the outcome so clearly having been decided.

It’s not like the Rams were just suddenly going to decide to let Brady steal the victory.

The Rams suddenly decided to let Brady steal the victory, and Brady happily obliged

Folks in New England may have moved on from Tom Brady, but you know back in New England, they noticed the score and the time. The meme says 28-3 with 2:12 left in the third quarter. That was the Patriots against the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl 51 and we all know how that turned out.

This time, it was 27-3 with 3:06 left. Are we really going to quibble? Brady didn’t. First, he got a Ryan Succop in position for a 31-yard field goal to make it 27-6, then Kupp fumbled on the next play and before you know it, Leonard Fournette was in the end zone and the third quarter ended at 27-13.


Brady vs. the Rams: Live by the field goal, die by the field goal

Brady’s first season as the starting quarterback for the Patriots ended in Super Bowl 36 against the St. Louis Rams. That game proved the inverse of what took place in Tampa on Sunday. That January 2002 night at the Louisiana Superdome, it was the Rams who rallied in the fourth quarter, erasing a 14-point deficit to tie the score at 17-17 with 1:21 left.

Even with Fox announcer John Madden imploring the second-year quarterback not to try it, Brady led the Patriots down the field to set up Adam Vinatieri’s game-winning field goal with no time left.

Flash-forward two decades and now it is Brady trailing the Rams by 14 points with 3:56 remaining. First, a three-play, 77-yard drive ending with a 55-yard touchdown pass to Mike Evans and it’s 27-20 Rams.

Then Akers, who probably wishes his Achilles’ tendon was still torn, fumbled for the second time in the game, giving Brady the ball back on the Rams’ 30-yard line with 2:25 left.

Was there any doubt? Even the Rams had to know that destiny can gain 30 yards in her sleep. Sure enough, on 4th-and-1 from the seven, Brady eschewed the sneak he’s made famous and handed off to Fournette, who scored with 46 seconds left tie score, improbably, at 27-27.

But even the GOAT could not write the ending to his own story. The 46 seconds proved too much, and some horrendous defense allowed Kupp to flip the script and make Matt Gay the Vinatieri for a day.

But the loss cannot diminish what might have been Brady’s final act.

“I haven’t put a lot of thought to it, so, we’ll just take it day-by-day and see where we’re at,” Brady said after the game.

But was it final? Sunday, at least, was not the day to count Tom Brady out.

Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference