A. J. Brown and Ryan Tannehill are relishing the arrival of Julio Jones after the Tennessee Titans sealed a trade for the star wide receiver.

The Titans sent a 2022 second-round draft pick as well as a 2023 fourth-round selection to the Atlanta Falcons to get Jones and a 2023 sixth-round pick in return.

Jones had been connected with a number of NFL franchises after expressing his desire to leave the Falcons – who struggled to a 4-12 record in 2020 – after 10 successful seasons.

He will now team up with Pro Bowler Brown to catch passes from quarterback Tannehill on a Titans team that also contains Offensive Player of the Year running back Derrick Henry.

"I looked at my phone, and my daughter was laying next to me and I jumped out of bed, and said, 'Is this really real?' I kind of woke my daughter up," Brown – who has said Jones has inspired his journey to the NFL – said about the moment he found out a deal had been done.

"I had to calm down for a little bit. When I got the news, it was kind of crazy. My phone started blowing up. 

"I think this is really huge for Tennessee, not just for me, but this is huge for the city, our team. We are glad to have him.

"The city right now is electric, [fans] are pumped to get a guy like Julio Jones on the team. I think the team loves it, guys are reaching out. I think everyone is really pleased with it."

Jones has topped the NFL for receiving yards twice in his career (2015 and 2018), making the Pro Bowl on seven occasions.

While injuries limited him to nine games and 771 yards in 2020 and he turned 32 this year, the Titans hope Jones can still produce elite play that will help them launch a Super Bowl run.

"It is wild," said Tannehill. "I am excited, I am fired up. I didn't know if it was going to happen or not, and was kind of along for the ride like everybody else. My agent called me and said it was going to happen.

"I am excited. How could you not be excited to play for a guy with the calibre of talent Julio is and has been for his whole career? 

"I am excited to get to know him as a person and welcome him to the team."

Titans general manager Jon Robinson insists Jones will play the team game in pursuit of success despite his illustrious individual achievements.

"In my discussion with Julio, what's his number one goal, it wasn't about [receiving] targets, it wasn't about that, his goal is to win," he said.

"That's the mindset we're looking for, whether that's nine targets, whether that's two targets or no targets. Contribute to winning the football game – that's the mindset he has and that's the mindset we have as a football team.

"He's big, he's fast, he's tough, he's great with the ball in his hands, willing blocker. 

"A lot of the things we ask of our receivers, it's get open, catch and block. He certainly checks those boxes and has done it at a high level for a lot of years in the National Football League."

The Titans have had five straight winning seasons, reaching the AFC Championship game in 2019 before going 11-5 to win the AFC South last year, only to lose to the Baltimore Ravens in the Wildcard round.

With Jones joining Tannehill, Brown and Henry, hopes are high for a deep postseason run.

"We don't set expectations," added Robinson. "Everybody has a chance to go the distance and win the thing. 

"Ultimately, it's our job to try to put a team out there that's going to be competitive, that's going to play stylistically the way that we want to play and I'm excited about this team."

The Tennessee Titans have agreed trade terms with the Atlanta Falcons for wide receiver and seven-time Pro Bowler Julio Jones.

Jones signed a three-year contract extension with the Falcons in 2019, reportedly worth $66million.

However, the two-time NFL receiving yards leader, who has called Atlanta home since being drafted sixth in 2011, wil join up with the Titans pending a successful medical. 

The full terms include Tennessee trading their 2022 second-round pick and a 2023 fourth-round selection to Atlanta in exchange for Jones and a sixth-round pick in 2023.

Jones played in nine games last season after suffering a hamstring injury that kept him sidelined for the majority of the second half of the campaign as the Falcons (4-12) finished bottom of the NFC South.

The 32-year-old caught 51 passes for 771 yards and three touchdowns in 2020.

Since entering the NFL with the Falcons, Jones has led the league in receiving twice (1,871 yards in 2015 and 1,677 yards in 2018) and three times in yards per game (2015, 2016 and 2018).

Overall, Jones has amassed 948 receptions for 12,896 yards and 60 touchdowns throughout his career.

One of the premier pass-catching weapons in the NFL over the last decade is available for trade, and Julio Jones should have no shortage of suitors, with several contending teams likely to see him as the final piece of the puzzle on offense.

A seven-time Pro Bowler who led the NFL in receiving yards in 2015 and 2018, Jones has the resume of an all-time great.

