Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians says it would be a "travesty" if 44-year-old quarterback Tom Brady does not win the MVP award.

Brady had 485 completions from 719 passing attempts for 5,316 yards and 43 touchdown passes across the regular season, which was the league-best across all categories.

The Bucs QB becomes the third quarterback following Drew Brees (2018) and Peyton Manning (2013) to lead the league in all four major statistical categories since 1991. Brady's 485 completions was an NFL single-season record.

Brady produced a three-touchdown display in the Bucs' 41-17 win over the Caroline Panthers on Sunday to reinforce his credentials with the home crowd chanting "MVP!".

"I think if he doesn't get it, it's a travesty," Arians told reporters on Monday. "Most completions ever, 5,000 yards, touchdowns - the whole nine yards. To me, it's not even a close race."

Brady's 5,316 passing yards was also the third-most in NFL history, beating his own personal record of 5,235 yards from 2011.

Bucs tight end Rob Gronkowski said: "It just shows what his work ethic is, how dedicated he is to the game of football and just how talented he is.

"Just his determination week in and week out - it's just unbelievable. And it's just surreal how he's pulling it off at age 44 and just coming out here like he's in his 20s still, just winging that ball, zipping it where it needs to be, making fantastic throws week in and week out."

Gronkowski added: "Tom's the MVP every year. Just the way he adjusts on the fly to his personnel, just trying to get the ball into the best players' hands or the best matchup on that current play - he's just always ready to go no matter what the situation is. He's the MVP every year."

Tom Brady was thrilled to see the Tampa Bay Buccaneers claim the number two seed in the NFC as he set his sights on the playoffs after reaching a host of new landmarks in Week 18.

The defending Super Bowl champions responded to a turbulent week following the release of Antonio Brown with a comprehensive 41-17 home win over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.

It meant the Bucs finished at 13-4, a franchise record for victories, and were 7-1 at home, their overall record tying that of the Green Bay Packers for the best in the NFL.

The win, coupled with a defeat for the Los Angeles Rams against the San Francisco 49ers, meant the Bucs improved their seeding in the last game of the season.

While some teams opted to rest their star players going into the playoffs, Brady stayed on the field until the fourth quarter, completing 29 of 37 passes for three touchdowns.

The quarterback's 5,316 passing yards for the 2021 season is his best career total – and the third-highest tally ever recorded in NFL history - while his 43 TDs for the year set a new Bucs record.

Brady became only the second QB in history, along with Drew Brees, to have multiple 5,000-yard seasons.

He also broke a record previously held by Brees (471 in 2016) for the most pass completions in a season, finishing up with 485.

With history made, Brady will now set his sights on the Bucs repeating as Super Bowl champions, which would give him a historic eighth world title if achieved.

They start against the Philadelphia Eagles in the Wild Card Round, and moving ahead of the Rams means they would also be at home in the Divisional Round should they progress. 

"In the end it's a great achievement to get the two-seed and it just felt good to win," said Brady.

"With other teams, you can't ever control any of those things. Even thinking ahead for the next game [in the playoffs] – you are worrying about two games from now. 

"Even if the Rams had won, I'm not worried about two games from now, I'm worried about one game from now, which is the Eagles.

"We've still got the Eagles and that's going to be the biggest game of our season. If we win, whoever we play, wherever we play, we are still going, and that's what we want to do."

On the win over the Panthers, he added: "We got off to a little bit of a rough start but we found a way to get some rhythm, and when we do that it's pretty good. 

"We did a good job of taking care of the football, did a good job with penalties, good job in the red area, good job on third downs. We're going to have to keep it going."

Brady was not the only Bucs player to reach a significant milestone in Week 18.

Wide receiver Mike Evans (six catches for 89 yards and two TDs) extended his own record for the most consecutive seasons (eight) with at least 1,000 receiving yards to begin a career in the NFL.

Tight end Rob Gronkowski, who had seven catches for 137 yards, now has 32 career games with 100+ receiving yards, meaning he now stands alone above Tony Gonzalez atop the all-time list for his position.

Gronkowski had equalled Gonzalez last week and this was the first time since Weeks 5-6 in the 2016 season that he recorded back-to-back 100-yard games.

It is a timely run of form with star wideout Chris Godwin out injured and Brown no longer on the team.

"It's amazing the records [they set]," added Bucs coach Bruce Arians. "It seemed like there were five or six records every week.

"Thirteen wins and it hasn't been easy. We've had a lot of guys down all season so I can't say enough about our front office having a great roster."

Antonio Brown's Tampa Bay Buccaneers career is officially over after his contract was terminated on Thursday.

There was drama when Brown astonishingly made a bizarre exit from the Bucs' win over the New York Jets last Sunday.

Brown removed his jersey and pads and left the field with Tampa Bay trailing 24-10 in the third quarter at MetLife Stadium, the wide receiver jumping in the endzone and waving to fans before running down the tunnel.

He subsequently left the stadium in an Uber and there was never likely to be a way back for the 33-year-old.

