Tom Brady after beating the Patriots. Oct 3, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) reacts as he runs off of the field after a game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

There was an incredible amount of buildup for Tom Brady’s return to New England with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday, from on-location pre-game shows to pre-game trash talk and rooting discussions. The game wound up being close, with Brady’s Buccaneers beating the hometown Patriots 19-17 following a missed field goal from Nick Folk in the final minute, and it wound up drawing an incredible audience. As per NBC, data so far projects it as the second-most watched Sunday Night Football game ever and the most-watched SNF game since 2012 (30.3 million for a Washington-Dallas last-week game that determined who got the NFC East title and the playoff berth), and it delivered the highest share ever for a SNF game. Here’s more from their release:

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ down-to-the-wire 19-17 victory over the New England Patriots in Tom Brady’s return to Gillette Stadium last night on NBC and Peacock projects to be the most-watched NBC Sunday Night Football game since 2012 and the second-most watched all-time, based on preliminary data.

Buccaneers-Patriots registered a Total Audience Delivery (TAD) average of approximately 28.5 million viewers across NBC TV, Peacock, NBC Sports Digital, and NFL Digital platforms – marking the largest NBC SNF audience since Week 17 of the 2012 season when Dallas faced Washington in a win-and-in game for the NFC East title (30.3 million viewers, 12/30/12). Bucs-Patriots also ranks as the second-most watched NBC SNF game since the package debuted in 2006.

Buccaneers-Patriots on NBC delivered a 34 share (percentage of televisions in use tuned to the game) – the highest for any game in the history of the NBC SNF package.

There are some interesting further breakouts in the rest of that release, including that the TV audience on NBC averaged 27.2 million viewers, with the remaining 1.3 million average viewers coming from digital streams on Peacock, Yahoo, NFL and NBC digital properties, and team digital properties. That 1.3 million number (which is average minute audience) was the largest streaming number ever for an authenticated NBC NFL game.

The game itself wasn’t necessarily a standout, especially offensively. Both offenses struggled at times, especially through the air, and rainy and wet conditions were part of that. On the night, Brady completed just 22 passes on 43 attempts for 269 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. For New England, Mac Jones completed 31 of 40 attempts for 275 yards with two touchdowns and one interception, but his actual showing was less impressive from an expected points added standpoint, where he averaged just 0.01 EPA per play. Still, the game saw Brady break Drew Brees’ all-time NFL passing yardage record, and it wound up being close throughout and coming down to the wire. That last part was probably crucial to getting these audience numbers, as a more lopsided game might have seen many tune out early.

This also adds to what’s been a strong season of SNF for NBC so far. As their release notes, “For the first time since its record-setting 2015 season, NBC Sports has presented an NFL game averaging 20+ million viewers in each of the season’s first four weeks.” So it’s been a run of good games, and good games that have drawn impressive numbers. And that’s likely to continue next week with Chiefs-Bills.

[NBC Sports Group Press Box; photo from Brian Fluharty/USA Today Sports]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.