Out with the old and in with new.
That is what the Buffalo Bills are hoping for both this week and this season when they meet the defending National Football League Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs are not only the old champions, read that as defending, but have a quarterback that would have already been in the Hall of Fame for five years if he had retired a decade ago.
Tom Brady, the age-defying field general with the Buccaneers, celebrated his 44th birthday in August and is now competing against defenders half his age and schooling them. This is not a father on the driveway still managing to beat his teenage son in a game of Horse, this is a guy competing against some of the best skilled and conditioned athletes in the prime of their careers and beating them. I still marvel at the fact that Brady has more Super Bowl wins than any NFL franchise, the numbers on that is Brady seven, and the team he used to lead, the New England Patriots, next best with six, a number equaled by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
It has become cliche to say he is performing like a much younger athlete, but he is … and he combines his physical prowess with experience gained from 22 NFL seasons. Imagine in your own life if you could have the knowledge you have gained through years of challenges and been able to use those insights as a 10 year-old-kid. You’d rule the fourth grade playground.
Kind of like Brady is ruling the NFL playing field.
Last season, when the Buccaneers were staging their postseason road show with first a victory in New Orleans in Drew Brees’ final game as a Saint, and the following week in Green Bay over Aaron Rodgers and company, Brady had some advice for a man half his age sitting in front of his locker with tears of joy running down his face in the winning NFC Championship Game locker room.
Brady approached his young teammate, and said, “What are you doing? We’re not done. We still haven’t played our best game. Knock it off.”
This focus on the big prize is one of the things that separates Brady from the pack. Any accomplishments during a season are simply stepping stones to the one thing he is driven to gain … another ring. His leadership spills over an entire organization. It is worth noting that his two most recent Super Bowl wins, over the Los Angeles Rams three years ago and the Kansas City Chiefs last season, were gained against two of the highest scoring teams in league history, and in their Super Bowls against Brady’s Patriots and Buccaneers respectively, they failed to score a touchdown.
This week, Brady is looking to knock off a Buffalo squad that came into this season with as much legitimate hopes for a Super Bowl title as any team in the league. The Bills cracked the playoff field two years ago behind second-year quarterback Josh Allen. Last year, with Brady now playing in the National Football Conference, the Bills won the AFC East Division title and earned their first postseason win since 1993.
The Bills 2020 campaign came to an end in Kansas City when the Chiefs captured their second straight AFC Conference title. Two weeks later, the Chiefs surrendered their defending Super Bowl role to Brady and his Buccaneers.
The Bills appeared to be a team on the perfect trajectory to have this be their year to return to the Super Bowl, a feat they accomplished four consecutive years behind Jim Kelly three decades ago without winning a Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Enthusiasm in Buffalo was blunted on opening day when they were upset at home by the Pittsburgh Steelers. But four dominating wins followed and the Bills were once again considered a prime candidate to win it all. They have been knocked off their high perch in the past seven weeks with losses in four games that have dropped them 1½ games back of the Patriots in their division race.
Monday night’s home loss to the Patriots was particularly agonizing for long suffering Bills fans. A pair of fourth quarter trips inside the 10-yard line resulted in no points and a 14-10 loss to Bill Belichick and his rookie sensation, Mac Jones. Belichick devised a game plan that had his first-year quarterback throw only three passes in the game while the Patriots offense slashed through the Bills defense for 222 rushing yards.
With a win, the Bills would have taken over first place in the AFC East, the loss dropped them to where they now trail first place New England by the same margin they lead the third place Miami Dolphins.
Any lofty confidence the Bills might have had on their season’s prospects have been replaced by the realization that they just may not be as good as they thought they were two months ago.
This week, that attitude runs right into the confidence Brady takes to the gridiron every game. He has his Buccaneers four games up in the NFC South Division and in a dogfight with the Arizona Cardinals and Green Bay Packers for the coveted opening week playoff bye.
What does that leave us with on Sunday when the Bills visit Florida?
A Bucs team that wants it with the best quarterback ever leading their charge and a Bills team desperate for a win.
I like desperate.
Qoxhi Picks: Buffalo Bills (+3) over Tampa Bay Buccaneers