Brown accused Tampa Bay of a cover-up in a lengthy statement, revealing he will have surgery on his injured ankle.

He then on Thursday took to social media to post screenshots of text exchanges he had with Bruce Arians last week, informing the Bucs head coach that he was struggling with the ankle problem.

Brown then tweeted: "Don't get it twisted. My brothers have been good to me. From Tom [Brady] to practice squad, we were a top-level unit.

"They have been good to me and knew nothing about my talks with coach last week. The team mishandled this situation. They let me down and, more importantly, my teammates."

Tampa Bay later confirmed Brown has been released.

The franchise said in a statement: "The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have terminated the contract of Antonio Brown, effective immediately.

"While Antonio did receive treatment on his ankle and was listed on the injury report the week leading up to last Sunday's game, he was cleared to play by our medical team prior to the start of the game and at no point during the game did he indicate to our medical personnel that he could not play.

"We have attempted, multiple times throughout this week, to schedule an evaluation by an outside orthopaedic specialist, yet Antonio has not complied.

"Maintaining the health and wellness of our players is of the utmost importance to our organisation."

Antonio Brown has accused the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of a cover-up in a lengthy statement following his bizarre exit from their game with the New York Jets, while also revealing he will have surgery on his injured ankle.

Brown's time with the Buccaneers came to a remarkable end on Sunday when he took off his jersey and pads and left the field with Tampa Bay trailing 24-10 in the third quarter at MetLife Stadium, the wide receiver jumping in the endzone and waving to fans before running down the tunnel. He subsequently left the stadium in an Uber.

After the Bucs' comeback win, Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians said Brown was "no longer a Buc".

Brown has yet to be officially released, but the four-time first-team All-Pro claims that happened on the sideline and, in a statement released through his lawyer Sean Burstyn, hit back at accusations he quit on his team.

Explaining last Sunday's incident, the statement read in part: "I relented to pressure directly from my coach to play injured. Despite the pain, I suited up, the staff injected me with what I now know was a powerful and sometimes dangerous painkiller that the NFLPA has warned against using, and I gave it my all for the team. I played until it was clear that I could not use my ankle to safely perform my playing responsibilities.

"On top of that, the pain was extreme. I took a seat on the sideline and my coach came up to me, very upset, and shouted, "What's wrong with you? What's wrong with you?" I told him, "It's my ankle." But he knew that.

"He then ordered me to get on the field. I said, "Coach, I can't". He didn't call for medical attention. Instead, he shouted at me, "YOU'RE DONE!" while he ran his finger across his throat. Coach was telling me that if I didn't play hurt, then I was done with the Bucs.

"I didn't quit, I was cut. I didn't walk away from my brothers. I was thrown out. Being fired on the sideline for having a painful injury was bad enough. Then came their "spin". Coach denied on national television that he knew about my ankle. That's 100% inaccurate.

"I am reflecting on my reaction, but there was a trigger. The trigger was someone telling me that I'm not allowed to feel pain. I acknowledge my past. But my past does not make me a second-class citizen. My past does not forfeit my right to be heard when I am in pain."

Brown revealed he will have surgery after an MRI showed he has bone fragments in his ankle. He claims the MRI has been read by two top orthopedic surgeons but that the Bucs are attempting to force him to get another opinion from a more "junior" physician.

"As part of their ongoing cover-up, they are acting like I wasn't cut and now demanding I see a doctor of their choice to examine my ankle," the statement continued.

"What they did not know until now is that that on Monday morning I had an urgent MRI on my ankle. It shows broken bone fragments stuck in my ankle, the ligament torn from the bone, and cartilage loss. You can see the bone bulging from the outside. That must and can be repaired. The MRI has been read by two top orthopedic surgeons in NYC, including Dr. Martin O'Malley at Hospital for Special Surgery.

"Not realising that I had already scheduled a surgery at HSS, the Bucs 'ordered' me under penalty of discipline and with a few hours' notice to show up to a more junior doctor at HSS for another opinion. What a joke. They're playing like I wasn't cut, giving me a surprise attack "order" to show up to another doctor with no reasonable notice, and setting this whole thing up as a basis to cut me because what they did on Sunday was not legitimate.

"What the organisation is doing now needs to get cleaned up. I do not understand how people publicly claiming to be concerned about my mental health can do these things to me in private.

"Once my surgery is complete, I'll be back to 100 percent and looking forward to next season. Business gonna be BOOMIN!"

Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians insisted he had "no regrets" over signing Antonio Brown following his bizarre walk-off during the clash with the New York Jets on Sunday.

With the Buccaneers down 24-10 and just over three minutes left in the third quarter, Brown appeared to be talking to team-mate Mike Evans on the sidelines before removing his jersey and shoulder pads, taking off his under-shirt and throwing it into the crowd, and then waving as he jogged towards the tunnel.

The 33-year-old had taken three receptions for 26 yards before leaving the game, which the Bucs went on to win 28-24 and move to a 12-4 record in the NFC.

Speaking after the comeback victory, Arians told reporters: "He is no longer a Buc. That's the end of the story. Let's talk about the guys that went out there and won the game."

