Watch 43-year-old Tom Brady do battle with 42-year-old Drew Brees as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers travel to the New Orleans Saints in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs – live on Sky Sports NFL, 11.40pm, Sunday
By David Currie
Tom Brady posted a tweet on Tuesday that went, as the kids would say, ‘viral’.
Brady mocked up, or got some younger tech-savvy assistant to, a digitally-aged image of him and his opponent on Sunday night, Drew Brees.
Brady is 43 years old and Brees just turned 42 on Friday; at a combined age of 85 years and 169 days old by kick-off in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ divisional round game with the New Orleans Saints, they will become the oldest quarterbacks to compete in a playoff game in the Super Bowl era – nearly seven years older than the prior record. ‘History awaits’ indeed.
And while Brady’s post was a sarcastic swipe at the narrative he knew would be set to dominate the week’s build-up, this meeting of two unrivalled veterans is one to be savoured – as it is surely to be confined to the history books come the early hours of Monday morning.
While Brady shows no signs of stopping – more on that in a moment – this has long been rumoured to be Brees’ last dance, a final go at earning himself a second Super Bowl win after suffering three heart-breaking losses in the last three seasons.
Stefon Diggs was responsible for the first of those with his Minneapolis Miracle in the 2017 Divisional Round, a dodgy pass interference no-call by an official did for the Saints in the AFC Championship game a year later, while the Vikings stunned them again, this time in their own building, in last year’s Wild Card round.
Old Father Time has been significantly slowed in his pursuit of these two quarterbacking greats, but he has certainly gained a yard on Brees this season.
The future Hall of Famer hasn’t quite been at his best in 2020, no longer able to force the ball downfield to the degree he used to in his 5,000-yard heydays of 2008, 2011-13 and 2016. By way of contrast, Brady, one year his senior, has completed nearly twice as many deep passes (35) as Brees has even attempted (19) this year.
This has all contributed to Brady having one of his best-ever seasons – even when taking into account his storied career which has earned him a record six Super Bowl rings already.
Brady’s 4,633 passing yards is the fifth-highest mark of his two-decade-long dominance of the NFL, while his 40 touchdowns is second only to his 2007 season tally of 50 when the New England Patriots were chasing an undefeated season before being stunned by the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII.
After his offseason exit from New England for the sunnier shores of Tampa Bay, Brady and the Bucs were middling at best at the midway point of the season, posting a 7-5 record, with the veteran QB serving up 11 interceptions.
Since, however, Brady has got hot down the stretch, averaging 342.8 yards per game, with 14 TDs to one pick as they’ve won five straight – including their Wild Card win over the Washington Football Team last weekend, in which Brady became the oldest QB in NFL history to throw a touchdown pass.
Brees’ dink and dunk approach, meanwhile, has been nowhere near as easy on the eye, but it has been just as effective. Restricted to starting only 12 games after breaking 11 ribs in the Week 10 win over the San Francisco 49ers, Brees put up only 2,942 passing yards on the year, albeit with a still mightily impressive touchdown to interception ratio of 24 to six.
Also, this is a Saints team that no longer needs to put it all on Brees’ shoulders to be successful. Their defence, which ranks in the top five in the NFL in all of the major statistical categories – yards, points, rushing, passing – is this team’s strength.
That’s what awaits Brady on Sunday. And he hasn’t fared well on the two previous occasions he has faced them, being swept by a divisional opponent for the first time in his career in Tampa Bay’s two losses to the Saints earlier in the year.
Brady’s Bucs were understandably rusty in the season opener as they went down 34-23 on the road, but they’d had plenty of time to gel by the time of their Week Nine 38-3 drubbing at home – arguably the worst loss of Brady’s career, as he was picked off three times.
As mentioned before, Tampa have no doubt turned a corner since that defeat, with their plethora of offensive weapons all finally clicking.
Antonio Brown, who was making his Bucs debut in that defeat, for example, has accounted for 483 yards and four TDs in his eight games – and that is as just a complimentary piece to the likes of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin in the passing game.
But Brees too could be about to benefit from having one of his key targets back.
Michael Thomas has been absent for most of the year due to disciplinary issues and injury, but the 2019 offensive player of the year returned last weekend to put up a five-catch, 73-yard stat line and his first score of the season in the Wild Card win over the Chicago Bears. Plus, there’s the play of Alvin Kamara and his 1,688 scrimmage yards and 21 TDs to consider.
All of this adds to the intrigue of Sunday night’s matchup but, ultimately, as Brady predicted, it’s the tale of the two old timers facing off for one last time that is understandably set to dominate.
The pair have put up some crazy numbers over the years, leading the league at No 1 and 2 in all major passing categories. Here’s a chance to create even more history.