Tom Brady finds playoff success again in what might have been Drew Brees' final game

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Sam Farmer
·4 min read
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Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady smiles after an NFL divisional round playoff football game.
Tom Brady smiles after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' victory over the New Orleans Saints in the NFC divisional playoffs Sunday. (Brett Duke / Associated Press)

As the final seconds ticked off at the Superdome, with Tampa Bay celebrating a 30-20 playoff victory over New Orleans, the Buccaneers general manager fired off a two-word tweet that summed up the Sunday:

“We Dat!”

It was a resounding response to the rhetorical New Orleans chant — “Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints?” — and a triumphant moment for the Buccaneers, who made the biggest move of the offseason in signing quarterback Tom Brady.

So Brady, whose team was swept by the Saints in the regular season, is heading to Green Bay for the 14th conference championship of his storied career, and first in the NFC. The Buccaneers beat the Packers, 38-10, in Week 6 in Tampa, where the Super Bowl will be played.

“We worked hard to get to this point,” Brady said. “Two road playoff wins is pretty sweet.”

For the third year in a row, the Saints’ season ended with a playoff loss at home. The game likely was the last for legendary New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees, 42, who removed his helmet and blew kisses to the reduced-capacity crowd as he headed up the locker room tunnel. Before the game, Fox NFL insider Jay Glazer reported that this would be Brees’ last season, and that Brady, 43, plans to keep playing.

Speaking on a videoconference after the game, Brees said he was going to answer the retirement question only once and said he’s still in the process of making his decision. He is under contract for one more season.

“I’m gonna give myself an opportunity to think about the season,” he said, “think about a lot of things, just like I did last year, and make a decision.”

Whereas the NFC title game features two first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterbacks in Brady and Aaron Rodgers, the AFC will showcase two young superstars … maybe.

That game features Buffalo’s Josh Allen on one side and Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes on the other — as long as the Chiefs quarterback is able to return in time from the concussion that knocked him out of Sunday’s 22-17 victory over Cleveland.

The Chiefs are the first team to play host to the AFC championship game in three consecutive seasons.

A dazed and wobbly Mahomes was helped off the field in the third quarter after a hard hit by Browns linebacker Mack Wilson at the end of a run. Slow-motion replays didn’t show Mahomes absorbing a blow to the head so much as his neck bending awkwardly.

After the game — which Chiefs backup Chad Henne sealed with a couple of huge plays — Wilson tweeted about Kansas City’s injured leader: “Prayers to @PatrickMahomes. I pray you back next week! Go be great like you have been!”

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees gestures to his family and fans.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees gestures to his family and fans after Sunday's loss to the Buccaneers. (Brynn Anderson / Associated Press)

Mahomes responded: “All good brother!” with a flexed-arm emoji.

The Bills, led by their phenomenal third-year quarterback, play at Kansas City on Sunday. The Chiefs won at Buffalo, 26-17, in Week 6.

The game marked the end of an inspiring season for the Browns, who a week earlier picked up their first postseason victory in 26 years. But their bid for a comeback died when Kansas City was able to run out the clock at midfield. To do that, the Chiefs relied on some Henne heroics.

Facing third and 14 and needing a first down to avoid giving the ball back to the Browns for a last-gasp try, Henne scrambled for 13 yards. On fourth and one, he completed a five-yard pass to Tyreek Hill, enabling the Chiefs to run out the clock.

“That's all heart,” defensive back Tyrann Mathieu said of Henne’s performance. “Those are the moments that lift teams.”

Before halftime, Cleveland receiver Rashard Higgins came within inches of scoring, but the ball was jarred from his hands by safety Daniel Sorenson as Higgins was diving for the pylon. The ball rolled into the end zone and out of bounds for a touchback.

According to Elias Sports Bureau, that was the Browns’ first lost fumble inside the 10-yard line in the playoffs since Earnest Byner lost the ball on the one in the 1987 AFC championship game at Denver. That turnover — forever known as “The Fumble” — enabled John Elway’s Broncos to hang on for a 38-33 victory.

In a painful twist for the Browns, Sunday was the 33rd anniversary of The Fumble.

“It stings,” Cleveland coach Kevin Stefanski said of the loss. “We came here to win and didn’t get the job done. There’s a finality to that.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.