NFL

Brady ready for challenge of facing 'tremendous' Rams defense

By Sports Desk January 21, 2022

Tom Brady has paid tribute to the "tremendous" Los Angeles Rams defense that he is tasked with getting the better of in the NFL playoffs.

In one of the standout games of the Divisional Round, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers host NFC West winners the Rams on Sunday.

The defending Super Bowl champions were beaten by the Rams on the road in Week 3 of the regular season but have home advantage this time around after claiming the number two seed in the NFC.

Tampa Bay eased to a 31-15 win over the Philadelphia Eagles in the Wild Card Round, while the Rams also encountered few problems in beating the Arizona Cardinals 34-11.

A star Rams defense, which includes the likes of cornerback Jalen Ramsey and defensive tackle Aaron Donald, held Arizona to just 183 yards.

It was the second-fewest total yards allowed in a playoff game in franchise history, behind only their 1989 Championship Game win over Tampa Bay.

Brady does not need any reminders about how difficult it is to play the Rams, who have won seven of their last eight meetings against the Bucs.

"It's a very, very challenging team," Brady told reporters ahead of the game. "Really good offense, tremendous defense, really well-coached, great specialists, so it can be very, very difficult game for us.

"It's a very talented football team, obviously one of the great teams in the NFL.

"This team does a lot of good things well. Obviously they rush the passer well, they cover you really well in the secondary, get a lot of turnovers - they sack the quarterback, strip sacks. 

"They have a lot of dynamic players. Obviously, Jalen Ramsey is one of the great corners in the league. So between the guys that they have in the secondary as well as the front, you know that you have no place that you can take off. 

"These guys are they can turn you over. They can make big plays like they did the other night when David Long got the pick six [against Arizona]."

Brady and the Bucs will take lessons from the 34-24 regular season defeat, but the veteran quarterback does not believe it can be factored in too much due to both teams changing since then.

He added: "All these games are a little bit independent from one another. 

"Any time you know your opponent, that always gives you a little bit of understanding of kind of what they do well and things you wish you would have done. 

"But it doesn't really matter what happened in October when we played them last. It's really about this game and what we learned from last game.  

"We had a very different team and I think it was a little bit of a different team they had too. It is going to require its own individual performance."

Last season the Bucs put a strong run together to finish the regular season that continued into postseason glory.

Brady, who is now three wins away from winning an eighth Super Bowl, was asked how he always seems to find another gear once the NFL season gets to December and beyond.

"For all of us, it's repeating good process – that is the important part about getting this time of year," added the 44-year-old.

"You don't do much different, you just do more of which got you here. The things that work we do more of and you try to eliminate all the other distractions. 

"I won't do anything extra this week. I just want to do football. That's all I want to do to prepare and get ready. That is how we should all approach it. 

"This isn't the time for trips to the movie theatres, it is time to lock in on football because this is all we have - three days left [of the season] and we have got to earn more. 

"So you just look at it like that, everything you can kind of put off till the end of the year. We just certainly hope the end of the year is not on Sunday night."

The win over the Eagles was Brady's 18th career playoff win by double digits. 

He has more playoff wins by double digits (18) and by single digits (17) than any other QB has total playoff wins (second is Joe Montana with 16 wins).

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  • Champions League final: Will Paris showpiece also be shootout for Ballon d'Or? Champions League final: Will Paris showpiece also be shootout for Ballon d'Or?

    Saturday sees Liverpool and Real Madrid go head-to-head in the final of the Champions League.

    After the trophy has been lifted, the medals handed out and the confetti all cleaned up, there will be talk of more individual matters.

    Discussions have already begun about which player will take home the coveted Ballon d'Or trophy this year, with the goalposts slightly moved for 2022.

    As the World Cup takes place in November and December, it has been decided that this year's award will be handed out in October, with the tournament in Qatar being included in consideration for the 2023 gong.

    It will also take into account the entirety of the 2021-22 season, rather than just the calendar year period.

    Therefore, it is probably safe to say that any players who play a key role in winning the Champions League will give themselves a huge advantage when it comes to voting later this year, and there are three in particular who have already been popping up in conversation.

    Here, Stats Perform takes a look at Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Karim Benzema, breaking down the numbers and trying to predict which one might be donning a tuxedo with a beaming smile at October's ceremony.

    Mohamed Salah

    At the halfway point of the season, you would have been forgiven for suspending betting on at least the Premier League's player of the year, and arguably the Ballon d'Or as well.

    Salah was unstoppable as Liverpool looked to push Manchester City in the title race, as well as steer their way through a tricky Champions League group.

