With the Patriots vanquished, a lot of you are looking for a reason to care passionately about the NFL playoffs.
Predictably, you’re running directly to Tom, as this poll shows. Why wouldn’t ya?
Even if you own the incorrect belief it was Brady’s decision to leave New England. Even if you don’t comprehend his departure came after taking the hint his services were no longer desired. Even if you’re still mad he didn’t adopt N’Keal Harry. Even if all those things are true about you, you still can see that, under the pewter helmet, Tampa Tom is the same human responsible for the thousands of sportsgasms you've enjoyed.
You’re gonna be mad that the denizens of Tampa/St.Pete are getting those sportsgasms now? He’s stepping out on you? C’mon. Pull yourself together.
Brady and the 11-5 Buccaneers have to travel to play the 7-9 NFC East champion Washington Football Team. It goes off at 8:15 p.m. ET Saturday night and it’s on NBC.
You want four easily-digestible nuggets on what to expect? Here they come.
WFT’S D IS A JACK DEL RIO JOINT
After a couple years out of the league, Jack Del Rio resurfaced this year to become Ron Rivera’s defensive coordinator. Do you unddddeerrrrrsssstaaaannndddddd what Brady does to Jack Del Rio defenses?
Bad things, man.
Leading into the Patriots’ 2013 playoff game against the Denver Broncos (Del Rio was Denver’s DC), these were Brady’s numbers in seven meetings against Del Rio-led teams and defenses: 171-of-235 (73 percent) for 1,771 yards, 17 touchdowns and zero interceptions. A passer rating of 121.1 against Del Rio, now WFT's defensive coordinator.
Denver got Brady that day. Got him good. Brady went 24 for 38 for 277 with a touchdown. He threw 15 times to Julian Edelman, eight to Shane Vereen, six to Austin Collie and three each to Aaron Dobson and Michael Hoomanawanui.
Tom knows Jack
Tom Brady's career record against Jack Del Rio as DC and HC
That improved Del Rio’s record against Brady to 1-7. Brady saw Del Rio one more time in the 2014 regular season and led a blowout win in which he had four TD passes. The last meeting with Del Rio came in 2017 when was head coach there. Brady went 30 for 37 with three touchdowns in another rout.
Having seen Brady tap-dance on his defense so many times as a Patriot, Del Rio is clearly hoping a change of scenery for him makes a difference.
“The guy has sustained success throughout his career,” said Del Rio this week. “But for us, we’re not playing 20 years of Tom. We are playing one night and one game.”
THE CHASE IS ON
Chase Young has been ridiculously good for WFT as the season’s gone on. The rookie defensive end could be the successor to Aaron Donald as the league’s most dominant defender. He’s like Jevon Kearse when Kearse came into the NFL with Tennessee. Anyway, as Young sprinted from the field Sunday after Washington clinched its playoff spot, Young yelled, “I want Tom!” as in Brady.
It was a nice squirt of lighter fluid for pregame conversation. Bucs coach Bruce Arians gave a, “Careful what you wish for…” soundbite. Young didn’t back off his comment but shifted into a complimentary rather than confrontational tone. And Brady laughed and praised Young.
Is there any relevance at all to Young’s youthfully exuberant remark? There’s too much historical evidence to believe there won’t be. Brady used the “He’s too old…" and “everyone thinks we suck” criticism to fuel himself throughout the Patriots' 2018 run to the Super Bowl.
Same way he used the “He’s too old…” and drafting of Jimmy Garoppolo as fuel in 2014. How many fairly innocuous comments has Brady conflated into attacks on his very soul? Lots. And – even though his respect and admiration for great young players like Young is always voiced – he loves sending great ones home sad, whether it’s J.J. Watt, Donald or Julius Peppers.
The list is real long. And Young is on it.
THE HEAT’S ON TOM
I promise you, there’s never been a time in any of Brady’s 41 playoff games when he was concerned about his head coach not having an airtight plan for both sides of the ball and couldn't count on being the more disciplined and situationally aware team.
Does he feel that way about the Bucs right now? Tampa’s a middle-of-the-road team in terms of penalties (84, the Patriots had the fewest with 62). And it took most of the season for the Bucs offense to really start clicking.
The Bucs have been slow starters and often losers against teams on their level. They lost twice to the Saints and got dropped by the Rams, Chiefs and Bears. They fell behind the Saints 24-7 early in the third in the season opener. They fell behind 31-0 by halftime in the rematch. They fell behind the Chiefs 17-0 in the first. The Rams and Bears games were tight throughout and – in both – good defensive fronts were an issue.
Against WFT, Brady won’t have to worry about an opposing offense rolling up points on his defense. The Bucs are strong on D. Football Team stinks. But we’ve all seen Brady run hot and wild at the start of playoff games (SB46) and we all grew accustomed to seeing the Patriots stagger in the first quarter of so many Super Bowls.
With Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels running things, there was no need for panic if things didn’t go as planned early. Eventually, things would settle. Will the Arians-led Bucs have the same composure? And will Brady be able to keep himself calm, cool and collected if things go sideways?
FOOTBALL TEAM’S NOT GOOD
As much as you’ll hear Friday, Saturday and into the broadcast about “pressure in Brady’s face” and how it will alter everything, the bottom line is that WFT isn’t real good. While they haven’t allowed more than 20 points since November 15 (a loss to the Lions?), they’ve faced the Bengals, Cowboys, Steelers, Niners, Seahawks, Panthers and Eagles. Only two are playoff teams.
The NFC East was a train wreck. So all the extreeeemmmmmeeelllllllyyy high rankings WFT enjoys come with that caveat. And the rankings are high. Sixth on third down, fourth in red zone D, third in points per game, fourth in sacks, fifth in picks and second in passing yards allowed.
Offensively, they are 25th or worse in points, rushing yards, passing yards, total offense and pick percentage and sack percentage.
Tampa hasn’t seen a good defense in a while either – their last four were against the Falcons (twice), Detroit and Minnesota. But in those games, the Bucs scored 26, 31, 47 and 44. The last two games in particular were like preseason games. Reminds me of 2018 in New England when the Patriots hit a groove before the playoffs against the Jets and Bills and then plowed through the playoffs.
Washington won’t be able to control the ball enough to keep Brady off the field. And Tampa has too much weaponry for WFT to check. Smells like a blowout. Feels like old times!
Be sure to catch Tampa Bay take on Washington in an NFC Wild Card matchup Saturday night at 8:15 p.m. ET on NBC10 Boston. Pregame coverage starts at 7:30 p.m. ET with Football Night in America.