FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady became the N.F.L.’s career passing leader on Sunday in his first game back in New England to face his former team, the Patriots.
In the first quarter, Brady completed a 28-yard pass to receiver Mike Evans to reach 80,359 yards and surpass the record of 80,358 yards set last year by Drew Brees, the New Orleans Saints quarterback who retired at the end of the season.
The Patriots flashed the record on the stadium video screen and announced it to the crowd, which cheered, but they did not stop the game for a ceremony.
Heading into the game, Brady needed just 68 yards to pass Brees. Brady will likely hold onto the record for several years. Among active players, Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers has the second-most career yards, but he trails Brady by about 20,000 yards.
Brady’s record-setting throw was just one of many highlights in one of the most anticipated regular season games in years, as the Buccaneers sought to improve on their 2-1 record and the Patriots, at 1-2, struggled to get a foothold in their second season without Brady as their leader.
Much of the drama before the game focused on the showdown between Brady and Patriots Coach Bill Belichick, and who was responsible for Brady’s departure after two decades, 249 wins and six Super Bowl championships together.
One fan bought a billboard not far from the stadium that all but blamed Belichick for Brady’s decision to move to Tampa. Fans tailgating before the game at Gillette Stadium did not begrudge Brady for leaving.
“I’m grateful for everything Tom did, but that’s in the past,” said Randy Greeley, a longtime season ticket holder who wore the jersey of Mac Jones, the team’s new quarterback. “My loyalty is to the Pats.”
When the Buccaneers took the field to warm up about 50 minutes before kickoff, fans gave Brady a standing ovation and chanted his name. Before the game, the Patriots played a short video tribute on the stadium scoreboard that showed Brady’s exploits in New England. But when Brady took the field for Tampa’s opening drive, he was booed.
Brady has been restrained about his relationship with Belichick and his reasons for moving to Tampa. But his father and trainer, interviewed separately, were more blunt, claiming that Belichick did not value Brady’s input and felt, at 44, that his best days were over.
When he was in New England, Brady had said he wanted to play until he was 45. Tampa gave him a two-year contract. Having led the Buccaneers to a Super Bowl title last season, and already off to a fast start this year, Brady has mused about potentially playing until he is 50.
Local television stations and national networks like NBC’s “Today” show broadcast from the stadium parking lot days before the game, while one website listed the top 10 sports homecomings in Boston area history before Brady’s return.
Brady’s fans greeted the quarterback at the airport in Providence, R.I., when the Buccaneers’ team plane arrived on Saturday. The team now includes cornerback Richard Sherman, the free agent former 49ers corner whom Brady recruited to the Buccaneers despite being mired in legal trouble stemming from an arrest this summer and five misdemeanor charges, including two for domestic violence. The Buccaneers were without tight end Rob Gronkowski, another former Patriots player, who has a rib injury.