    The Egypt international scored a hat-trick as Liverpool demolished Manchester United 5-0, becoming the first away player to score a hat-trick at Old Trafford for over 18 years, since Ronaldo did so for Real Madrid back in April 2003 in the Champions League.

    At that point, Salah had bagged 15 goals in 12 games for Liverpool for the season, and had only failed to score in one.

    He had 23 goals in all competitions to his name by the time he left to compete in the Africa Cup of Nations in early January, where he helped Egypt reach the final in Cameroon.

    It was heartbreak for Salah and The Pharaohs though, losing on penalties to Senegal, before experiencing exactly the same outcome against the same opposition in their World Cup qualifying play-off almost two months later.

    Salah returned to score crucial goals against Inter in the Champions League last 16 and Norwich City in the Premier League, but after that went 11 games in all competitions without scoring a goal in open play, before bagging another two against United in a 4-0 win at Anfield.

    There were a further seven games without a goal at all after that, though when he came off the bench to score against Wolves on the final day of the season, if it had not been for City's comeback against Aston Villa, Salah would have scored the goal to win his team the Premier League title.

    Salah ended the season with 31 goals in all competitions, as well as 15 assists. He lifted the EFL Cup and FA Cup before missing out on Premier League glory.

    If he can get the "revenge" he is openly seeking against Madrid for their 2018 Champions League final victory against the Reds and make it a trophy treble, he could well be top of the list in the Ballon d'Or voting.

    Sadio Mane

    Like Salah, Mane had an impressive start to the season as he scored in nine of his team's first 16 games in all competitions, though had a drier period just before the Africa Cup of Nations, scoring just once in 10 outings.

    Where Mane arguably has the edge over his rivals is his showing in Cameroon. Though he only scored three goals during the tournament, he played a big part in key moments.

    He netted a pressure stoppage-time penalty in the opening game against Zimbabwe that turned out to be their only goal in the group stage, therefore crucial in them progressing. Mane then scored the opener against Cape Verde in the last 16, and a late clincher against Burkina Faso in the semi-finals.

    Mane then took the weight of a nation on his shoulders as he slammed home the winning penalty in the shoot-out against Egypt in the final.

    By the time he returned to club action with Salah, Luis Diaz had arrived at Anfield and already taken up residence in Mane's usual position on the left of the front three.

    It wasn't a problem, though, as Mane simply reinvented himself as a central striker, scoring a vital winner against West Ham before repeating the trick of scoring a pressure penalty against Egypt to send Senegal to this year's World Cup.

    Mane really started to motor as Liverpool looked to win an unprecedented quadruple, scoring nine goals in his last 13 games, including in both the league draw and FA Cup semi-final win against Man City, and then in both legs of the Champions League semi-final against Villarreal.

    His numbers still might not quite match up to Salah or Benzema, with 23 goals and two assists in 50 appearances in all competitions at club level, but he did only score two fewer non-penalty goals than Salah (25).

    His ability to turn important games and a potential medal collection of EFL Cup, FA Cup, Africa Cup of Nations and Champions League all since January should put him in a strong position.

    Karim Benzema

    Calling Benzema the man for the big occasion still doesn't feel like it quite does him justice. The 34-year-old is in the form of his life, showing that age really is just a number.

    Benzema has made headlines throughout the season, mostly for his uncanny ability to come up with important goals in the Champions League, and he is without doubt the main reason Madrid made it past the last 16, let alone all the way to the final.

    Five goals in the group stages from Benzema helped Los Blancos to a last 16 meeting with Paris Saint-Germain, with Kylian Mbappe and company taking a 1-0 lead into the second leg at the Santiago Bernabeu.

    Mbappe was dominating again that night, making it 2-0 on aggregate and getting through time and again, until Benzema took over.

    His 17-minute hat-trick turned the tie on its head, and sent Carlo Ancelotti's team through to face Chelsea, who Benzema also scored a treble against at Stamford Bridge.

    Though Madrid struggled in the second leg at home, Benzema's extra-time strike sent them into the semis, where Man City awaited.

    Two more goals from Benzema in the 4-3 defeat at the Etihad Stadium gave them a fighting chance, and though it was Rodrygo who caused all the drama in the closing stages of normal time of the second leg, it was Benzema from the penalty spot who ultimately took his team to the final.

    As this year's Ballon d'Or takes into account the whole season, you would have to assume that includes the 2020-21 Nations League, which Benzema and France won in October, with his goals in the semi-final win against Belgium and the final success against Spain seeing Les Bleus lift the trophy.

    Benzema was also unstoppable in LaLiga, with his 27 goals being nine more than anyone else managed in the Spanish top flight, and he scored an incredible 44 goals in 45 games in all competitions.

