With Sunday’s 34-6 rout of the Los Angeles Chargers, Jackson set the NFL record for the most wins by a quarterback under the age of 25 since the 1970 merger. His 35th victory moved him past Dan Marino.
Jackson is now 35-8 and doesn’t turn 25 until Jan. 7. No quarterback under the age of 25 has won more than 30 games in the past two decades.
It’s been quite a turnaround for Baltimore under Jackson. The Ravens were 44-45 (.494) between winning the Super Bowl in 2012 and Jackson taking over as the starter midway through the 2018 season.
This record comes six days after Jackson became first player in NFL history with 400 yards passing, four touchdown passes, no interceptions and 50 yards rushing in Baltimore’s 31-25 overtime victory against the Indianapolis Colts on Monday night.
How Buccaneers’ Tom Brady finds ways to connect come playoff time
TAMPA, Fla. – In 2020, on a rain-dampened field, a practice squad receiver named Cyril Grayson — who hadn’t played a down of college football and had one NFL catch for three yards to his name prior — now had arguably the greatest quarterback of all time running the show.
On the first route Grayson ran, he slipped.
“I was making excuses, and I was like, ‘Man, the ground.’ He was like, ‘It’s a perfectly laid ground.’ Just being hard on me,” Grayson said. “And then he throws me the ball that’s in the sun, and he goes, ‘Hey, I don’t need any excuses. You’re an NFL receiver.'”
For a moment, Grayson, who had been on five other practice squads prior to Tampa Bay, put his head down. He felt defeated.
He thought to himself, “Man, he’s being too hard on me,” Grayson said.
And then Tom Brady came over.
He told him, “The reason I’m so hard on you is because you have this talent — I just want to pull that out of you,” Grayson recalled. “I see that in you, and I just want you to see that in yourself.”
“From that moment, I knew he felt something in me,” Grayson said.
Neither knew a year later, after the unexpected departure of Antonio Brown, in the Bucs’ Week 17 game at the New York Jets, that Brady would hit Grayson with the winning 33-yard pass late in the fourth quarter.
Getting the most out of virtually every teammate is one of many reasons Brady has been so good down the stretch in nearly every one of his 22 seasons, with the exception of his first season as a starter (2000) and 2008, when he suffered a torn ACL in Week 1.
Brady owns a staggering 112-31 (.738) record after Thanksgiving, and 43-14 (.754) in January and February. When other teams fade, as rosters are whittled down because of injuries, Brady’s teams ascend. He finds a way to pull out the perfect play in the perfect situation. How does he do it?
‘I think it was him testing me – Is this guy gonna fold?’
What Grayson didn’t know was Brady was testing him because, somewhere down the road, he might need him. He wanted to gauge chemistry.
When teams are trying to make a final push late in the season, but are too hobbled by injuries, Brady needs to know who can be counted on.
“It’s important to put a lot of pressure on guys because you don’t know how they’re going to react, and if they’re not in there playing, you don’t get to see it very often,” Brady said. “When they get their chance, you don’t want it to be the first time they’re put in a pressurized situation. So, I am tough on those guys.
“Sometimes I do something where I kind of force the issue and create some arbitrary pressure, just to kind of see how they react. It’s not like Mike [Evans] needs that or Chris [Godwin] needs that, but young guys who haven’t played — they need that, and you want to see how they respond to the adversity.”
Former Patriots running back Danny Woodhead, who came over from the Jets, felt the wrath of Brady even before Kevin Faulk went down with a season-ending injury in 2010. Woodhead would run into the huddle, calling the personnel grouping and Brady would chide him for not saying it loud enough, despite the fact Woodhead had barely scratched the surface of his new playbook.
“Literally everything that he could yell at me for, he’d yell at me,” Woodhead said with a laugh. “I remember like, ‘What is this cat’s deal? Did he just have a bad day? Did he sleep terrible? This is the greatest of all time, and the only thing I’ve experienced is him berating me,” Woodhead said.
Woodhead wound up scoring the first touchdown of his career that week in the two-minute offense. From then on, the two had what Woodhead describes as a “good football relationship.”