Since he entered the league in 2011 as the sixth overall pick of the Atlanta Falcons, no player has more receiving yards than Jones, with his 12,896 putting him well clear of Antonio Brown (11,579) in second.

Jones also has 119 receptions of 25 yards or more in that time, again the best mark in the league ahead of T.Y. Hilton (104).

He has topped 1,300 yards in six of the last seven seasons, but a 2020 campaign in which he missed seven games and posted his lowest yards per game average (85.7) since 2012 raises the question about whether Jones can truly be considered among the best of the best at his position.

With a parting with the Falcons seemingly imminent, Stats Perform analysed the data to examine whether Jones is still a receiver who can put a contending team over the top.

Big-play beast

As his career tally of plays of 25 yards or more illustrates, Jones has long since been one of the premier big-play threats in the NFL.

His comparative lack of time on the field in 2020 meant he produced only seven such plays last season. However, even though he played just over half of the games, Jones still proved himself an efficient downfield threat.

Jones produced a 'big play', a burn for 20 yards or a burn for a touchdown, on 27 of his 67 targets, giving him a big-play percentage of 40.2 that was eighth among wide receivers with at least 50 snaps and 50 targets.

It was also a marked improvement on his performance in that metric in 2019.

Over the larger sample size of 157 targets, Jones registered 53 big plays, a percentage of 33.9 that put him 22nd among receivers with a minimum of 50 snaps and targets.

Jones may be getting older, but last season's numbers indicated he is getting better at finding ways to make impact plays down the field.

And he has remained consistent when it comes to regularly winning his matchup with opposing defenders.

Burn notice

At 6ft 3in and 220 pounds, Jones' athleticism and route-running ability has continually made him a nightmare for cornerbacks to defend.

The 4.3 speed with which he entered the league may have declined somewhat, but any drop-off in his physical gifts has not hindered his success in getting the better of those tasked with guarding him.

Jones recorded a burn, which is when a receiver wins his matchup with a defender on a play where he is targeted regardless of whether the pass is considered catchable, on 63.7 per cent of his targets in 2019.

That was comfortably above the average of 60.9 for receivers with at least 50 snaps and 50 targets, and he improved on that in 2020, recording a burn percentage of 73.1 ranking sixth among wideouts to meet those thresholds.

Only seven receivers had a higher burn yards per route average than Jones' 3.2 in 2019, and he marginally bettered that last season as he finished with 3.3, level with Justin Jefferson, who set the rookie record for receiving yards with 1,400.

Jones was also seventh in burn yards per target (13.69) among receivers with 50 snaps and targets last year, demonstrating he can still regularly leave defenders trailing in his wake, providing his health allows him to deliver the kind of influential displays that have defined his career.

Situation critical

A lingering hamstring injury restricted Jones' availability in 2020 as the Falcons endured a 4-12 season, and his failure to shake off a soft tissue problem may raise concerns over whether teams can rely on him to stay on the field and contribute.

But franchises interested in investing in Jones' services need not look far for an example of a comparable player performing at a Pro Bowl level at this stage of their career.

Jones turned 32 in February, and can draw inspiration from Larry Fitzgerald, who racked up 1,215 yards during his age 32 season in 2015, helping the Arizona Cardinals to the NFC Championship Game.

Fitzgerald was invigorated by the coaching of Bruce Arians and the opportunity to play with a quarterback of Carson Palmer's talents, and his 2015 campaign was the first of three successive 1,000-yard seasons. Fitzgerald led the NFL in receptions in 2016.

The success of Fitzgerald during that span is instructive is it was partially a product of Arians' abilities as a play-caller and the undoubted upside offered by Palmer, a former number one overall pick who led the NFL in passing touchdowns for the second time in his career in 2015.

Situation plays a substantial role in the performance of any player and Jones could land in one of several excellent spots. A reunion with Kyle Shanahan, who oversaw Jones' most productive season (1,871 yards) in 2015, with the San Francisco 49ers has been mooted.

The New England Patriots and their talented offensive play-caller Josh McDaniels are also credited with an interest in Jones, as are the Baltimore Ravens, who boast a former MVP at quarterback in Lamar Jackson, and the Seattle Seahawks and Russell Wilson, whose superb accuracy saw him throw an interceptable pass on just 2.64 per cent of throws in 2020.

