Monday, June 27

Tom Brady’s return to the Bucs next season is not certain

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — If Tom Brady played the final game of an unprecedented career, it ended with one of his toughest losses after a stunning comeback.

Bloodied and battered by the Los Angeles Rams, the 44-year-old seven-time Super Bowl champion rallied the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from a 27-3 deficit, only to see the defense give up a big play in the last minute to set up Matt Gay’s game-winning 30-yard field goal.

The Rams’ 30-27 victory on Sunday sent Los Angeles home to host the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC championship game next week. They ended Tampa Bay’s attempt to become the first repeat NFL champions since Brady led New England to back-to-back titles after the 2003-04 seasons.

Did the Rams end Brady’s career too?

“The truth, guys, I’m thinking about this game. I’m not thinking about the last five minutes from now,” Brady said.

Brady has a contract for 2022 but his return is not final.

“I haven’t given it much thought, taking it day by day,” Brady said.

In late September, Brady said he plans to play at least one more season, but has indicated multiple times since then that returning will be a family decision.

When asked last month when he’ll know it’s time to retire, Brady said:

“Good question. I don’t know. I think I’ll have to, after every year, think about what the situation looks like for me, personally and professionally. Obviously, I love to play; I don’t think my love will go away. I think I’ll be able to do it, it’s just that other things are happening in my life, regarding family situations. My children are not getting any younger and I want to make sure they get what they need too.”

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Brady’s agent, Don Yee, told The Associated Press last week that he doesn’t know when Brady will hang up.

“He can do it as long as he wants, because his intangibles are really off the charts,” Yee said for an upcoming episode of the AP Pro Football Podcast. “I have been around professional athletes since 1974 and have seen many different types of athletes. And I think all the best will tell you that the intangible part is critical. There are a lot of great physical specimens, but to keep trying to do something for a long period of time and do it well, you have to have other intangibles. … you have to want to get up every morning to be great.

“And so he still owns all of that and more. And that’s why I don’t. … It will be his decision, and I would never speak on his behalf on this subject. But he’s clearly still performing very well.”

Brady was playing at an elite level until he ran into the Rams. He did not complete a pass in his first two drives for the first time in his 47 playoff starts, going 0-for-4.

He was penalized for the first unsportsmanlike penalty of his career in the first half for arguing a penalty after a blow broke his lip.

“He looked me in the face aggressively and used abusive language,” referee Shawn Hochuli told a poolside reporter about singling out Brady. “As for the hit, we didn’t think it reached the level of roughness to the passer.”

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Brady missed several passes, had two turnovers and was sacked three times. But his 55-yard touchdown pass to Mike Evans with just over three minutes left put the Buccaneers within 27-20.

After the Rams lost their fourth fumble, Brady led Tampa to the tying score when Leonard Fournette ran from the 9-yard line.

But defensive issues allowed Matthew Stafford to lead the Rams into position to win it.

Brady was 30 of 54 for 329 yards and a TD, but the offense got going too late.

Brady overcame losing two of his top three receivers, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown, and top two running backs, Fournette and Ronald Jones, down the stretch and didn’t need them last week against Philadelphia. But losing All-Pro right tackle Tristan Wirfs last week was a big deal on Sunday. Although Fournette returned this week, the Bucs had no answer for Aaron Donald, Von Miller and LA’s ferocious running backs without Wirfs.

After leading the Buccaneers to their second Super Bowl title in his first season in Tampa after 20 years with New England, Brady led the NFL in passing yards (5,316), touchdowns (43), completions (485) and attempts (719) while leading the Bucs to their first NFC South title since 2007.

Coach Bruce Arians told the Tampa Bay Times on Friday that he would be “surprised” if Brady didn’t come back for another season because of the fun he’s having playing and practicing all week.

After the loss to Los Angeles, Arians said the decision “is up to Tom.”

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Rob Ninkovich, who played with Brady on the Patriots from 2009 to 2016, created a stir this week when he said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if Brady resigned after this season.

“Tom is playing at a high level. I’ll leave it at that,” Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich said Thursday in response to a question about Ninkovich’s comments.

All the players asked about Brady said they want him back, of course.

“I’m very grateful that he came to Tampa,” Evans said. “He is the best player to ever play the game. … He is self-motivated. He knows what he wants. Hopefully we’ll get it back next year.”

Brady is the NFL’s all-time leader in many categories, including passing yards (84,520) and touchdowns (624). He is the only player to win more than five Super Bowls and was the game’s MVP five times.

Brady led the Patriots from a 28-3 deficit to beat Atlanta in the Super Bowl after the 2016 season. His defense didn’t give him a chance at the end to do it again.


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