FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Nearly 20 years to the day after his first NFL start -- which ignited the New England Patriots' dynasty and one of the greatest runs in professional sports history -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady broke the league's career passing yards record in his return to Gillette Stadium on Sunday night.
With 80,291 career passing yards heading into the game against the Patriots -- his first trip back to Foxborough since his departure in 2020 -- Brady needed 68 more to eclipse Drew Brees' 80,358.
Brady broke the record with a 28-yard completion on a crossing route to wide receiver Mike Evans in the first quarter. It set up a 29-yard field goal by Ryan Succop for a 3-0 lead with 4 minutes, 49 seconds to go in the quarter. But unlike when Brees set the record with the New Orleans Saints on Oct. 8, 2018, at the Superdome, there was no lengthy stoppage of play -- just an acknowledgement of the record, but prior to the game, the Patriots did play a video tribute to Brady and he was given a warm ovation by the crowd with chants of "Brady! Brady! Brady!"
In the end, Brady finished with 22 completions on 43 attempts, totaling 269 yards in the Buccaneers' rain-soaked 19-17 victory.
"I just think it's an amazing statistic in that so many people can share in it with me," said Brady, who brought the football to his postgame news conference. "Quarterback doesn't throw and catch. Quarterback can just throw it. It's yards. Passing yards have to be caught, so I just hope that everybody who caught passes from me over the years just had a little smile on their face tonight knowing they contributed to a very cool record.
"There are some people who have kind of preceded it by name. Drew Brees, who I look up to, is a hell of a guy, great player. Peyton Manning -- one of my all-time favorites -- Brett Favre, Dan Marino, but obviously, my teammates who caught all these passes over the years mean an awful lot to me."
Brees was on hand to witness the occasion, working as an analyst for NBC Sports, and congratulated Brady via social media as the game continued.
Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians said Friday that he hoped his team could get the record "over with" and then "score a bunch more." Coincidentally, it happened on the Bucs' 12th offensive play of the game.
The fact that the record happened in the same place it started made it even more special, as this is likely to be Brady's last time playing in Gillette Stadium because the NFC South faces the AFC East only once every four years.
Brady's first NFL start was Sept. 30, 2001, a 44-13 win over the Indianapolis Colts at the old Foxboro Stadium that eventually led to the Patriots defeating the then-St. Louis Rams' "Greatest Show on Turf" in Super Bowl XXXVI.
Prior to Brees clinching the record, Manning had held it since Nov. 15, 2015. Brady is now the seventh player in the Super Bowl era (since 1966) to hold the career record for passing yards and passing touchdowns (591) at the same time, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. And Brady has won more Super Bowls, seven, than the other six quarterbacks combined, as Brees, Manning, Favre, Marino, Fran Tarkenton and Johnny Unitas totaled five.
Brady now has beaten all 32 NFL teams, equaling an achievement by Favre, Manning and Brees.
Brady is the NFL's all-time leader in championships won, and, according to Elias Sports Bureau research, is one of four players in NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB history to be a sport's leader in championships won and simultaneously the leader in a major statistic -- along with Bill Russell (NBA, rebounds), Maurice Richard (NHL, goals) and Babe Ruth (MLB, home runs). Brady is the only one to do it since 1973, according to Elias.
Among active players, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is closest to Brady on the list at sixth with 61,381 yards, followed by Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (ninth, 56,757) and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (10th, 52,142), so Brady's record should stand for some time.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.