Jones compares extremely well with Fitzgerald as a physically imposing and dependable receiver who dropped only one pass last season after registering two drops in 2019.

While conventional wisdom would point to him declining as he gets up there in age, the numbers suggest he may in fact be getting better. For the contending team lands him, Jones still has what it takes to be a pivotal element of a potential Super Bowl-winning picture.

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver and seven-time Pro Bowler Julio Jones said he is set to leave the NFL franchise.

Jones signed a three-year contract extension with the Falcons in 2019, reportedly worth $66million.

However, the two-time NFL receiving yards leader – who has called Atlanta home since being drafted sixth in 2011 – has been the subject of trade talks this offseason.

Amid links with the Dallas Cowboys, Jones told FS1's "Undisputed" show: "I'm outta there."

Jones played in nine games last season after suffering a hamstring injury that kept him sidelined for majority of the second half of the campaign as the Falcons (4-12) finished bottom of the NFC South.

The 32-year-old caught 51 passes for 771 yards and three touchdowns in 2020.

Jones added: "Right now I wanna win."

Since entering the NFL with the Falcons, Jones has led the league in receiving twice (1,871 yards in 2015 and 1,677 yards in 2018) and three times in yards per game (2015, 2016 and 2018).

Overall, Jones has amassed 948 receptions for 12,896 yards and 60 touchdowns throughout his career.

Highly touted quarterbacks? Check. Oversized stage? Check. Raucous Fans? Check.

A year after holding a virtual NFL Draft in Commissioner Roger Goodell’s basement due to concerns over the coronavirus, the 2021 draft descended on Cleveland, Ohio on Thursday, with Goodell once again sharing bro-hugs with the prospects on stage in front of thousands of vaccinated and mask-wearing fans.

Although the easy chair from Goodell’s basement did make the trip to the stage, this year’s edition of the draft felt much more normal than a year ago – and it began exactly as nearly everyone expected.

The Jacksonville Jaguars chose Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence first overall and the New York Jets went with BYU quarterback Zach Wilson at number two.

Considered to be the most polished QB prospect in years, Lawrence threw for 10,098 yards in his collegiate career, while going 34-2 as a starter with the Tigers and winning the 2018 National Championship.

Wilson had been linked to the Jets for months after throwing for 3,692 yards with 33 touchdown passes to only three interceptions last season, and New York hopes he can be the franchise’s answer at QB and lead the team to the playoffs for the first time since 2010 after the recently traded and 2018 No. 3 pick Sam Darnold never lived up to expectations.

A quarterback had also been projected to go third overall ever since the San Francisco 49ers traded up to that position weeks ago, the only question was who – Trey Lance out of FCS powerhouse North Dakota State, two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Justin Fields from Ohio State or Alabama national champion Mac Jones.

The tight-lipped 49ers ended weeks of suspense by drafting Lance, who has only played in one game since the 2019 season but led the Bison to the FCS title that year while accounting for 42 total touchdowns without an interception.

With the surprising Lance going to San Francisco, this became just the third time in the common draft era that started in 1967 – and first time since 1999 – quarterbacks went 1-2-3 in the NFL draft.

The consensus top five QBs - Lawrence, Wilson, Lance, Fields and Jones – had been slated to all get drafted in the top 10, but Fields and Jones were still on the board after 10 picks.

The Chicago Bears decided not to sit on their hands, trading up nine spots with the New York Giants to grab Fields, a dual-threat QB who finished his collegiate career with 5,701 passing yards and 67 TDs through the air.

The Patriots were more patient, selecting Jones with the 15th pick – a spot few believed he would still be available. Jones threw for 4,500 yards with 41 touchdowns to just four picks in leading Alabama last season, and became the first quarterback selected in the first round during Bill Belichick’s 21-year tenure in New England.

Jones also became the final QB selected in the first round, making this only the fourth time at least five QBs were drafted in round number one, along with 2018, 1999 and the famous 1983 draft, when six were selected.

Not only were QBs a hot commodity, so were their targets.

The Atlanta Falcons made Florida’s Kyle Pitts the highest drafted tight end in history when they picked him fourth overall after he had 43 catches for 770 yards and 12 TDs in 2020.

The Cincinnati Bengals and Miami Dolphins drafted who they hope will be their franchise quarterbacks in the 2020 first round, and this year they each focused on providing them with a playmaker they were familiar with.