“That was his way of testing me to see if he could trust me,” Woodhead said, adding that there were instances where players did not go into games or remain with the team because they couldn’t do what Brady asked consistently.
“There’s been many times in New England where guys would get injured, but we’d figure it out because obviously we had the talent — because if you’re in the NFL, you have the talent – but you have the accountability of the quarterback,” Woodhead said.
“Under pressure, is someone gonna cry under pressure like my 4-year-old when she has to clean up her toys? I don’t want that either, so let’s make sure that they can handle the pressure.”
‘This is the time we’ve gotta put the jets in full throttle’
In New England, there was always an emphasis on playing the best ball after Thanksgiving, and it was discussed all throughout the offseason and regular season by coach Bill Belichick.
It’s when teams start to position themselves for the postseason, when seeding can be clinched and wild cards won or lost. Other coaches on other teams do mention it, but it’s distinct with Belichick.
“Bill didn’t make any secret to how much more difficult it becomes to win in November, December, when teams are making the final push,” former Patriots guard Rich Ohrnberger said. “He explained to us that right around Thanksgiving, the week changes, and you’ve gotta be ready for that. You’ve gotta be up to the challenge. … And obviously you get to the postseason — it gets ramped up once more.”
Former Patriots wide receiver Donte Stallworth remembered those talks, too.
“We had to be playing our best ball. We had to be technically sound on everything — mental errors to an extreme low, minimal,” Stallworth said, adding he believed Brady learned to divide each season into two. “Like once Thanksgiving week happens, and after Thanksgiving, that is the beginning of the playoffs. For the average human … November, Thanksgiving, that’s like towards the end of the season. For this dude, this is the beginning of the second season for him, and you have to come out sprinting. … This is the time that we’ve gotta put the jets in full throttle.”
Brady’s numbers aren’t dramatically different from the regular season to the postseason — in fact, they’re remarkably consistent across the board — but he does tend to find more of a groove. The ball tends to come out quicker, and those around him improve.
For example, against disguised coverages, Brady’s average “time before play” — which calculates his release time — drops from 2.6 seconds in September through November to 2.48 seconds in December through February. Shaving those tenths of a second off can be the difference in a touchdown or an interception.
“You don’t do much different — you just do more of what got you here,” Brady said. “The things that work, you do more of. You try to eliminate the other distractions. … This isn’t the time for trips to the movie theaters, this is the time to lock in on football because this is all we have.
“You just look at it like that. Everything you can kind of put off until the end of the year, [you put off], and we just certainly hope the end of the year isn’t Sunday night. But we have to earn it. We’ve gotta go win to move on.”
To echo that sentiment statistically, his teams tend to cut down on mistakes. Over the last two seasons, the Bucs accepted 6.17 penalties per game from September through November. But after December, the Bucs accepted 3.933 penalties per game. Turnovers dropped from 1.35 per game to .857 per game.
“You constantly want to be able to learn and grow from your mistakes so that you’re playing your best ball in December and January because that’s when it really matters,” Godwin said. “I think we have a lot of guys on the team that realize that.”
“The accountability factor is unreal and then when you get to the playoffs — it’s even higher because it’s like, ‘This is do or die,'” Woodhead said. “And Tom’s thought process is, ‘We’re not dying.'”
‘He’s like a professor’
For Brady, nothing is left to chance. No detail is overlooked. In practices, he’s coaching everyone at every position. He studies the way his receivers run their routes. He’ll tell a wide receiver to pump his arms more on a route and how he prefers them to release.
“If you’re running a certain route, he may want you to give ‘eyes quick’ instead of maybe you gave him ‘eyes’ a little too late, trying to finish your route, but maybe he wants you to give him eyes as soon as you come out that break,” wide receiver Breshad Perriman said.
“If they’re not on the same page, you see Tom go over and talk to them,” tight end Rob Gronkowski said. “He does the same thing with me if I ran a route that he thought I was going to be [here], but I was really over there. He’s going to come over to you and talk to you like, ‘Hey, why were you there and what were you thinking?’ That’s how he gets on the same page as you so then you’re ready for the game.”
