Tom Brady was not pressured to be big Sunday.
The Buccaneers did not need him.
But he was anyway.
That’s what makes the Buccaneers the most dangerous team in the NFC. Yes, even with Aaron Rodgers and Packers owning the home court advantage through the off-season and having had this week to rest.
Brady, as a 44-year-old and on a mission to conquer an unfathomable eighth Super Bowl ring, operated the Eagles in Sunday’s all-too-easy 31-15 wildcard victory at Raymond James Stadium.
The patient, the Eagles, will survive. But they will be limited to resting at home for the rest of this football season.
The beauty of Brady’s work was not in his flawless stats – 29 of 37 for 271 yards, two TDs and no turnover. It was in its precision how clean – if not remarkable in its simplicity – it was.
Maybe it’s because we take Brady for granted, because he’s almost always on and almost always wins when he absolutely has to. Sunday’s victory improved his personal playoff record to a ridiculous 35-11. He has now defeated 28 different opposing quarterbacks in the off-season.
So Brady and the Buccaneers are on to next weekend’s division playoff round, which is exactly where the Buccaneers should be at this point.
The Buccaneers (14-4) returned all 22 starters from their 2021 Super Bowl championship team – most importantly Brady.
But there has been significant attrition to the starting 22 as this season has progressed. The Bucs on Sunday were without their two best running backs – Leonard Fournette (hamstring injury) and Ronald Jones II (ankle) – and two of their best receivers – Chris Godwin (knee) and Antonio Brown (released for stupidity).
No problem for Brady.
Receiver Mike Evans, one of nine different players who caught a pass from Brady in the game, caught nine passes for 117 yards and a TD.
Running back Giovani Bernard ran after Bucs’ first TD and finished with 44 rushing yards and 39 receiving yards. And rookie Ke’Shawn Vaughn gave the Bucs a 14-0 lead in the first quarter with a rushing TD and finished with 53 rushing yards.
Brady’s ability to survive and advance, no matter what skill position players around him, makes him more dangerous than any player in the game. No one lifts the players around him better than Brady. You are hard pressed to find a player who has done better than he has done in the history of the game.
“He’s a surgeon,” Buccaneer coach Bruce Arians said. “When he finds out about you, he will eat you up.”
Brady never gave the Eagles a chance. The Eagles played their safeties deep, determined not to let him beat them over the top, so Brady bled them to death with paper clips on fast, short passes that neutralized the passing rush.
“I don’t think there’s anyone better at playing that game – dumping it down, washing it up,” said Tampa Bay tight-end Rob Gronkowski, whose 2-yard TD reception gave the Bucs a 24-0 lead. “Tom has done it all his career.”
After seeing what Brady has been doing for more than two decades, human nature can stun you to take his greatness for granted.
“I never take it for granted,” said Evans, whose 36-yard TD reception gave Tampa a 31-0 lead in the third quarter. “When he came to this team, I knew he wanted to change the franchise. He did it and a little more.”
Buccaneer’s linebacker Lavonte David said: “Having a leader like him increases the guys’ confidence even more. His leadership brings a different mood to people.”
A championship atmosphere.
If you choose to take a more cynical approach and point out that the Eagles (9-9) did not give much in the way of opposition to the Buccaneers, this is your prerogative. You would not be mistaken.
The Eagles looked like a team that had been exposed to playoff scams, which benefited from the added wildcard playoff spot. They went into Sunday’s game with a record of 1-7 against opponents with winning records with the only win against the 9-8 Saints that did not even reach the playoffs.
True, the Eagles’ choice was easy for Brady.
However, we leave you with this warning: Decrease Brady’s performance at your own risk.