Cincinnati selected LSU wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase with the fifth pick, teaming him 2020 No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow, the quarterback who led the Tigers to the 2019 FBS title. In 26 games played together in 2018 and 2019, Burrow targeted Chase 162 times, resulting in 107 receptions for 2,093 yards and 23 touchdowns.

One pick later, the Dolphins chose Alabama receiver Jaylen Waddle, reuniting him with college quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, last year’s fifth pick. Waddle only appeared in six games last season because of a broken left ankle, but he left Alabama with 106 receptions for 1,999 yards and 17 touchdowns over three years.

The reunions continued with the 10th pick, when the Philadelphia Eagles traded up to select 2020 Heisman Trophy-winning wide receiver DeVonta Smith to get him back with former Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts, the 53rd overall pick a year ago. Smith, who put up eye-popping numbers in 2020 with 117 receptions for 1,856 yards and 23 touchdowns, was a teammate of Hurts in 2017 and 2018.

While the Bengals, Dolphins and Eagles reunited former teammates, the Jaguars decided to go ahead and just bring aboard one of Lawrence’s teammates from this past season, selecting Clemson running back Travis Etienne with the 25th pick, making this the first time in the common draft era a quarterback and running back from the same school were drafted by the same team in the first round.

Etienne was a workhorse for the past four years with the Tigers, racking up 4,952 rushing yards and 70 touchdowns on the ground while averaging 7.2 yards per carry.

Etienne became the second running back selected in the first round after the Pittsburgh Steelers took Alabama’s Najee Harris one pick earlier.

With the Denver Broncos nabbing Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain II ninth overall and the Las Vegas Raiders drafting Crimson Tide offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood at No. 17, Harris became the sixth player from Alabama drafted in the first round, matching the University of Miami from 2004 for the most players selected from one school in the first round.

While the draft started with offensive players being selected with the first seven picks for the first time ever, the final five picks of the opening round were all defensive players, concluding with the defending Super Bowl champions the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selecting linebacker Joe Tryon out of Washington with the 32nd pick.

The Atlanta Falcons selected Kyle Pitts with the fourth overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, adding a tight end who has drawn universal acclaim in the pre-draft process. 

Amid a scramble for quarterbacks at the top of the draft order, Pitts was widely considered the best non-QB on the board.

Tight ends have not typically been rated highly in the NFL Draft; although two went in the top 20 in 2019, there were none taken in the first round last year.

But Pitts is a dominant athlete and had 43 catches for 770 yards and 12 touchdowns for Florida in 2020. He ran 216 routes and was targeted 67 times.

The 6ft 6in, 240-pound star led the Gators in receiving TDs, helping QB Kyle Trask top the FBS with 43 passing scores.

Pitts showed his physical prowess as he ranked third among Power 5 tight ends last year with 47 burns – matchups in which he beat his defender that are measured regardless of whether a pass was catchable.

None of his rivals had more burn-touchdowns (15) or burn-yards (849).

Record-breaking Alabama catcher DeVonta Smith was the only Power 5 wide receiver with more burn-touchdowns (26).

There's a new era in Atlanta and, following the hiring of Arthur Smith as head coach, there is plenty of cause for Falcons fans to be hopeful of better days ahead. 

Things can hardly get much worse than in 2020, when the Falcons slumped to a 4-12 record, with head coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff fired after an 0-5 start. 

Smith's arrival will foster optimism the offense can scale new heights in 2021, the former Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator having played a pivotal role in revitalising Ryan Tannehill's career.  

But he and new GM Terry Fontenot have some significant decisions to make in a challenging offseason if their partnership is to hit the ground running in 2021. 

Using Stats Perform data, we reflect on the year that was for the Falcons and look at what they will need to do to improve on a rather forgettable campaign. 

Offense 

You will find few quarterbacks who experienced more frustrating seasons than Matt Ryan, who continued to serve as one of the most productive signal-callers in the NFL in 2020. 

He was fourth in the NFL in passing yards with 4,581 and was tied seventh in big plays, delivering 32 completions of 25 yards or more. 

The big-play element that was clearly present in the Falcons' offense contributed to them finishing the year ninth in scoring efficiency. 

Despite Ryan's performances in leading a prolific group, the Falcons never threatened to contend. 

