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Tom Brady’s 4th down confusion was one of the weirdest moments on Thursday night

A decision that sealed the win for the Bears will come under major scrutiny.

We’re starting to see cracks in the Buccaneers’ brain trust after a game-ending Thursday night snafu that saw Tom Brady seemingly forget what down it was as he tried to lead Tampa Bay on a comeback victory. It was a move that sealed the game for the Bears, and left Tampa Bay reeling.

Now there’s dispute over what happened, a back-and-forth between Brady and coach Bruce Arians, and this whole thing is a mess.

What happened on the fourth down play?

Down 20-19 with 38 seconds left on the clock, Brady lined up on 4th and 5 at the Tampa Bay 41. It was an obvious passing situation, but manageable. The Buccaneers were without a time out, but there was enough time on the clock that moving the chains and spiking the ball could have easily set up a game-winning field goal.

Instead of taking a safe underneath pass, Brady forced the ball into tight coverage to Cameron Brate, which was incomplete. It was a bad decision regardless of the situation, but game-ending considering the circumstances. There was no need to force the pass, especially when running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn was wide open to check down to, which would have easily picked up 1st.

Then things got weird ...

Referees signaled the ball was turned over on downs, while Brady appeared confused at the situation. He held up his fingers signifying he still had the 4th down, which he definitely did not. Referees informed Brady that he was mistaken about which down it was.

Brady appealed best he could for another down, but obviously this was denied. No matter which way you slice it this was on the quarterback. He either forgot which down it was, or knew and was trying to cover for the bad decision that ended the game, when he could have elected to move the chains and keep the game alive.

The Bears took over, kneeled out the clock, and moved to 4-1. Meanwhile the Buccaneers are now trapped in football purgatory at 3-2, which is still good enough to lead the NFC South, but decidedly worse than the lofty expectations for a team believed to be in the hunt for a Super Bowl berth this season.

After the game the Buccaneers were in spin mode.

Brady deflected and gave a non-answer when asked about the moment on the NFL Network. Choosing not to answer whether he knew about what down it was, instead Brady almost accepted blame, saying “I knew we had to gain a chunk so I should have been thinking more first down instead of chunk.”

Meanwhile Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians was dejected following the game, looking down at the floor after saying that Brady knew what down it was.

Both parties appear to be saying that Brady knew it was 4th down, despite the quarterback’s on field actions — which is curious. If Brady indeed knew then it’s an admission that the normally unflappable quarterback made an extremely boneheaded play. This in turn means that his appeals to the referees for another down were bizarre. What was he hoping to gain? Was Brady trying to confuse the officials too into giving him another chance?

The other possibility, and probably the correct one, is that Brady really did lose track of downs. It’s a gaff, but it happens. It’s embarrassing, sure, but nothing that warrants a defense campaign. Just something lost in the heat of the moment during a tense game. The reason this is probably the most likely scenario is because Brady doesn’t miss the kind of obvious passes available to him like the checkdown to Vaughn that would have kept the chains moving.

Where do the Bucs go from here?

If New Orleans win on Monday night the Saints move to 1st in the NFC South. Carolina could also tie Tampa’s 3-2 record with a win over the Falcons. It’s far from the end of the world, but definitely disappointing for a team many expected to dominate the NFC and have real Super Bowl potential following their blockbuster offseason acquisition of Brady.

Perhaps more concerning is that this team has lost the benefit of the doubt. After five weeks questions are creeping in about the coaching, whether Brady and Arians can gel together, as well as larger discussions as to whether the future Hall of Fame quarterback still “has it.” This hasn’t been a terrible year, but Brady definitely padded his season stats against the Chargers and Broncos. Against better teams, specifically the Saints and Bears, Brady has thrown 3 touchdowns, 2 interceptions and posted a middling quarterback rating.

These are worrying signs for Buccaneers fans, and we’re going to have to watch to see if the mistake on Thursday night is the sign of more drama to come out of Tamp Bay.