The Bucs signed Brown in October 2020 after a short stint at the New England Patriots in 2019.

Arians had initially called Brown a "diva" and said "there's no room" for him at the Bucs.

But despite an eight-game suspension for violating the league's personal conduct policy after punching a delivery truck driver, they did eventually sign him. 

He served another three-game ban this season after an NFL investigation found that he had produced a fake COVID-19 vaccine card.

Arians is happy with his decision to sign Brown, however, and hopes this latest incident can act as a turning point for the 33-year-old. 

"I have no regrets [over signing him]. I just hope the best for him," he told a media conference.

"It was very hard. I wish him well. If he needs help, I hope he gets some. It's very hard because I do care about him; I care about him a bunch. I hope that he's OK."

Asked if Brown told him he was injured, Arians said: "No. It's pretty obvious what happened. He left the field and that was it. We had a conversation, and he left the field."

Brown had played in just six games this season prior to Sunday, managing 39 receptions for 519 yards and four touchdowns.

Matthew Stafford inspired the Los Angeles Rams to move one step closer to securing their second straight NFC West title with a 20-19 win over the slumping Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.

The defeat for the Ravens, who were without quarterback Lamar Jackson for the third straight game, leaves them perilously close to slipping out of the Wild Card hunt after their fifth consecutive loss.

Justin Tucker's field goal had put the Ravens up 19-14 with 4:33 left but Stafford launched a game-winning 75-yard drive to overhaul the deficit.

Stafford completed a 15-yard pass to Tyler Higbee and a 24-yarder to Cooper Kupp, before finding Odell Beckham Jr twice in a row, with the latter being the decisive TD.

The Rams QB finished with 26 of 35 passes for two touchdowns but also two interceptions, including a Chuck Clark first-quarter pick six, as well as a sack.

Clark's TD was the Ravens' only for the game, as QB Tyler Huntley completed 20 of 32 passes for 197 yards.

Rams running back Sony Michel had 19 carries for 74 yards including a TD along with wide receiver Kupp with six receptions for 95 yards and one touchdown.

Over a month ago the Ravens had been 8-3 and looking good for the AFC top seed but now they are scrapping for a playoffs spot after a series of narrow defeats and desperate for Jackson's return.

Carlson field goal gives Raiders edge in Wild Card race

The Las Vegas Raiders claimed a crucial last-gasp win from Daniel Carlson's 33-yard field goal in the AFC Wild Card race with a 23-20 victory over the Indianapolis Colts.

Colts quarterback Carson Wentz cleared protocols for the game but completed 16 of 27 passes for 148 yards and one touchdown, while running back Jonathan Taylor had one TD from 20 carries for 108 yards, with the defeat marking the first this season when he has rushed more than 100 yards.

The Raiders pipped the Colts in the final quarter, trailing 17-13 at the final break with QB Derek Carr hitting Hunter Renfrow on a fourth-down play for a TD, before Michael Badgley squared the game with a 41-yard field goal, only for Carlson to win it with one from 33 yards as time expired. The Raiders improve to 9-7, pulling ahead of the 9-7 Colts in the AFC Wild Card race.

 

Bengals clinch maiden AFC North title

The Cincinnati Bengals clinched their first-ever AFC North title as Evan McPherson kicked a late 20-yard field goal to secure a 34-31 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase set an NFL rookie record and franchise record with 266 yards and three touchdowns on 11 catches, while QB Joe Burrow threw 30 of 39 passes for 446 yards and four touchdowns.

Burrow got the better of opposing QB Patrick Mahomes who completed 26 of 35 passes for 259 yards and two touchdowns as the Chiefs, who have already won the AFC West title, moved to 11-5.

 

Brady cool after Brown meltdown

Tom Brady was cool in a crisis after Antonio Brown stormed off the field as the NFC South-winning Tampa Bay Buccaneers rallied to win 28-24 over the New York Jets.

Brady completed 34 of 50 attempts for 410 yards and three touchdowns, including leading them on a 93-yard drive in the final minutes to clinch the victory.

The game was marred after Brown's meltdown, storming off the field in the third quarter with the Bucs 24-10 down, with head coach Bruce Arians confirming "he is no longer a Buc" after the game.

Matthew Stafford inspired the Los Angeles Rams to move one step closer to securing their second straight NFC West title with a 20-19 win over the slumping Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.

The defeat for the Ravens, who were without quarterback Lamar Jackson for the third straight game, leaves them perilously close to slipping out of the Wild Card hunt after their fifth consecutive loss.

Justin Tucker's field goal had put the Ravens up 19-14 with 4:33 left but Stafford launched a game-winning 75-yard drive to overhaul the deficit.

Stafford completed a 15-yard pass to Tyler Higbee and a 24-yarder to Cooper Kupp, before finding Odell Beckham Jr twice in a row, with the latter being the decisive TD.

The Rams QB finished with 26 of 35 passes for two touchdowns but also two interceptions, including a Chuck Clark first-quarter pick six, as well as a sack.