On the offensive side of the ball, the running game should take a large portion of the blame for that failure.

The Falcons were not a balanced offense, with Atlanta averaging just 3.75 yards per run play. The Pittsburgh Steelers (3.62) were the sole team to fare worse on the ground.

Atlanta's 34 rushes of 10 yards or more were tied for 30th in the NFL, the production from running backs Todd Gurley and Brian Hill not living up to that of Calvin Ridley and Julio Jones in the passing game.

Ridley was tied-fifth in the NFL in receiving yards with 1,374 while no pass-catcher had more than his 23 receptions of 20 yards or more.

While the running game needs to improve, the primary reason for the stellar efforts of Ryan and Ridley being wasted was the dismal play of a porous defense.

Defense

Worryingly for a Falcons franchise that invested a great deal in the defense in last year's draft, opponents moved the ball and scored on Atlanta at will in 2020. 

Atlanta ranked 23rd in offensive points allowed, giving up 414, with opposing passing games racking up 7.18 yards per play against the Falcons. 

Just three teams - the Detroit Lions, Jacksonville Jaguars and Minnesota Vikings - were more susceptible to the pass by that measure. 

The Falcons will hope for better out of last year's first-round pick A.J. Terrell, who was consistently exploited by quarterbacks and receivers in a trying rookie season. 

Terrell was targeted 95 times, the fourth-most of any player in the league, and gave up the third-most receptions (64) and joint-most yards (848).

In addition to the secondary struggling, the defensive front did not produce the desired pressure on opposing signal-callers, Atlanta finishing tied-23rd with 29 sacks.

The run defense was a little more of a bright spot, the Falcons 14th in yards per rush allowed with 4.41.

But the fact they still gave up 49 touchdown drives, the joint-eighth most in the league, despite their relative strength against the run, is indicative of the ground game's decreasing influence on offensive production and the issues in the secondary.

Simply put, for the Falcons to have a chance of even challenging the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints in the NFC South, the pass defense must make significant strides. The problem, however, is that the Falcons do not have a great deal of resources with which to make sure it does that.

Offseason

There is increasing talk of the Falcons using the fourth overall pick in this year's draft to select Ryan's successor, with Ohio State's Justin Fields, a native of Georgia, a popular choice for them in mock drafts.

Having the option to rid themselves of Ryan's contract, which will see him carry cap hits of over $40million in 2021 and 2022, and instead start a rookie on a significantly cheaper deal, is something that should appeal to the Falcons.

But, regardless of the merits of Smith as a play-caller and the talent the Falcons have on offense, Fields or any other eventual replacement for Ryan will not be set up for success until the Falcons fix the defense.

The issue in that regard is the Falcons are set to be over $12m above an assumed salary cap of $185m.

That may prohibit them from keeping many of the 11 unrestricted free agents they have on defense, or aggressively pursuing potential signings on that side of the ball.

Compensatory picks are still to be revealed, but the Falcons are at present set to have just six selections in the 2021 NFL Draft.

If they do go with a quarterback in the first round, 2021 will likely be Ryan's last as a Falcon. And, should Atlanta prove unable to use their remaining capital to sufficiently improve the defense, the smart money will be on it being another of frustration for the quarterback who came agonisingly close to delivering the franchise its first Super Bowl crown.

The Atlanta Falcons have confirmed an agreement is in place with Arthur Smith to become their next head coach.

Smith has spent 10 years with the Tennessee Titans, the last two of those as their offensive coordinator.

The 38-year-old is set to replace Dan Quinn, who left along with general manager Thomas Dimitroff in October following the Falcons' 0-5 start.

Raheem Morris has been in temporary charge since then and guided the team to a 4-12 record.

Smith has also previously spent two years as the defensive quality assistant for the Washington Redskins from 2007-08.

The Falcons made the announcement on their official website on Friday, 24 hours after the New York Jets reached an agreement in principle with Robert Saleh to become their next head coach.

The Green Bay Packers secured the NFC's top seed on Sunday, while Derrick Henry led the Tennessee Titans to the AFC South title.

Aaron Rodgers again powered the Packers, throwing four touchdown passes in a win over the Chicago Bears.

Despite their loss, the Bears clinched a playoff spot, as did the Indianapolis Colts and Los Angeles Rams.