Brady also conducts his own meetings, something that’s not common in the NFL. In New England and now Tampa Bay, he runs one prior to the team meeting Saturday night, after he goes over every play on the call sheet with his offensive coordinator — and sometimes it’s 100 plays.
In Tampa, he’s also incorporated a Friday meeting that he leads each week.
“He would talk about a play that, in practice, he would never throw to me because it was kind of like a clear out route or a dead route essentially on paper, but he would let me know in that meeting, ‘Hey, Donte, stay alive on this if we get this coverage. I’m gonna be looking for you. You’re an alert, so stay alive on that play,” Stallworth said. “He’s like a professor up there.”
“I remember when [wide receiver] Wes Welker was in the room, he’d be like, ‘Hey Wessie, when you come out of that break, you’ve got to snap your head up right now, because the ball’s gonna be [there],” Ohrnberger said.
“It’s that sort of communication — on this play, on this route, you need to understand that the ball’s coming out. Because if they’re showing this coverage, or these guys – you’re hot, you’re the outlet pass on that blitz look, so you need to get to the spot and be ready to catch because it’s firing out.”
He would tell Julian Edelman, “‘Hey, Jules, don’t wait for your corner to bite. You just go,'” Ohrnberger said. “It’s these little pointers he’ll pepper in just like a coach would. It’s important for him to have that communication and be able to communicate those thoughts.”
The coaching happens in games, too. In Week 16, during the third quarter, when the Bucs were at the Carolina Panthers‘ 7-yard line, Brady noticed wide receiver Tyler Johnson, who’s been thrust into a larger role because of Godwin and Brown’s absences, was in motion, and because there were multiple players in motion, the Bucs would have gotten a penalty. Brady yelled “Freeze!” and put out his arm to stop Johnson dead in his tracks, followed by, “Go ahead!”
The Bucs avoided a penalty, and running back Ronald Jones came out of the backfield and raced to the edge for the touchdown. But Brady made sure to go over to Johnson right after the play to explain what happened rather than wait until watching film Monday.
“It’s important just because any time you do it in the moment there is awareness with it,” Brady said. “There are a million things that happen on every play, so you could wait to address things, but when I see things at practice, I try to tell him right away like, ‘Hey, this is the route. This is what we are thinking. This is the depth. This is the angle. This is the throw.’
“In football, you’ve got to be on the same page. All of us have to see things the same way. It’s all about constant communication. If you don’t communicate, you’re not going to get any better at it.”
‘He’s the greatest football mind we’ve ever seen’
The ideas Brady brings not only to teammates but members of the coaching staff are endless.
“All me and him do is talk football,” Bucs offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich said. “We’re talking football every second we see each other, and we both love it in that way. It’s a blessing to have someone to love the game the way that he loves it, to approach the game the way that he approaches it. As a coach, it’s ball, ball, ball all the time. That’s a special thing that you just love being involved with — that love and going to work with him every week.”
Former Patriots backup quarterback Matt Cassel remembers Brady approaching offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels the morning of a game in 2007 about changing a play, after they’d gone over every single play the night before.
Brady said to McDaniels, “Hey, do you want to move Randy Moss inside?”
They had run a particular play in practice with Moss on the outside, but Brady thought they could get a better matchup inside, with the idea of creating a double team over the top and leaving a one-on-one matchup underneath.
Moss had lined up in the slot a few times, but at no point had they practiced this particular play with this particular personnel group with him inside.
“It was unbelievable,” Cassel said. “This is the morning of the game!”
But Brady said, “What do you think about putting Randy on the inside? Because if he gets one-on-one with the safety, I have a lot of trust that I could just throw it up,” Cassel said.
Brady’s teammates last year recall receiving text messages at all hours leading up to the Super Bowl of tendencies of the Kansas City Chiefs‘ defensive backs.
“He’s the greatest football mind we’ve ever seen,” Evans said. “We definitely saw it last year, from the start. We saw it Week 1, but in the postseason, obviously it heightens a little bit.”
Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians said watching Brady crack the code on a defense and move the ball at will is “the most fun that there is for me in this game.”