Clark's TD was the Ravens' only for the game, as QB Tyler Huntley completed 20 of 32 passes for 197 yards.

Rams running back Sony Michel had 19 carries for 74 yards including a TD along with wide receiver Kupp with six receptions for 95 yards and one touchdown.

Over a month ago the Ravens had been 8-3 and looking good for the AFC top seed but now they are scrapping for a playoffs spot after a series of narrow defeats and desperate for Jackson's return.

Carlson field goal gives Raiders edge in Wild Card race

The Las Vegas Raiders claimed a crucial last-gasp win from Daniel Carlson's 33-yard field goal in the AFC Wild Card race with a 23-20 victory over the Indianapolis Colts.

Colts quarterback Carson Wentz cleared protocols for the game but completed 16 of 27 passes for 148 yards and one touchdown, while running back Jonathan Taylor had one TD from 20 carries for 108 yards, with the defeat marking the first this season when he has rushed more than 100 yards.

The Raiders pipped the Colts in the final quarter, trailing 17-13 at the final break with QB Derek Carr hitting Hunter Renfrow on a fourth-down play for a TD, before Michael Badgley squared the game with a 41-yard field goal, only for Carlson to win it with one from 33 yards as time expired. The Raiders improve to 9-7, pulling ahead of the 9-7 Colts in the AFC Wild Card race.

 

Bengals clinch maiden AFC North title

The Cincinnati Bengals clinched their first-ever AFC North title as Evan McPherson kicked a late 20-yard field goal to secure a 34-31 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase set an NFL rookie record and franchise record with 266 yards and three touchdowns on 11 catches, while QB Joe Burrow threw 30 of 39 passes for 446 yards and four touchdowns.

Burrow got the better of opposing QB Patrick Mahomes who completed 26 of 35 passes for 259 yards and two touchdowns as the Chiefs, who have already won the AFC West title, moved to 11-5.

 

Brady cool after Brown meltdown

Tom Brady was cool in a crisis after Antonio Brown stormed off the field as the NFC South-winning Tampa Bay Buccaneers rallied to win 28-24 over the New York Jets.

Brady completed 34 of 50 attempts for 410 yards and three touchdowns, including leading them on a 93-yard drive in the final minutes to clinch the victory.

The game was marred after Brown's meltdown, storming off the field in the third quarter with the Bucs 24-10 down, with head coach Bruce Arians confirming "he is no longer a Buc" after the game.

Antonio Brown has apparently played his last game for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after head coach Bruce Arians declared that the wide receiver is "no longer a Buc".

Arians made the comments following Brown's bizarre walk off during the clash with the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on Sunday.

With the Buccaneers down 24-10 and just over three minutes left in the third quarter, Brown appeared to be talking to team-mate Mike Evans on the sidelines before removing his jersey and shoulder pads, taking off his under-shirt and throwing it into the crowd, and then waving as he jogged towards the tunnel.

The 33-year-old had taken three receptions for 26 yards before leaving the game, which the Bucs went on to win 28-24 and move to a 12-4 record in the NFC.

Speaking after the comeback victory, Arians told reporters: "He is no longer a Buc. That's the end of the story. Let's talk about the guys that went out there and won the game."

Brown had played in just six games this season prior to Sunday, managing 39 receptions for 519 yards and four touchdowns.

The Bucs signed Brown in October 2020 after a short stint at the New England Patriots in 2019, followed by two claims of retirement from the game before changing his mind.

Antonio Brown bizarrely walked off mid-game as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers faced the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on Sunday.

With the Buccaneers down 24-10 and just over three minutes left in the third quarter, Brown appeared to be talking to team-mate Mike Evans on the sidelines before removing his jersey and shoulder pads, taking off his under-shirt and throwing it into the crowd, and then waving as he jogged towards the tunnel.

The 33-year-old wide receiver had taken three receptions for 26 yards before leaving the game.

Brown had played in just six games this season prior to Sunday, managing 39 receptions for 519 yards and four touchdowns, and had been a doubt for the trip to the Jets with an ankle injury, but was able to play until he decided to leave of his own accord.

Tampa Bay had already clinched the NFC South Division title but were still hoping to add to their 11-4 record heading into this weekend as they seek to secure home advantage for the playoffs.

The Bucs signed Brown in October 2020 after a short stint at the New England Patriots in 2019, followed by two claims of retirement from the game before changing his mind.

Bruce Arians will be able to coach the Tampa Bay Buccaneers against the New York Jets after clearing coronavirus protocols.

Arians and wide receivers coach Kevin Garver have spent the week in isolation following positive tests for COVID-19.

However, both will be available for the Week 17 clash, and the Bucs could also have two cornerbacks back on their active roster.

Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting were each activated from the reserve/COVID-19 list having been placed on it on Tuesday.

They are listed on the injury report as questionable and, should the Bucs deem them ready to play, they will travel separately for the game in New Jersey. 

Tampa Bay head into the game 11-4, a game behind the 12-3 Green Bay Packers in the race for the one seed in the NFC.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers insist "no irregularities were observed" after a report contained the claim that Antonio Brown procured a fake COVID-19 vaccine card.

