Brady's superb half lifts Tampa Bay into NFL playoffs

Tom Brady threw 348 yards and four touchdowns in the first half of Saturday to give Tampa Bay a 47-7 win over Detroit and get the Buccaneers into the NFL playoffs.
The 43-year-old quarterback, who joined the Bucs with New England that year after 20 campaigns and six Super Bowl crowns, was put on for the second half after leading Tampa Bay into the postseason for the first time since 2007.
"We played pretty well in the first half," said Brady. "Good execution. The guys played for me all over the field. It was just a great effort from the whole team."
The Buccaneers led 34-0 to 10-5 at halftime and secured a place in the playoffs while the Lions fell to 5-10.
"It's just the beginning," said Bucs manager Bruce Arians. "When it all started our goal was to get into the dance. Now it's 11 games to win and see who we play next.
"We're going to be pretty tough."
Brady, who completed 22 of 27 throws, set the best career and a club record in the first half of his career. The four touchdown passes were his highest in the first half since 2014.
Brady's club record of 36 touchdowns that season brought the Bucs into the playoffs, an achievement New England couldn't do without him.
The Buccaneers also set a team record totaling 410 yards in the first half, the highest of any NFL club in a decade.
In his 300th NFL career game, Brady tossed former New England teammate Rob Gronkowski 33-yard touchdown hits, Mike Evans 27 yards, Antonio Brown 12 yards and Chris Godwin 7 yards.
Leonard Fournette added a 4 yard touchdown run and Brady's backup Blaine Gabbert added Gronkowski touchdown passes of 25 yards and Evans of 22 yards.
"If we play like we can we are hard to beat," said Brady. "We have to learn to do it more consistently."
Evans, who had 10 catches for 181 yards, broke his own team touchdown reception record at 13.
"We've been scratching and scratching every year," Evans said of the Bucs' playoff quest. "We're glad we finally made it, but that's where it starts."
Arians said he could feel a great performance while exercising.
"You could feel that this was a playoff practice week," said Arians. "They did their business well even during the holidays."
The Lions avoided a shutdown when Jamal Agnew returned 74 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter.
Detroit, handicapped by a right ankle injury to quarterback Matthew Stafford, also had five coaches banned from Covid-19 and contact tracing, with recipient coach Robert Prince serving as deputy head coach.
- Dolphins win thriller -
The Bucs were the seventh NFL team to secure a place in the playoffs. They joined Green Bay, New Orleans and Seattle in the NFC and Kansas City, Pittsburgh and Buffalo in the AFC.
Miami's Jason Sanders kicked a 44-yard goal with one second remaining to give the Dolphins a 26:25 win in Las Vegas, which saw four changes in leadership in the last four minutes.
The Dolphins (10-5) stayed ahead of Baltimore (9-5) for the final AFC playoff spot by eliminating the Raiders (7-8).
Ryan Fitzpatrick's 34 yard pass - while his face mask was pulled by a defender - was caught by Mack Hollins to score the winning goal.
"It didn't feel good," said Fitzpatrick. "When I threw it, I didn't see it because my face mask was ripped off. It was pretty incredible."
The San Francisco 49ers gave a blow to Arizona's playoff hopes by beating the hosts Cardinals 20-12.
C.J. Beathard threw three touchdown passes for the 49ers and Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray sustained a leg injury trying to trigger a late rally.
Chicago can deny Arizona a playoff spot by beating Jacksonville on Sunday and Green Bay next week.
js / bb

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