“Watching him play, he’s a surgeon,” Arians said. “He’s going to figure you out if you’re going to play two-deep shell, if you’re rotating — he’ll figure that all out real quick. It’s hard on the defense, that’s for sure.”
‘He wants to be the greatest of all time’
After the Bucs’ wild-card round victory over the Washington Football Team last year, they had to wait to find out who they’d play in the divisional round. Brady posted a video on Twitter, which he does after every win, and at the end, he said, “I know who I want.”
Beyond a shadow of a doubt, he was referring to the New Orleans Saints, who defeated the Bucs twice already during the regular season. Many had pegged the Saints as a Super Bowl favorite. He wanted to take down whoever he thought was at the top of the mountain.
Cassel saw it when the Patriots played the Jets in the 2006 wild-card round, a team that defeated them 17-14 during the regular season as the Patriots struggled to defend the Jets’ amoeba front.
“When they called the Jets’ name to play us in the first game of that playoff season, I was like, ‘Oh boy, they’re in for a beating,'” Cassel said. “We were so dialed in going into that game because we had gone over it, Tom had an exact plan of how he was gonna attack it, what he was gonna signal outside and executed it to perfection that game. We just blew the doors off of ’em.”
Simply put, Cassel states that Brady’s preparation consists of leaving “no stone unturned.” The Patriots won 37-16, just like Brady and the Bucs defeated the Saints in the divisional round last year 30-20, in what would be future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees’ last game.
That’s why Brady wasn’t wincing when he found out that the Bucs would be hosting coach Sean McVay’s Los Angeles Rams this Sunday in the divisional round (3 p.m. ET, NBC). The Rams beat them 34-24 in Week 3 of the regular season and 27-24 last year.
Brady may be without his starting All-Pro right tackle Tristan Wirfs, who suffered a high ankle sprain last week, and center Ryan Jensen is dealing with an ankle sprain, which could be disastrous given the Rams’ pass rush led by Aaron Donald and Von Miller.
“There’s not an opponent he hasn’t faced or a challenge where he hasn’t risen to that occasion,” Cassel said. “And when you look at the Rams, he knows that, one way or the other, you’ve gotta win four games straight, and you’ve gotta beat the best teams in football when it comes to playoff time. And he knows that because he doesn’t play to just win divisions. He doesn’t play to get to the playoffs. He plays this game — for as long as he has — to win Super Bowls.
“He didn’t prepare, and he doesn’t work as hard as he does, he doesn’t put his body through what he does year-in and year-out to be great – it’s to be the greatest.”
Dallas Cowboys’ Randy Gregory to have knee surgery prior to free agency, sources say
Gregory did not miss a game in 2021 because of the knee issue but it was something that bothered him for a good portion of the season. He missed one game due to COVID-19 and four because of a calf strain that landed him on injured reserve.
He is set to become an unrestricted free agent in March but should be cleared in time for the offseason program.
For the first time since his rookie season (2015), Gregory did not have to deal with any NFL suspensions. He finished second on the defense with six sacks and third with 30 pressures. He also had 16 tackles, three forced fumbles and an interception.
The Cowboys would like to re-sign Gregory, especially after sticking by him over the years as he dealt with off-field troubles. He is among 21 unrestricted free agents set to hit the open market from the Cowboys.
Manning-Brady 2.0? Why Patrick Mahomes vs. Josh Allen could be AFC’s next great QB rivalry
The two quarterbacks and their respective teams, the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills, will meet Sunday (6:30 p.m. ET, CBS) in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs at Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium. It’s their fourth meeting in two seasons and the stakes couldn’t be much bigger.
Mahomes’ Chiefs beat Allen’s Bills in the AFC Championship Game last year, so it isn’t as if these two haven’t shared the big stage before. If these types of meetings continue, Mahomes vs. Allen could quickly become this generation’s Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning (17 meetings between the legendary quarterbacks, including five in the playoffs).
Mahomes won two of the three previous meetings, but Allen’s victory came in Week 5 this season, 38-20, also at Arrowhead.