A story from the Tampa Bay Times featured the allegation that wide receiver Brown was willing to pay his former live-in chef Steven Ruiz $500 if he could obtain a vaccine card for the NFL star.

The report says Ruiz was unable to secure cards but claimed he was later shown fake documentation by Brown.

NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy said in a statement: "We are aware of the report and have been in contact with the club. We will review the matter."

While players in the NFL do not have to be vaccinated in order to play, those who are not jabbed face stricter restrictions under the league's protocols put in place to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

Brown's attorney, Sean Burstyn, was quoted by NFL Network reporter Ian Rapoport as saying "be like Antonio Brown and get the vaccine", and insisted his client is indeed vaccinated against COVID-19.

Defending Super Bowl champions the Bucs have now also reacted to the claims.

A team statement read: "After an extensive educational process conducted throughout our organisation this past offseason highlighting the benefit of COVID-19 vaccines, we received completed vaccination cards from all Tampa Bay Buccaneers players and submitted the required information to the NFL through the established process in accordance with league policy.

"All vaccination cards were reviewed by Buccaneers personnel and no irregularities were observed."

Brown missed the Bucs' week three game against the Los Angeles Rams after testing positive for COVID-19. He featured in the team's following three games before being sidelined by an ankle injury.

In Week 4, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers faced an AFC East defense and by, their standards, looked out of sync. In Week 5, they faced an AFC East defense and could hardly have looked more impressive.

Freed from the rainy confines of Foxborough and away from the defensive scheming of his old boss Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the Buccaneers routed a Miami Dolphins team whose rebuild appears poised to come crashing down 45-17 to improve to 4-1 on the season.

Back in the Florida sunshine, it was very much a return to business as usual for the Bucs, but, for Tampa Bay, business as usual is looking steadily more remarkable.

Speaking after Sunday's game, running back Leonard Fournette said: "Prior to the third quarter Rich [Richard Sherman] came up to me and said, 'Man, I've never been part of a team with so much talent.'

"And I'm telling him like, and excuse my language, but this s*** is different."

It is tough to disagree with Fournette's assessment of the Super Bowl champions. When performing at their peak, the Bucs appear to be on a different level to almost every team in the NFL.

They were several leagues above their in-state neighbours at the weekend, with the gulf in class illustrated by a rapport between Brady and arguably the NFL's premier group of wide receivers that appears to be growing ever stronger.

Brady heading for more history

Brady finished with 411 yards passing and five touchdowns against the Dolphins for a 144.4 passer rating, tying Peyton Manning with his ninth career game with at least five touchdown passes. Only Drew Brees (11) has more in NFL history.

It was his 36th game with at least four touchdown passes, taking him past Manning (35) and one shy of Brees. Brees (16), Manning (14) and Dan Marino (13) are the only players with more 400 passing-yard games than Brady's 12.

A 62-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Brown marked Brady's 45th of 50 or more yards, moving him level with Brees and John Hadl for the third most in league history. Johnny Unitas (51) and Manning (46) stand ahead of him in that regard.

Leading the league in passing yards (1,767) and second in passing touchdowns (15) and plays of 25 yards or more (16), Brady will be a strong bet to keep moving up those lists, provided he and his wideouts continue operating at a level that left a Dolphins defense known for producing momentum-stopping takeaways powerless to stem the tide.

Pressure? What pressure?

Brady delivered an accurate well-thrown ball on 81.6 per cent of his pass attempts against Miami. The average for the week heading into Monday was 81.7, but Brady was close to that mark while also averaging 10.53 air yards per attempt.

Only two quarterbacks who averaged more air yards had a better well-thrown percentage. Russell Wilson was accurate on 93.3 per cent with 12.00 air yards per attempt before his injury, and Josh Allen was on target 87.5 per cent of the time with an average of 12.46 air yards.

It was under pressure where Brady stood out in Week 5, as his first of two touchdown hookups with Brown saw him stand in against the interior rush and deliver a perfectly timed ball to the former Pittsburgh Steeler on a crossing route despite falling away from the throw.

Brown was able to collect the pass in stride, racing into open space to find the endzone and give the Bucs a 17-10 lead they never looked like relinquishing.

Arguably as impressive was Brady's 34-yard bomb to Mike Evans. The first of two touchdown catches for Evans, Brady dropped a downfield shot into the bucket despite dealing with late-arriving pressure from the backside and Byron Jones being in phase in good trail position covering the receiver.

Brady was accurate on four of his five attempts under pressure, on which he averaged 9.80 air yards, with his release time of 2.41 seconds on those passes the second-fastest in the NFL.

In a league increasingly dominated by quarterbacks who can escape pressure with their legs, Brady is a 44-year-old statue winning through his mind and his arm operating at a faster speed than everyone else on the field while continuing to demonstrate remarkable placement on throws that seemed beyond him as recently as 2019.

Part of the credit for his success, though, must be attributed to a receiving corps firmly living up to its reputation.

