Tom Brady hangs 38 on Bears — and could have had 20 more

Brady scored so fast — and the Bears were so inept offensively — that the Buccaneers had eight first-half possessions. They ended with five touchdowns, one missed field goal and two punts.

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Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady completes a pass against the Bears on Sunday.

Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady completes a pass against the Bears on Sunday.

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

TAMPA, Fla. — The only mistake the Buccaneers made in the first half Sunday came when Tom Brady threw a nine-yard touchdown pass to Mike Evans with six seconds left in the first quarter — and the receiver flipped the ball to a fan in the front row.

Brady, the most accomplished quarterback in the sport’s history, had just thrown his 600th career touchdown pass. The ball was worth something — to Brady, but also on the open market.

Evans apologized to Brady on the sideline. Brady figured the Bucs would get it back. They did, after a team official swapped a ball and the promise of a few autographs — “A helmet or a couple jerseys or some other stuff,” Brady said — for No. 600.

“I don’t actually keep too many things,” Brady said. “In that circumstance, I thought that might be a good one to keep.”

Brady nodded toward the corner of the room after the Bucs’ 38-3 dismantling of the Bears. The ball was inside an expensive travel bag, behind his 8-year-old daughter. The player who once had his Super Bowl jersey swiped from the locker room wasn’t going to take any chances.

Besides, Brady had put the ball exactly where he wanted it all game. No reason to stop now.

“That’s solely us — no one man or anything like that,” Bears inside linebacker Roquan Smith said. “It’s our job to do our job, so that’s what we’ve gotta do. And just continue to look ourselves in the mirror and just continue to grow from it and get better.”

If the Bears looked themselves in the mirror following the loss, they’d see an offense that turned the ball over five times — it was lucky it wasn’t more — and a depleted defense forced to take its medicine. The Bucs took possession inside the Bears’ 40-yard line five times and came away with 24 points.

“When you give Tom Brady and that offense, when they start inside the 40 — whatever it was, four or five or six times — that’s a lot,” coach Matt Nagy said. “It’s advantage them. And they’re going to make you pay for it.”

Brady threw four touchdown passes, completing 20-for-36 passes for 211 yards for a 109.8 passer rating. The yardage was his lowest mark of the season, but the Buccaneers didn’t have to go far to score.

It took them two plays to score their first touchdown, six to score their second and five to score their third. They started their first possession at the Bears’ 32 after a 43-yard punt return by Jaelon Darden. They began their second scoring drive at the Bears’ 40 following a Justin Fields interception and the next one at the Bears’ 35 because of a Fields fumble.

“I think [defensive coordinator] Todd [Bowles] loves seeing rookie quarterbacks,” coach Bruce Arians said.

Evans caught three touchdown passes, giving Brady an NFL-record 602. Former Saints quarterback Drew Brees ranks second with 571.

Brady went to the locker room up 35-3 after one of the most thorough shellackings in modern league history. Only 14 times since 2010 has any team trailed by more points at halftime than the Bears did Sunday.

Brady scored so fast, and the Bears were so inept offensively that the Buccaneers had eight first-half possessions. They ended with five touchdowns, one missed field goal and two punts.

In an academic second half, the Bucs got inside the Bears’ 5 twice and came away with only a field goal.

“Offensively, we left about 20 points out there . . . ” Bucs coach Bruce Arians said. “We scored 38 points — and really did not play very well offensively.”

That’s a horrifying thought. A Bears defense that allowed Aaron Rodgers to convert only two third downs last week let Brady throw three touchdowns on third down alone. A unit that led the league in sacks entering the game — and averaged four per game over the previous five — managed just one quarterback pressure all night.

Khalil Mack, whose hip toss of Bucs tackle Tristan Wirfs went viral in last year’s Bears win, had a mere tackle.

“Hopefully the GIFs can stop now,” Wirfs said afterward.

The Bears’ defense played without star defensive tackle Akiem Hicks [groin], strong safety Tashaun Gipson [hip] and a resurgent Robert Quinn, who was put on the reserve/COVID-19 list Tuesday. Defensive lineman Bilal Nichols was tossed from the game for throwing a punch in the third quarter.

The Buccaneers, though, were without stars Richard Sherman, Lavonte David, Antonio Brown and Rob Gronkowski. Asked how they did it, Arians said simply that they have a “heckuva roster.”

The Bears don’t, especially when Brady is on the other side of the ball.

“Oh yeah, it’s definitely embarrassing,” Smith said. “You never want to go out and play like that, because that’s not our standard. But it is what it is and we’ve just gotta grow and get better from it, because that’s all we can do. And [we] just can’t let this game beat us twice.”

As it was, Sunday’s game felt like two losses. Or maybe three.

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