Meanwhile, Henry made history as the Titans won the AFC South, while the Washington Football Team claimed the NFC East.

 

RODGERS DOMINATES AGAIN AS PACKERS CLINCH TOP SEED

Rodgers completed 19 of 24 passes for 240 yards and four TDs in the Packers' 35-16 victory over the Bears.

The Packers quarterback connected for TDs with Robert Tonyan, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Dominique Dafney and Davante Adams.

Rodgers finished the regular season with 48 TD passes. Alongside Peyton Manning, they are the only players in NFL history with 45-plus TD passes in multiple seasons, according to NFL Research. They won the NFL MVP in each of the previous three instances.

While Green Bay finished with a 13-3 record, the 8-8 Bears also reached the playoffs.

 

HISTORY FOR HENRY AS TITANS WIN AFC SOUTH

The Titans claimed the AFC South for the first time since 2008 after a thrilling 41-38 win over the Houston Texans.

Henry became the eighth player in history to rush for at least 2,000 yards in a single season.

He had 250 rushing yards and two TDs against the Texans. Of the eight players to achieve the feat, Henry was the only one who needed 200-plus yards in his last game to get there, according to Stats Perform.

A.J. Brown had 151 receiving yards, but the Titans needed Sam Sloman's 37-yard field goal as time expired to edge the Texans.

The Titans became the first team in NFL history to have a 250-yard rusher and 150-yard receiver in the same game.

 

WASHINGTON WIN NFC EAST AS COLTS, RAMS REACH PLAYOFFS

The Washington Football Team claimed the NFC East thanks to a 20-14 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.

Alex Smith threw two touchdown passes and two interceptions as Washington (7-9) claimed the division.

The Colts (11-5) reached the playoffs thanks to a 28-14 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, while the Los Angeles Rams (10-6) are also into the postseason after beating the Arizona Cardinals 18-7.

 

Week 17 scores:

Minnesota Vikings 37-35 Detroit Lions
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 44-27 Atlanta Falcons
New England Patriots 28-14 New York Jets
Buffalo Bills 56-26 Miami Dolphins
Cleveland Browns 24-22 Pittsburgh Steelers
New York Giants 23-19 Dallas Cowboys
Baltimore Ravens 38-3 Cincinnati Bengals
Indianapolis Colts 28-14 Jacksonville Jaguars
Tennessee Titans 41-38 Houston Texans
Los Angeles Rams 18-7 Arizona Cardinals
New Orleans Saints 33-7 Carolina Panthers
Green Bay Packers 35-16 Chicago Bears
Los Angeles Chargers 38-21 Kansas City Chiefs
Seattle Seahawks 26-23 San Francisco 49ers
Las Vegas Raiders 32-31 Denver Broncos
Washington Football Team 20-14 Philadelphia Eagles

Chris Godwin paid tribute to Tom Brady after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback starred against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.

Brady completed 26 of 41 passes for 399 yards, four touchdowns and an interception in the Buccaneers' 44-27 victory.

The 43-year-old joined Peyton Manning as the only players in NFL history with 40-plus touchdown passes in a single season with multiple teams.

Godwin, who had 133 receiving yards and two TDs, hailed the quarterback.

"That's really dope. For a guy that is in the public spotlight so much and criticised so frequently, to still be doing it at such a high level at his age, it's so impressive," he told a news conference.

"Being able to see that every day, watching how hard he works, watching his attention to detail, I'm not surprised but it's definitely well deserved."

Only Green Bay Packers star Aaron Rodgers (three) has had more seasons with 40-plus TD passes than Brady's two.

Asked if he expected to perform so well in his first season with the Buccaneers, Brady was full of praise for his team-mates.  

"Whatever happens for me as a quarterback is reflective of what our group does on offense," he said.

"I love playing with the guys I play with, we've got a great group of receivers, great group of tight ends, very selfless, the backs have done an incredible job and the way the offensive line is playing and protecting gives any quarterback a great opportunity.

"It's a team sport, those are great team accomplishments and just proud of all the guys for what they put in this year.

"Now we're moving into the playoffs and got a great opportunity ahead of us, we've got to go and try to take advantage of it."

The Cleveland Browns ended the NFL's longest playoff drought as they held off the Pittsburgh Steelers in dramatic fashion to secure postseason football.

Needing a win to book their first playoff appearance since 2002, the Browns triumphed 24-22 in the final game of their regular season.

