The New York Jets nearly brought in the New Year in with fireworks, but Tom Brady willed the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers to a come-from-behind 28-24 victory at MetLife Stadium on Sunday. Brady led the Bucs back from a 24-10 deficit, throwing for 410 yards and 3 TDs including a 33-yard scoring pass to WR Cryil Grayson with 21 seconds remaining. Jets rookie QB Zach Wilson was impressive throughout while passing for 224 yards and 1 TD.
But the door was left open when Wilson was stopped for no gain on a QB sneak on fourth-and-2 from the Tampa 7-yard line with 2:12 remaining and Brady countered with a 93-yard scoring drive.
Brady, making his first appearance against the Jets as a Buccaneer, moved to 30-7 in his career vs. the Jets. The Jets (4-12) dropped their first game at home against the Buccaneers in franchise history (7-1) while the NFC South champion increased its record to 12.4.
Wilson Up to the Challenge
Before becoming the 12th different Jets QB to start against Brady, Wilson said, "it's definitely not me against him." Wilson (22) and Brady (44) both share the same birthdate (Aug. 3) and they both were solid in the first half. Wilson started 8 of 11 for 71 yards with 1 TD and he converted four consecutive third downs through the air to open the game. Wilson hit six different targets in the first half, amassing 149 yards through the air.
And with the Jets up, 17-10, to start the third quarter, Wilson stayed hot. There was great patience before a touch pass to Ty Johnson that resulted in 23 yards and he followed that with a 21-yard rope to Keelan Cole. That set up Johnson's 1-yard TD and the Jets were up, 24-10. Wilson now has thrown 136 consecutive passes without an interception and he has accounted for 8 TDs and just 3 turnovers since returning to action following a four-game absence due to a PCL sprain.
"That's the goal, that's the mindset every single week -- we're working for something more than just this game this year," Wilson said. "We're working for the future. We can't hang our heads low from this. It does suck, it does hurt, especially because we had it right there. The guys have to keep their chin up and understand we're getting better. We're on the right path and we have to keep working, keep doing our things and things will take care of themselves."
Brady countered Wilson's first two TD drives with 10 points, hitting Mike Evans on a 4-yard TD and following that with a 39-yard field goal from Ryan Succop. TE Rob Gronkowski had 5 catches for 80 yards in the first half as Brady started 15 of 20 for 176 yards and the score. But his 21st pass was intercepted by rookie cornerback Brandin Echols as the Jets took a 14-10 lead into the third quarter. Brady was surgical late against a Jets defense that battled all day but couldn't get the stop they needed late. He led Tampa Bay on a 9-play 93-yard drive that culminated in Grayson's 33-yard touchdown.
"It's unfortunate that we're going to be talking about the last sequence of events there, but I thought our guys were outstanding today," HC Robert Saleh said. "They deserve better. We won that game and we have to be better for our players. Zach was outstanding, our run game was outstanding. All the way across the board, everyone was outstanding. Defensively we held up, did a lot of great things. A lot of young guys made a lot of great plays and there was a lot of things that I thought was fantastic from our group against a championship football team. They deserve better."
Saleh added of the touchdown play: "We have to better from a coverage standpoint. They shouldn't be getting explosives in that situation, we're basically in a two-shell [defense] and he still managed to catch a fade ball. It's not good. I felt with no timeouts that we'd do a good job of keeping the ball in front of us. I thought we did a good job a couple times tackling in bounds making sure the clock ran. We had an op, we just need to tackle him in bounds one more time and we would have been looking at a last-play effort to win it. Unfortunately it didn't get to that."
Berrios Continues His Break Out
Recently named a first alternate to the Pro Bowl for his return exploits, Braxton Berrios continued to showcase his versatility against the Buccaneers. With the Jets' top three receivers out of the lineup, Berrios ended the team's first two drives with touchdowns. The first came on a creative play call from offensive coordinator as OC Mike LaFleur called for a direct snap to RB Michael Carter and the rookie back pitched to Berrios on a misdirection. The playmaker did the rest and for the second time in three games, Berrios got into the end zone with a rush TD.
Berrios' second score was a more conventional route, gaining space from the slot on a third-and-goal and was on the receiving end of a 9-yard strike from Wilson. Early in the second half, Berrios used his speed to get to the end and convert another third-and-short with his legs. He finished with 64 yards receiving, 12 yards rushing plus 55 yards on two kickoff returns.
"He's just an absolute baller," Wilson said. "I have all the trust and faith in him. He's just going to come every single day and do his job. I just have a lot of trust that he's going to get open. He's just a baller. You have to get him the ball in those situations."
Run and Rookie Rise
Against the Buccaneers No. 3-ranked rush defense, the Jets totaled on the 150 yards on the ground. Carter exploded down the home sideline on the third play of the game for 55 yards that nearly went for a touchdown. The Green & White took a 7-0 lead four plays later, but Carter exited the game with a concussion later in the first quarter. Austin Walter led the group with 14 carries for 49 yards while Ty Johnson averaged 7.0 yards per carry (5 rushes, 35 yards).
"That's what it is, next man up," said Johnson, who also had 3 catches for 47 yards. "The game can't stop. I love MC, but it was unfortunate to have him go out because he was primed for a great game. He had that run, 55 yards, but things happen and Austin and I aren't going to let him down. We had to play hard for him for sure."
Nickel CB Michael Carter II recorded his first career sack with 3:15 remaining in the half, coming on a blitz and getting to Brady. He had 8 tackles for a defensive unit that again was led by C.J. Mosley (13 stops). It was Mosley's 10th game this season with 10-plus tackles.
"Really I was just trying to disguise," Carter II said. "We were playing a lot of man coverage, so we were trying to show that it was regular man coverage and then time up the snap and come off the edge. I was coming in, the tackle didn't see me and I'm coming from [Brady's] blind spot. I tried to get the ball, but I didn't. I got the sack, so I was hype about that."
With 28 seconds in the second quarter, CB Brandin Echols came up with his second interception when he played receiver on a miscommunication between Brady and WR Mike Evans. With the Jets thin at TE, rookie Kenny Yeboah had his first two catches of his career including a 24-yarder.
See Best Images from the Game at MetLife Stadium
The Jets inactives were WR Jamison Crowder, RB La'Mical Perine, QB Mike White, DE Shaq Lawson, CB Isaiah Dunn and LB Javin White. … RB Michael Carter exited the game in the first quarter with a head injury and did not return. Carter had a career-high 55-yard run on the second play from scrimmage. … After safeties Ashtyn Davis and Elijah Riley missed last week's game vs. the Jags, both returned to the starting lineup. … Will Parks and Jason Pinnock, who started in place of Davis and Riley in Week 16, both rotated in as well. … Keelan Cole and Jeff Smith started at WR. … … LT George Fant was also forced to leave due to a knee injury in the second quarter on Berrios' receiving touchdown and Chuma Edoga took his place in the lineup. … TE Dan Brown had his first reception of the 2021 season with and finished with 2 catches and 29 yards receiving. He departed in the second quarter with hip injury. … K Eddy Piñeiro had his first 50+ attempt with the Green & White and his 51-yard make gave the Jets a 17-10 lead in the final seconds of the first half. … With the Buccaneers already minus WR Chris Godwin and RB Leonard Fournette, Bucs WR mercurial Antonio Brown, appeared to have a heated conversation with Mike Evans and then took his pads and jersey off and departed the field. The bare-chested Brown ran through an end zone with a peace/deuces sign up to fans and headed off into the tunnel.