Brady-led Buccaneers look to end long playoff drought
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are learning Tom Brady is lot more than a six-time Super Bowl winner who’s determined to help transform them into champions, too.
“He’s the G.O.A.T. on and off the field ... a superstar, the most accomplished player in our game in history, and he’s just like everybody else,” Pro Bowl receiver Mike Evans said.
“He works extremely hard, he’s always taking care of his body, he loves his family, he loves family time and he’s just cool ... a real down-to-earth guy,” Evans added. “He’s already up there as one of my favorite teammates and we’ve only had a few practices together, so that says a lot. I’m learning a lot from him, and hopefully we can tear it up this year.”
Jason Pierre-Paul won a Super Bowl ring with the New York Giants (against Brady) and has 79½ career sacks entering his 11th NFL season — third with the Bucs, who haven’t earned a postseason berth since 2007 and don’t have a playoff victory since winning their only Lombardi Trophy 18 seasons ago.
The 31-year-old linebacker, who re-signed with the Bucs in free agency after Brady inked a two-year, fully guaranteed $50 million deal in March, notes how he’s always wondered what it would be like to play with Brady.
Brady won 17 division titles and appeared in 13 AFC championships game and nine Super Bowls during a historic 20-year run with the Patriots. He’s a three-time league MVP and four-time Super Bowl MVP.
The Bucs have the worst all-time winning percentage among teams in the four major professional leagues.
Pierre-Paul has made the playoffs once during his career.
“I always (asked) myself, ’If I had a quarterback like Brady, what would I do? Now is the perfect opportunity. It’s not, ‘What would I do?’ Now I can go out and do something. It’s totally different from all the years I’ve been playing football, and every guy on this team should have that feeling,” the linebacker said.
“He’s the G.O.A.T. of football. There’s a reason he has six NFL championship rings,” Pierre-Paul added. “You can see it. There’s really nothing too much to talk about. It’s Brady you’re talking about.”
Brady joins a team with a plethora of offensive playmakers, including Evans, fellow Pro Bowl receiver Chris Godwin and tight ends O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate and Rob Gronkowski, Brady’s favorite target for much of his stint with New England.
Gronkowski, one of the most dominant tight ends in league history, returns after one year in retirement. He says Brady, who many of Tampa Bay’s players liken to being a coach on the field, looks refreshed.
“The way Tom works is never going to change — he just loves the game of football. But I can definitely say he has embraced this new challenge. And for myself, it’s definitely a challenge, too,” Gronkowski said.
“To go out there, to learn a whole new system, a whole new organization, a whole new team is definitely a challenge. ... I can’t speak for Tom, but I can say, from my eyes just looking at him, he looks refreshed,” Gronkowski said. “He looks ready to go. He looks ready to play every single day, and he’s motivated every day. It’s nice to see.”
Brady got a head-start on getting acclimated to new teammates, organizing small group workouts at a local high school while NFL clubs were prohibited from conducting customary conditioning programs due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The gatherings continued even after the NFL Players Association advised players to not participate in informal practices.
Teammates said Brady provided detailed instruction on how he likes certain pass routes run, as well as other tips that benefited them once training camp began.
Brady has a deep appreciation for this collection of playmakers that was bolstered this summer by the signing of veteran running back LeSean McCoy.
“The guys worked really hard and it’s been fun getting to know the receiver position,” Brady said. “Gronk’s the only guy I’ve played with, so I know what he can do. It’s really up to everybody to go out there and earn their role. I’ve always believed that you get out of it what you put into it.”
Brady turned 43 on Aug. 3. The Patriots won 12 games and another AFC East title a year ago, but he had one of his worst non-injury seasons statistically with 4,057 yards passing, 24 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
How would he fit into coach Bruce Arians’ offense, which emphasizes throwing deep passes. Arians said there’s no problem with Brady’s arm strength.
“I think he answered that question the first day. I think he was dropping 60-yard dimes,” the coach said. “Our job is to make sure he maintains that strength and not overwork it, because he’s an over-worker.”
Gronkowski is impressed, too.
“His arm looks like (when) I first got into the league,” the tight end said. “His arm may actually be stronger than when he was 33 ... which is incredible.”
The Bucs are confident they have a defense capable of helping Brady be successful. The unit led the league against the rush in 2019. It improved significantly against the pass over the last half of the season, too.
Arians and general manager Jason Licht made sure the core remained intact, placing the franchise tag on NFL sacks leader Shaquil Barrett and re-signing Pierre-Paul and tackle Ndamukong Suh.
Practicing against Brady doesn’t hurt.
“We’re getting better every day we go out there and compete against him,” linebacker Devin White said. “And I think a great thing is I’m able to go to him after practice and see the things that he’s seeing that we need to improve on to make us even better.”
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