Business booming for AB and Co.

Evans, Brown and Chris Godwin can each be considered elite options at the wideout position, and their status in that regard was further solidified in a game where the Bucs shredded the opposing defense despite Brady being without a tight end in Rob Gronkowski who is averaging a big play on 57.0 per cent of his targets.

Brown finished with seven receptions for 124 yards and his two scores, becoming the fastest player to reach 900 catches as he took his tally to 906 in 143 career games, breaking the record set by Marvin Harrison (149 games).

He also became the fifth player in league history to reach 12,000 receiving yards in fewer than 150 games and, while Brown may never reach the levels he demonstrated during his time in Pittsburgh, he is undoubtedly worthy of Brady's increasing faith in him.

Producing a burn – when a receiver wins his matchup with a defender on a play where he is targeted – 69.0 per cent of the time, Brown is tied-third among receivers with at least 20 targets with his 5.3 burn yards per route.

Evans, meanwhile, is seventh on the list of receivers who meet that same threshold with a big play on 41.7 per cent of his targets, and Godwin – the quietest of the trio versus Miami with seven catches for 70 yards – is fifth in burn percentage for receivers with a 20-target minimum, winning his matchup on 74.4 per cent of targets.

Godwin's average depth of target of 8.3 yards speaks to a receiver who is working more as an underneath option while Evans (14.2) and Brown (13.9) are being relied on to produce the more explosive plays downfield.

Yet when performing at the standard they showcased on Sunday, the nature of their deployment is almost immaterial. With three receivers who could be number one targets on most teams in the NFL and a quarterback whose arm and ability to process are seemingly unaffected by the passage of time, a Bucs offense that is clicking is a near-impossible one to stop.

Any notion of a short stay in Tampa being akin to a Florida retirement home for Brady has long since been dispelled. With an embarrassment of riches at receiver, he is continually polishing a legacy that glistens more than any other in league history. With more offensive performances like his 400-yard blitz of the Dolphins, he may end the year buffing up an eighth Lombardi Trophy.

The Green Bay Packers went 4-1 for the 2021 season after Mason Crosby's overtime field goal secured a dramatic 25-22 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.

Crosby missed two field goals in the final quarter as Cincinnati pegged back the visitors at 22-22, with the Packers #2 then squandering another chance early in overtime.

His third miss came sandwiched in between Bengals rookie Evan McPherson twice hitting the post with field goal attempts of his own.

Yet a brilliant pass from the superb Aaron Rodgers – who threw for two touchdowns to take him into outright fifth place in the all-time list for quarterbacks with 422 – to Randall Cobb teed up the game-winning moment.

Bengals QB Joe Burrow also threw for two touchdowns, having got Cincinnati started when he picked out Samaje Perine from close range in the first quarter. 

Burrow collected his second TD pass of the game in style, throwing 70 yards (the longest pass of his NFL career) for Ja'Marr Chase to cross.

Chase's score came after Rodgers had propelled the Packers ahead with passes to Davante Adams and AJ Dillon, and although Joe Mixon forced OT, Crosby held his nerve at the fourth time of asking.

Brady downs Dolphins

A week on from breaking Drew Brees' NFL passing record, Brady was at his imperious best again for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, throwing for five touchdowns and 411 yards in a 45-17 win over the Miami Dolphins.

His 72 touchdown passes against the Dolphins mean he is the joint-leader, alongside Dan Marino (72 v. the New York Jets) for TD passes against a single opponent in the Super Bowl era, while his 62-yard pass for Antonio Brown on Sunday was the longest he has thrown while at the Buccaneers. 

Pitts stars in London

The NFL returned to London on Sunday, with the Atlanta Falcons overcoming the New York Jets 27-20. Rookie receiver Kyle Pitts was the star of the show at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, taking nine catches for 119 yards and a touchdown, the first of his NFL career.

The same two teams have not faced each other in consecutive Super Bowls since 1994, when the Dallas Cowboys ended the 1993 season by repeating as champions with a second straight rout of the Buffalo Bills, for whom the loss marked their fourth consecutive defeat on the grandest stage.

But the stars may be aligning for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs to end that wait and face off again in Super Bowl LVI in Los Angeles in February.

Tampa Bay crushed Kansas City in Super Bowl LV, becoming the first team to win the Lombardi Trophy at their home stadium with a 31-9 triumph.

And it is tough to look at the respective rosters following strong offseasons from both without feeling they should each be in position to renew acquaintances at SoFi Stadium.

The Buccaneers did an excellent job of keeping their title-winning core together, while the Chiefs attacked the glaring weakness that saw their hopes of defending the championship last season go up in flames.

Using its advanced data, Stats Perform analyses why these two powerhouses appear poised to emulate the feat of the Cowboys and Bills.

Bucs keep the band together

Faced with the complex challenge of retaining a host of free agents who made significant contributions to their Super Bowl triumph while dealing with a salary cap shrinking due to the impact of the pandemic and a season played largely without fans, the Buccaneers made good on head coach Bruce Arians' post-championship pledge to keep the heart of the roster intact.

