Buccaneers' Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski move into 2nd all-time in regular-season TD connections

ATLANTA -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski hooked up for their 89th and 90th touchdowns in a 30-17 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, moving them into second all-time for most regular-season touchdowns by a pair of players.

Also, wide receiver Chris Godwin set a franchise record with 15 catches, the most by any player in a game this season, as the Bucs improved to 9-3.

Brady and Gronkowski sit behind only Pro Football Hall of Famers Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison, who have 112 regular-season touchdowns, while Godwin moved ahead of running backs James Wilder (Sept. 15, 1985) and Earnest Graham (Oct. 21, 2007), who each had 13 catches in a game.

"Having Gronk back for the last few weeks is huge in our offense, those two guys controlling the inside of the field," coach Bruce Arians said of the pair, adding that this was especially problematic when the Falcons (or any team) have played man defense.

Gronkowski's first touchdown, in the second quarter, came on a catch-and-run on a crossing route working against safety Jaylinn Hawkins for a 27-yard TD. Then Brady called an audible in the third quarter and slipped the ball past safety Erik Harris to Gronkowski on a fade route -- a play they spent nine years perfecting when they were with the New England Patriots and won three Super Bowls together -- for an 11-yard score.

"That second touchdown definitely brought us back to the heyday -- the fade," Gronkowski said." I wasn't supposed to have a fade but he saw and just reminds me of the heyday for us."

With their 90th regular-season TD connection, Brady and Gronkowski moved into sole possession of second place all-time, passing Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates.

Gronkowski now has 20 career games with multiple receiving touchdowns, one away from Gates for the most by a tight end.

"I think when you play that long together -- I mean, like Gronk said the other day, Tom knows what he's thinking before he does," Arians said. "And it's obvious out there a couple of times Tom's thrown a couple balls and even Gronk wasn't quite ready because he knew where he was going. It's great chemistry they have."

"He kind of makes it easy on any quarterback," said Brady, who improved to 10-0 all-time against the Falcons. "He's just so big, so quick, great hands. Just does an amazing job. A great catch-and-run that he had and then I threw the fade for a touchdown, which was really cool -- he makes those pretty easy, too. I obviously love being out there with him.

"It was good to see him make those plays. He was out for quite a while this year, you know? Just seeing him back, playing great, really enjoying it -- it's really fun for me. That's the best part."

Will the two continue playing long enough to break Manning and Harrison's record?

"I hope we do. I look for him down there -- he is a really big target most of the game," Brady said. "I think what makes him so amazing is to do what he does in the run game and block defensive ends. Some of the biggest and strongest guys in the world. To run routes and catch balls and be so athletic. Along with the endurance he has, it is just really amazing."

As far as Godwin goes, he was on the receiving end of five of Brady's 13 pass attempts on the opening drive -- the most attempts on a single drive in his career and the most by a quarterback since at least 2000, according to ESPN Stats & Information research, as the Bucs wanted to go up-tempo from the jump.

"That was a lot of passes, man," Godwin joked. "I think we should do that some more."

Part of this was because the Falcons loaded the box to try and stop running back Leonard Fournette, who was coming off a four-touchdown performance last week against the Indianapolis Colts. They also felt very good about Brady's protection, forcing the Falcons into some blitzes that created some one-on-ones. Brady praised Godwin's work ethic and called him "an unbelievable player."

"That's dope, to be able to set a record, especially when you have a guy like Mike [Evans] who's been dominant here for so long," said Godwin, who had 143 receiving yards on the day. "I think the biggest thing is getting a [win].

"I really had no idea until we were like walking off the field. I thought I was probably at like 10 or so. I think some of those little like quick-hitters you kind of forget about -- getting bounced around and you're like a little pinball."

"He has the ability to play outside also, but he is lethal inside," Arians said of Godwin, who made the move into the slot from the outside when Arians came to Tampa in 2019. "Obviously, the way he blocks is huge and gives you so much in between the numbers."

Gronkowski has been most impressed by what Godwin does when the ball doesn't go in his direction. His downfield blocking helped seal off Fournette's game-winning, 28-yard touchdown last week.

"Chris is a beast. An unbelievable player," Gronkowski said. "What's so special about him is yeah, he makes some catches, but he always in the dirt in the run game too, to help out the running backs, to spring whoever has the ball for some extra yards. I'm not surprised. That's CG for you. I think he deserves a veteran's day off this week. Those 15 touches -- just how many times you get hit when you catch it 15 times."

When asked if Godwin could be even considered a 'veteran' given that he's still in just his fifth year and has not signed a second contract (he's currently playing under the franchise tag) Gronkowski said, "He's kind of like a vet rookie, I guess. Like a veteran but on his first contract, I guess. We'll consider him a vet because he's that good of a player."

Godwin laughed.

"I think if Gronk says it, I think he might have a little bit of pull for me. So I'm gonna have to talk to him a little more about that."