Joining the Browns in the playoffs are the Baltimore Ravens, who thrashed the Cincinnati Bengals 38-3 to take another of the seven available postseason spots on Sunday.

The Miami Dolphins' hopes took a blow as they succumbed to a heavy defeat to AFC East winners Buffalo Bills, while the Dallas Cowboys fell short at the final hurdle with a loss at the New York Giants, who need a favour from the Philadelphia Eagles.

 

BROWNS END 18-YEAR WAIT

After 17 seasons of being on the outside looking in, the Browns are into the playoffs thanks to a nerve-wracking victory over the Steelers enough to end a dismal run.

Cleveland had to shut down its practice facility four times over the course of the last eight days due to COVID-19 concerns but, inspired by Baker Mayfield, the Browns made it through.

Mayfield threw for 196 yards and one touchdown but led some decisive drives and sealed the victory with a first-down run at the death after Mason Rudolph had missed a two-point attempt that would have tied the game.

The Browns finish the regular season 11-5 – it is their best record since 1994, when Bill Belichick led them to their last win in a playoff game. 

Pittsburgh ultimately ended Cleveland's hopes that season, and the Steelers will be the Browns' first opponents in the playoffs next week. 

In another twist of fate, the Browns' only playoff appearance this century also came in Pittsburgh, where they lost 36-33.

JACKSON-INSPIRED RAVENS SOAR AND GIANTS ON THE BRINK

Lamar Jackson became the first quarterback in NFL history to top 1,000 rushing yards in successive seasons as he helped the Ravens to a massive, playoff-clinching win over the Bengals.

More records tumbled for the 2019 MVP, as the 23-year-old became the first QB to throw 46 red-zone touchdowns without an interception and takes the crown for the fastest QB to amass 30 wins.

Jackson, a former first-round pick, rushed for 97 yards on Week 17, as Baltimore won a fifth straight game with ease.

The Raves will now face the winner of the AFC South – either the Tennessee Titans or the Indianapolis Colts.

Meanwhile, the Giants will be rooting for the Eagles to overcome the Washington Football Team later on Sunday after their win over the Cowboys put them on the brink of the postseason.

Should Philly win, the Giants will clinch the NFC East title, though a Washington win would send Ron Rivera's team through.

DOLPHINS SINK, BRADY'S BUCS CAP OFF REGULAR SEASON IN STYLE

The Dolphins' playoff chances are slim after a 56-26 defeat to the Bills, as Josh Allen and Isaiah McKenzie – who ran in three touchdowns – blew them away in Buffalo.

Allen, who is in a race for the league's MVP award, threw 224 passing yards for three touchdowns on Sunday.

The third-year QB holds single-season franchise records for passing yards (4,544), touchdowns (37) and completions (396).

Miami must now rely on the Jacksonville Jaguars to pull off an unlikely win over the Indianapolis Colts to claim a playoff berth.

Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished a brilliant regular season with a 44-27 win over the Atlanta Falcons.

On his record-setting 299th start in the NFL, Tom Brady threw touchdown passes to Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown, as the six-time Super Bowl champion finished with a Tampa Bay single-season record 40.

Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Dan Marino are the only players other than Brady with multiple seasons of at least 40 touchdown passes.

Brady also picked out three-time Pro Bowler Mike Evans with a pass, who once again reached 1,000 receiving yards in a season for Tampa, though he then suffered a game-ending knee injury.

JEFFERSON INTO THE RECORD BOOKS

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson set a new Super Bowl-era record as he surpassed Anquan Boldin for the rookie with the most receiving yards in a season.

He is now second all-time behind Bill Groman, who holds a rookie record of 1,473 receiving yards, which he set in 1960.

Jefferson also set a Vikings franchise rookie record when he caught a 15-yard pass in the third quarter of a 37-35 win over the Detroit Lions, who will finish no lower than seventh in the current draft order.

 

Week 17 results (part one)

Baltimore Ravens 38-3 Cincinnati Bengals
Buffalo Bills 56-26 Miami Dolphins
Cleveland Browns 24-22 Pittsburgh Steelers
Minnesota Vikings 37-35 Detroit Lions
New England Patriots 28-14 New York Jets
New York Giants 23-19 Dallas Cowboys
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 44-27 Atlanta Falcons

 

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