There were, of course, some departures, but the pivotal cogs that helped propel the Bucs to a second title in franchise history were all tied down for 2021 and, in most cases, beyond.

Perhaps the most important move the Bucs made was to re-sign edge rusher Shaquil Barrett, who had 13 of Tampa Bay's 31 pressures of Patrick Mahomes in February to a four-year, $72million contract that is the joint-11th most expensive edge rusher contract in the league by average annual salary. 

The fact Barrett agreed to take a discount to stay with Tampa is reflective of the excellent situation the Bucs are in, and several of his team-mates were similarly eager to re-sign with a team superbly positioned to contend for more titles.

 

Veteran linebacker Lavonte David received long-overdue recognition in 2020 after years of stellar play and also received a two-year, $25m deal from the Bucs to keep him next to Devin White in the middle of the defense.

David allowed a burn, which is when a receiver wins his matchup with a defender on a play where he is targeted regardless of whether the ball is catchable, on 36.8 per cent of his targets. His 6.42 burn yards per target conceded was fourth best among all linebackers while White's pressure rate of 37.3 was the best for linebackers with at least 50 pass rush attempts.

They have a claim for being the top linebacking duo in football when it comes to affecting the pass game and the Bucs' front seven looks to have all the ingredients to give quarterbacks nightmares in 2021. Tampa retained the services of defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh and added a first-round pass rusher in Joe Tryon, who recorded a 19.6% pressure rate off the edge in his last season for Washington in 2019, with 30 of his 35 total pressures seeing him beat a pass protector.

However, the Chiefs have made a series of impressive moves with the aim of ensuring Tampa Bay cannot disrupt their aerial attack to the same extent should they meet again.

Protecting Patrick

The defining image of Kansas City's 31-9 loss in Super Bowl LV was that of Mahomes running for his life in the face of near relentless pressure from Tampa Bay.

Mahomes was playing behind an offensive line decimated by injuries. Right tackle Mike Remmers was forced to play at left tackle and guard Andrew Wylie had to take his place across the formation.

Kansas City's offense was unable to function at anything close to peak performance as a result, and the Chiefs' offseason appeared designed entirely to prevent such a scenario coming to pass again.

Joe Thuney was signed as a free agent to lock down the left guard position having served as one of most dependable players in football during his career with the New England Patriots. Thuney's pressure rate (4%) in 2020 was fifth among all guards and he will have Orlando Brown Jr. on his outside shoulder after the Chiefs traded their 2021 first-rounder among multiple picks to acquire him from the Baltimore Ravens to be their new left tackle.

Brown, who is switching from right to left tackle and gave up a pressure rate of 9% in 2020, may have some work to do as a pass blocker but Kansas City should expect him to help their run game. Only David Bakhtiari (3%) allowed run disruptions at a lower rate than Brown (3.6%) last year.

In addition to fortifying the left side, the Chiefs ensured they will have depth across the line. They used one of their two second-round picks on Oklahoma center Creed Humphrey, whose pressure rate (1.6%) was joint-third best among Power 5 centers with a minimum of 50 pass protection snaps. He is set to start ahead of versatile free agent addition Austin Blythe and another rookie, sixth-round pick Trey Smith, is in line to get the starting right guard job ahead of Laurent Duvernay-Tardif.

 

Duvernay-Tardif, who opted out of the 2020 season to aid the fight against coronavirus in his native Canada, should prove an extremely valuable reserve having been credited with allowing just two adjusted sacks on 354 pass protection snaps in 2019.

The big question mark is at right tackle, where Lucas Niang seems primed to start. He did not play in his rookie year after opting out and is, therefore, likely to be the player opposing pass rushes target. The Chiefs will hope he can reprise his form of his senior year at TCU, when he was not credited with an adjusted sack allowed on 123 pass protection snaps.

Kansas City defeated the Buccaneers in Week 12 of the 2020 season with the 27-24 score flattering Tampa Bay. Conventional wisdom says that with better protection, Mahomes and the Chiefs' explosive offense would have the advantage. But, after an offseason in which the Bucs solidified the strength of their team and Chiefs attacked a deficiency, is that actually the case?

Who has the edge?

There is statistical evidence to backup the argument that, if the Chiefs have genuinely fixed their pass protection, then they deserve to be Super Bowl favourites.

When he is not overwhelmed by pressure, Mahomes can be an extremely dangerous quarterback to blitz due to his ability to improvise and turn seemingly negative plays into explosive ones.

From a clean pocket, he can be little short of a nightmare to defend. In the Chiefs' title-winning 2019 season, when he was not pressured Mahomes delivered an accurate, well-thrown ball 84 per cent of the time, the fifth-best rate in the NFL. His pickable pass percentage of 1.81 was third.

Those numbers dipped in 2020, but his 81.6% well-thrown was still above average and his 2.39% pickable pass rate was 12th. With his 2019 following a stunning 2018 in which he was named league MVP, the likelihood is that last season was the anomaly.