    He has also been almost as creative as Salah and more so than Mane, with 83 chances created and 20 big chances created (a chance from which the attacker would be expected to score), while Salah created 85 chances and 21 big chances, and Mane 63 chances and 14 big chances.

    So, there are the three cases. For me, if the Spanish giants win, I think you can close the betting on Benzema.

    However, should Liverpool lift the trophy, it could lead to an interesting few months as people debate whether Salah's slightly superior numbers or Mane's international credentials mean more.

    Whatever happens, you can be sure that whichever horse you back, you will end up having an argument with someone somewhere who thinks Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo should win the crown again.

  • Kane pinpoints Tom Brady inspiration after early struggles at Tottenham Kane pinpoints Tom Brady inspiration after early struggles at Tottenham

    Harry Kane has revealed he took much of his early inspiration and self-belief from watching NFL star Tom Brady, who hinted at his retirement U-turn to the Tottenham forward.

    Kane came through Tottenham's youth academy and was promoted to the first team in 2009, before being sent out on various loans to Leyton Orient, Millwall, Leicester City and Norwich City.

    The striker struggled throughout those loan spells, scoring just 11 goals across four seasons, but started to find his feet when Mauricio Pochettino took charge of Spurs in 2014.

    Kane has since managed 183 goals in 279 appearances for Tottenham, winning the Premier League Golden Boot award three times, and acknowledged the role Brady played in helping him realise his ambitions.

    The England international has also been celebrated in the Museum of London, with a free display aimed at inspiring the younger generations to pursue their dreams.

    "I was good when I was younger, but I don't think I was the best player on the team. I really had to work hard to prove people wrong," Kane told Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show in the United States.

    "I think that's what made me who I am today and got me to the level I got to. That kind of self-belief, that drive, that determination. 

    "That's why the museum is there, so kids can go and look and see my journey and hopefully one day they will be inspired to be where I am.

    "One thing that inspired me growing up was a Tom Brady documentary. I was away at another club on loan and I wasn't getting in the team and I was 18 years old and I was like: 'If I can't play here, how can I play for my team Tottenham?'

    "Then I came across the documentary on YouTube called The Brady Six and it was about how he got picked in the sixth round and how he became one of the greatest sportsmen ever. It just gave me a real belief that it was possible for me to go on and have that career."

    It appeared as though the 2021 season would be Brady's last when he announced his retirement after seven Super Bowl wins.

    But the quarterback backtracked on that decision, returning to Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he has one year remaining on his contract.

    Kane suggested he already knew the 44-year-old was going to change his mind when the pair met after a clash between Spurs and Manchester United in March.

    "He came to one of our games in the UK about two months ago, it was actually the day before he announced he was coming back to play," Kane said.

    "And I asked him: 'How you getting on? How's retirement treating you?' And his face was just like: 'Mmmmm, I'm not sure if I'm ready yet.' The next day he announced it."

  • Kane targets breaking Rooney's England record in Qatar Kane targets breaking Rooney's England record in Qatar

    Harry Kane is hoping to break Wayne Rooney's England goalscoring record at the World Cup later this year, as he looks to help the Three Lions improve on their 2018 semi-final appearance.

    Kane has scored 49 goals in 69 appearances for England after moving level with Bobby Charlton's international tally in a 2-1 friendly win over Switzerland at Wembley in March.

    The Tottenham striker is now just four goals behind Rooney's Three Lions record, despite playing 50 international games fewer than the Manchester United legend.

    Indeed, Kane has averaged 0.71 goals per game for his country, compared to Rooney's 0.45, and it looks to be a matter of time before Gareth Southgate's captain establishes himself as the greatest goalscorer in the national team's history.

    Kane also enjoyed a successful season at club level, registering 17 goals and nine assists in the Premier League to help Antonio Conte's Spurs to Champions League qualification.

    Speaking on The Tonight Show, the Spurs talisman expressed his excitement for England to build on their 2018 World Cup semi-final loss to Croatia, as he targeted breaking Rooney's record in Qatar.

    "I'm excited," Kane told host Jimmy Fallon. "In the last World Cup we got to the semi-finals, which was the furthest we've gone in the tournament for 30 years.

    "The country was going mad, but we fell just that one step short. I'm looking forward to this one as we've got a really good coach and a really good team. 

    "We've been building nicely to this World Cup, and hopefully I can break the goal record while we're there."

    Kane could even break the record before the tournament, with England facing four Nations League contests next month, including clashes with Germany and Euro 2020 final conquerors Italy.

    The 28-year-old scored six goals as England progressed to the final four of the last World Cup in Russia, and a repeat performance would also see him become his country's record goalscorer at the competition, with Gary Lineker having scored 10 goals across the 1986 and 1990 tournaments.

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