TAMPA, Fla. — When Tom Brady unretired last March after 40 days of retirement that obviously wasn’t blissful, he boldly stated the reason for his return as “unfinished business.’’
On Monday night, the GOAT looked finished.
Much like it’s never been good business to bet against the likes of Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan, the same goes for Brady, who’s spent more than two decades defying the odds since the Patriots drafted him in the sixth round 23 years ago.
But the 45-year-old quarterback looked every bit his age in an ugly 31-14 loss to the Cowboys in the NFC wild-card round at Raymond James Stadium.
The win sends the 13-5 Cowboys to a divisional-round game Sunday at the 49ers.
The loss ends the season for the 8-10 Buccaneers and it begins an offseason of speculation about the future of Brady, who’ll be a free agent and can either remain in Tampa for a fourth season, play for another team (the Raiders or Dolphins?) or retire again — this time perhaps for keeps.
When asked after the game by The Post what his process will be as he ponders whether he wants to retire or keep playing, Brady said, “I’m going to go home and get a good night’s sleep … as good as I can tonight.’’
Asked if he has a timetable, he said, “It’ll just be one day at a time, truth.’’
The truth about Monday night’s performance was sobering. No moment in the game better portrayed Brady as a player ready for retirement than the Buccaneers’ second-and-goal play from the Dallas 5-yard line on the second play of the second quarter.
As Brady backpedaled in the pocket with two Cowboys pressuring him up the middle, he pump-faked and then floated an absolute duck to no one in particular toward the back of the end zone.
Cowboys safety Jayron Kearse, an accidental tourist of sorts, was the recipient of the rare gift from Brady, picking off the pass to end a 14-play, 70-yard drive with 14:51 remaining in the first half with Dallas leading just 6-0.
After the game, Kearse cradled that ball like a new-born child as he trotted triumphantly off the field.
Brady after the game said he was trying to throw the ball out of the end zone.
“I was trying to throw it out and obviously didn’t get enough on it,’’ Brady said. “It certainly didn’t help our cause.’’
How rare was the gaffe by Brady, a mistake that’s usually reserved for jittery rookie quarterbacks with happy feet playing in their first NFL game?
It was his first turnover in the red zone since 2019 when he was still with the Patriots. Brady had made 410 pass attempts, thrown 86 TD passes and rushed for seven more since then.
You could make an argument for that being the worst pass of Brady’s brilliant career.
At the half, Brady was a paltry 11 of 23 for 96 yards and that ungodly end-zone INT with a 41.2 rating. He finished 35 of 66 for 351 yards with two TDs and one INT.
Brady’s counterpart Dak Prescott, who entered the game maligned for having won only one playoff game in four tries and for leading the NFL in INTs, was 15 of 20 for 189 yards with two passing TD and one rushing TD and a 137.3 rating at the half. He finished 25 of 33 for 305 yards with four TDs, no INTs and a 143.3 rating.
The Tom Brady who entered the game owning almost every significant postseason record for quarterbacks — 35 playoff wins, most games played (47), most Super Bowl titles (seven), most passing yards (13,049) and most touchdown passes (86) did not look like the same Tom Brady playing Monday night.
That dude wearing the No. 12 white jersey and the pewter helmet looked like an imposter.
Now, the Buccaneers and everyone else involved awaits his decision on what’s next.
“Yeah, I wonder,’’ Tampa Bay tight end Cameron Brate said. “I know Tom and he wouldn’t want to go out like that. But we’ll see.’’
Brate caught an 8-yard TD pass to make it 31-14 with 2:04 remaining and, just in case that was Brady’s final TD pass, he said he kept the ball.
Bucs center Ryan Jensen, who returned from an August knee injury Monday night and was one of the first teammates Brady called when he unretired, said he’s not going to dwell on what Brady’s decision will be.
“Thinking about it and dreading it isn’t going to change if he’s back here or if he’s not,’’ Jensen said.
“These past two months I’ve realized my place is still on the field and not in the stands,’’ Brady said after his unretirement. “That time will come, but it’s not now.’’