Even if Mahomes does return to the remarkably high standards of his first two years as a starter, there's plenty to suggest the Chiefs still might not be able to outgun a Buccaneers offense that coalesced at the perfect time in the previous campaign.

In the final four games following the regular-season loss to the Chiefs and their bye, the Bucs ran the table going 4-0 and led the league with 357.3 net passing yards per game. Brady threw 14 touchdowns and just one interception.

 

That tailed off to 256 net yards per game, third among teams to play multiple playoff games, in the postseason as the standard of opposition improved, but the reality is his decision to leave New England for Tampa Bay rejuvenated Brady as a downfield passer.

Only Deshaun Watson (69) and Mahomes (67) had more completions of 20 yards or more than the 63 produced by Brady, who ranked fourth in air yards per attempt (9.50) among quarterbacks with at least 100 passes but was able to protect the ball while going deep more often, his pickable pass percentage of 2.20 second behind Alex Smith.

He will again have the benefit of arguably the deepest wide receiver corps in the NFL in his 22nd season. The Bucs franchise tagged Chris Godwin to keep him around while also re-signing Antonio Brown, and Brady will surely be confident of furthering his rapport with the former, who registered a burn on 72.6 per cent of targets last year, tied-seventh among receivers with at least 50 targets.

With Brady seemingly gaining new life midway through his fifth decade and turning the Tampa offense into a juggernaut late last season and Mahomes set to enjoy what should be a much higher standard of protection, the stage is set for a potential shootout should these teams book a rematch in five months' time.

The Chiefs have almost always been able to rely on outscoring their opponents. Yet, in a possible aerial duel with Brady and the Bucs, it is their defense, which ranked 18th with 6.42 yards per pass play allowed last season, that looks the most vulnerable.

A whirlwind day last Friday saw Manchester United reach an agreement with Juventus to bring Cristiano Ronaldo back to the club.

The deal was confirmed just hours after it had looked likely the Portugal star would be heading to Premier League champions Manchester City instead.

According to reports, United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer encouraged the club to enter the race when it began to seem inevitable Ronaldo would head to the Etihad Stadium. Contact from Bruno Fernandes, Rio Ferdinand and even Alex Ferguson helped persuade Ronaldo that a return to Manchester could mean only one thing.

It all made for a short-lived but extraordinary transfer saga that ended with United re-signing a player who made history with the club between 2003 and 2009, winning three Premier League titles, the Champions League and the first of his five Ballons d'Or.

Here, Stats Perform looks at some other deals that caused a shock in the sporting world...

 

Lionel Messi: Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain, 2021

In the most sensational free transfer of all time, PSG again laid down a marker to the football world with the signing of Lionel Messi on a two-year contract. Just as he looked to sign a new Barcelona contract, the club informed him that their dire financial situation meant they could not bring their greatest ever player back under LaLiga's salary restrictions after his previous deal expired in June. A tearful Messi said farewell to the only club he had ever played for before heading to the fanfare of Paris and a reunion with Neymar.

Neymar: Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain, 2017

The Brazilian had formed a potent attacking trio with Messi and Luis Suarez at Camp Nou but a move to PSG was inevitable when the French side met his world-record buyout clause of €222million. He has played an important role in their continued dominance of French domestic football but has so far been unable to guide them to Champions League glory. He was reduced to tears by his side's 1-0 defeat to Bayern Munich in the 2020 final and then failed to inspire the team in the 2021 semis as Manchester City knocked them out.

LeBron James: Cleveland Cavaliers to Miami Heat, 2010

Basketball icon James announced he would sign with the Miami Heat instead of returning to his hometown team, the Cleveland Cavaliers. Then a two-time NBA Most Valuable Player and a six-time All-Star, James added to the spectacle of the stunning move by announcing it on a special television broadcast called The Decision. He enjoyed four years in Miami, where he won a pair of NBA titles, before returning to the Cavaliers in 2014. 

Tom Brady: New England Patriots to Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2020

Few people expected Brady to leave the Patriots after 20 years and six Super Bowl victories. Not only did one of the game's greatest ever quarterbacks leave, but he joined one of the least successful franchises in NFL history and instantly guided them to glory, leading the Buccaneers to the franchise's second Lombardi Trophy with a 31-9 triumph over the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV.

Luis Figo: Barcelona to Real Madrid, 2000

Should Messi ever return to Camp Nou as an opposition player it is unlikely he will be on the receiving end of the kind of abuse that greeted Figo. Barca fans threw bottles, lighters and even a pig's head at the Portuguese star when he went back to Camp Nou with Los Blancos in the seasons following his controversial move.

Wayne Gretzky: Edmonton Oilers to Los Angeles Kings, 1988

In 1988, the Edmonton Oilers and Los Angeles Kings agreed a deal that shook the NHL to its core. The trade left Canada in disbelief, with a member of the country's parliament even proposing the federal government block the trade or buy Gretzky's contract and sell it to another Canadian team. "The Great One" would go on to enjoy eight successful years in Los Angeles before spells with St. Louis Blues and New York Rangers.

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