Buccaneers' Tom Brady breaks his own season completions record

ATLANTA -- It came on a simple 5-yard out throw to wide receiver Russell Gage and happened in a Week 18 game with zero impact on playoff positioning.

But the significance of quarterback Tom Brady breaking yet another NFL record in his 23rd season at the age of 45 can't be overstated, even as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fell to the Atlanta Falcons 30-17 in their regular-season finale Sunday.

With that pass to Gage, in a game many questioned why Brady was even playing in given the potential risk of injury, Brady broke the NFL single-season completion record -- his own record -- of 485 set last season, finishing the regular season at 490.

"He continues to defy time. Father Time is having a heck of a time with Brady," coach Todd Bowles joked. "He works hard. He loves to play the game. He's like a little kid out there. He loves to compete. Everything else has already been said."

Inside linebacker Devin White added, "Just to be able to witness greatness, see him work every day, and see him want to play in this game even though we clinched a playoff spot -- it just shows you the type of person, the type of athlete he is, and I respect everything about him."

Brady left the game and was replaced by backup Blaine Gabbert with four minutes to go in the second quarter, having completed 13 of 17 passes for 84 yards and a touchdown, an 8-yard pass to tight end Kyle Rudolph. Third-string quarterback Kyle Trask took over with 8:07 left in the fourth quarter.

The goal was to continue to build off the offensive rhythm the Bucs established last week -- which they did, scoring a touchdown on their opening possession for just the third time this season -- and then get as many starters out as they could on both sides of the ball to avoid any unnecessary risk.

"I was just trying to play as long as I could, but we just had so many injuries and we just had people going in and out," Brady said. "It's tough. You want to give other people opportunities to play. I played a lot this year. Good to see Blaine go in there and play and throw a touchdown. Good to see Kyle play a little bit. Those are all positives."

Sunday's loss dropped the Buccaneers' record to 8-9, clinching Brady's first losing season in his professional career. Brady had winning records in 21 consecutive regular seasons with the New England Patriots and Tampa Bay before this season.

It also was his first loss to the Falcons, although when he had left the game, the score was 10-10. He had been 11-0 in his career against Atlanta, including the Patriots' 34-28 win over the Falcons in Super Bowl LI. Led by Brady, the Patriots rallied from a 28-3 deficit.

Does entering the playoffs with a losing record matter to him considering his entire career has been defined by winning? Yes. The Bucs are just the fourth team in NFL history to win their division with a losing record, joining the 2010 Seattle Seahawks (7-9), 2014 Carolina Panthers (7-8-1) and 2020 then-Washington Football Team (7-9).

But what comes next matters to him even more. He already touched perfection in the regular season in 2007 when the Patriots went a perfect 16-0 but lost to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII.

"We've been battle-tested. We had some tough games. Some we came back from, some we haven't. Close won't be good enough going forward for anybody," Brady said.

"I was part of teams that were really good that didn't make it very far and with teams that were fighting really hard and made it a long way," Brady said. "So everything we do will be determined by what we do here going forward.

"You don't really think about winning anything more than one game. You can only win one game a week. The team that wins is the one that plays the best that day, not the team with the best record or the home field -- the team that plays the best that day is the team that advances."

Brady finished the season with 4,694 passing yards -- sixth most in his career -- and 25 touchdowns as he gears up for his 14th consecutive postseason after leading the Buccaneers to their first back-to-back division titles.

Other records Brady broke this season, after retiring for 40 days in the offseason, include most game-winning touchdown drives, which he did against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 9 with his 55th. In Week 10, he became the first quarterback in NFL history to win a game in three different countries outside the United States. He also broke the NFL record for most fourth-quarter comebacks (44) after leading the Buccaneers back from a 13-point deficit against the New Orleans Saints in Week 13.

"These are all team records, in my opinion," Brady said. "I've always said that. I don't catch one ball. I think I caught one or two in my career. [In Seattle] ... that one stunk. I've had a few of those that didn't go well at all. And maybe one or two that went OK. Those are hard to come by."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.