Tom Brady had to move up for the Bucs but was outplayed by Dallas’ Dak Prescott

In what might be the final game of his 23-year NFL career, Tom Brady just wasn’t Tom Brady.

In place of the caught tactician and seven-time Super Bowl winner, NFL fans, insiders and even Brady himself appeared to be stunned as he threw 31 incompletes and one interception in Monday’s 31-14 playoff loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

In Brady’s place was Dallas’ Dak Prescott, an experienced, stalwart NFL quarterback who threw four touchdowns and completed 25 of 33 passes for 305 yards. As a result, Prescott and the Cowboys advance to a divisional round matchup with the San Francisco 49ers, while Brady — a soon-to-be free agent — must ponder his future in Tampa and the NFL.

“I’m going to go home and get a good night’s sleep as best as I can tonight,” Brady said when asked about his future. “There was just a lot of focus on that game. It’s just going to be one day at a time, really.”

Brady declined to say whether or not he will retire after his 23rd NFL season

Brady declined to say whether or not he will retire after his 23rd NFL season

Dak Prescott threw four touchdowns while completing 25 of 33 passes for 205 yards

Dak Prescott threw four touchdowns while completing 25 of 33 passes for 205 yards

Officially, the Buccaneers quarterback was credited with just one Monday interception. But things could have been a lot worse for the future Hall of Famer. Another possible interception was dropped in the Dallas end zone, which kept Brady rattling for much of wildcard play.

The result itself wasn’t that much of a shock. After all, the 8-9 Bucs qualified for the playoffs by playing in the lowly NFC South, which didn’t produce a single winning team in 2022.

In all honesty, Monday’s game in Tampa may have seemed like a replay to Bucs fans, who have watched this struggling team underperform for most of the year.

“Not how we wanted to end it,” Brady said after losing his first game in eight career meetings to Dallas. “Typical of the way we’ve played all season.”

Dak Prescott #4 of the Cowboys and Tom Brady #12 of the Buccaneers embrace on the field after their game in the NFC Wild Card Playoff game at Raymond James Stadium

Dak Prescott #4 of the Cowboys and Tom Brady #12 of the Buccaneers embrace on the field after their game in the NFC Wild Card Playoff game at Raymond James Stadium

For the game, Brady completed 35 of 66 passes for 351 yards, including two second-half touchdowns against Julio Jones Cameron Brate. He was sacked twice and threw a costly interception into the end zone for the second time in his career.

He drew mockery after fumbling with a teammate when Brady was seen attempting a slide tackle to bring down a Dallas defender. Luckily, the sales were reversed by officials.

“I’m trying to get a red card so he can go off the field,” joked one fan.

What was strange — especially to anyone who’s followed Michigan’s meager sixth-round pick for the past two decades — was the schism between Brady and his receivers.

For nearly 20 seasons in New England and three more in Tampa, Brady had an almost supernatural connection with his teammates. He famously invited friends and colleagues like Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski to work off-season to iron out their timing while other league stars worked on their summer tans.

But after Gronkowski’s second retirement in 2022 and various injuries to Bucs receivers like Julio Jones, Brady hasn’t been able to tear apart the defense like he once did in 2022.

Brady enters the Raymond James Stadium tunnel for what may be his final game

Brady enters the Raymond James Stadium tunnel for what may be his final game

He still threw for nearly 5,000 yards in 2022, but his touchdown passes dropped from 43 in 2021 to just 25 this season. Meanwhile, the Bucs offense fell to 15th in the NFL after finishing second a year earlier.

Brady even broke his own league record for completions in a season, finishing third in passing yards behind Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert, but Tampa Bay still ranked 25th at 18.4 points per game and never won more than two in Consequence.

Now Brady is heading into the offseason weighing his future in Tampa and the NFL.

He briefly retired after being eliminated from the playoffs last season, only to reverse course 40 days later – a decision that reportedly contributed to his divorce from supermodel Gisele Bundchen.

Brady’s comeback was unsuccessful, but that hardly rules out another return. Yes, he’ll be 46 next season, but there are more than enough teams in the NFL who see themselves as contenders with Brady in the middle.

Whether he agrees with that assessment or begins his forthcoming broadcasting career remains to be seen.

“It’s always tough,” Brady said of his disappointment. “But we didn’t deserve it. They did.’

Tom Brady #12 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers looks on during an injury break in the fourth quarter against the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Wild Card Playoff game at Raymond James Stadium

Tom Brady #12 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers looks on during an injury break in the fourth quarter against the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Wild Card Playoff game at Raymond James Stadium

Prescott, meanwhile, looked like Brady as he took down the Bucs defense.

The 29-year-old threw the first of his two TD passes to Dalton Schultz to get the Cowboys going, then converted Brady’s first red-zone interception since 2019 into points by hitting a 15-play drive for 80 yards finished by circling the left end for a 1-yard TD run on fourth down.

The Dallas quarterback extended the lead to 18-0 with an 11-yard TD throw at Schultz and then threw 2 yards at Michael Gallup for a 24-point lead early in the third quarter. It could have been 28-0 if Maher hadn’t missed all four extra points.

Prescott’s final TD pass, an 18-yarder to CeeDee Lamb, gave the Cowboys a 10-13 lead to a 31-6 lead.

For the Cowboys, a playoff win early in the season seemed like too much to hope for.

Dallas rebounded from a 19-3 loss to Tampa Bay in Week 1 and survived Prescott, who was sidelined for five weeks with a fractured right thumb suffered in that game to resemble a Super Bowl contender for much of the season.

However, Prescott entered the playoffs with a career-worst seven-game interception streak and had returned a pick for a touchdown in three of the last four games, including an ugly 26-6 loss to Washington in the regular-season finals.

But when it came down to it, it was Prescott who stood tall on Monday.

“It just shows he’s resilient,” said Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons. “The light is different on Dak. I sometimes find the criticism unfair and unfair. But the way he handles it, how he comes back every time and shows who he really is is a credit to the work he puts in. It makes us believe in it every time.”

Dak Prescott #4 of the Dallas Cowboys celebrates while running to the tunnel after an NFL wild card playoff football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium

Dak Prescott #4 of the Dallas Cowboys celebrates while running to the tunnel after an NFL wild card playoff football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/nfl/article-11643009/Tom-Brady-needed-step-Bucs-outdone-Dallas-Dak-Prescott.html?ns_mchannel=rss&ns_campaign=1490&ito=1490 Tom Brady had to move up for the Bucs but was outplayed by Dallas’ Dak Prescott

Maureen Mackey

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