Their upcoming meeting could be the one fans are talking about for years, the one that truly ignites the rivalry between Mahomes and Allen. Those expectations seem to be reasonable. Both quarterbacks threw five touchdown passes in the wild-card round last weekend.
What the quarterbacks say
Mahomes said he’s gotten to know Allen, 25, off the field and called him “a great dude.” Mahomes noted that the Bills ask a lot of their quarterback and Allen delivers.
“What you see with Josh as he gets better and better every single year is he’s not satisfied with where he’s at,” Mahomes said. “He works through his throwing motion, he works on his feet, he does different types of stuff to give himself an edge and I think that’s what all the best quarterbacks do.
“You’ve seen that with Josh. They put a lot on him. They make a lot of checks at the line of scrimmage to make all the right decisions, throw the ball, run the ball, do all that different types of stuff. I think that’s what’s put them at this level where they’re a dominating team. He’s definitely gotten better and better each and every year and I’m sure we’ll have lots of battles as both of our careers go on.”
Mahomes, 26, has reached places in his career that Allen still aspires to, most notably a Super Bowl championship and an MVP award. The goal in Buffalo is to be in the AFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl in consecutive years, just like the Chiefs have done with Mahomes at quarterback.
“[Mahomes has] done all the major things that you want to accomplish in your career,” Allen said. “And obviously, he wants more, too. It’s cool because I know the type guy Pat is, we’ve talked to each other a few times. He’s an awesome dude and I know he’s got his foundation set up that helps a lot of people and that’s something I really admire about him as well, that he’s a real good person off the field.”
Last season, Allen was the runner-up for MVP to Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, and Buffalo came just short of the Super Bowl with the loss in Kansas City in the AFC title game. On the back of Mahomes’ performance, the Chiefs have been in three straight championship games.
“That’s the type of level that we want to be; in order to be the best, you gotta beat the best,” Allen said. “And they’ve really been one of the, if not the best team in the last four years. … We’ve got a good opportunity here and we’re excited for it.”
What the numbers say
How did things play out between the quarterbacks in their first three meetings over the past two seasons? Mahomes has a slight advantage, but Allen had his best game in the rivalry in the Bills’ Week 5 win this season.
What the experts say
ESPN NFL analyst Jeff Saturday knows the Brady-Manning rivalry as well as anyone. Saturday played in it as the center for several years for Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. He also later in his career played with Rodgers in Green Bay.
He said that while both Mahomes and Allen are still in the early stages of their respective careers, he sees the same greatness in them that he did in the quarterbacks he played with.
“I love that Patrick Mahomes had some difficulty this year, that everything wasn’t so easy for him,” Saturday said. “When defenses started to adjust he had to alter his style of play and learn and develop patience and poise in moments when you can’t strike big. He had to take the checkdown. Sustaining drives has to be put on the forefront. It’s not always going to be big plays. I love that development in him.”
“Then flip it over to Josh Allen. His story is absolutely remarkable. People were thinking he wouldn’t be able to do it and then he makes a big jump last year and adds to it this year. How incredible is this that these guys are working on their craft and honing their skills and their abilities and still elevating their teams to victories and have opportunities to chase the ring.”
Rob Ninkovich says the Chiefs’ key to victory against the Bills will be going toe-to-toe with a top defense.
Part of what gives the rivalry such potential is how the position has changed, according to ESPN analyst Rob Ninkovich, who was also involved in those Brady-Manning rivalry games.
“I love the idea that there is kind of a modern Brady-Manning type rivalry, Ninkovich said. “I think the more exciting thing is … the chess match, so to speak, and how to play the game has evolved to what we know now — a mobile-quarterback-driven league where the pocket quarterback is sort of the dinosaur.
While Allen is the bigger (6-foot-5, 237 pounds) and more physical runner, ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky sees overlap in their playing styles.
There’s “not a single play that they don’t believe they can make on the field,” Orlovsky said. “Those guys have firmly planted themselves as two of the best players at that position in the NFL.”
Could these two even surpass the Brady-Manning rivalry?
“I’m not saying either one of those guys is going to have a Tom Brady career or a Peyton Manning career,” Saturday said. “But what I do know is that the level they are at in the year of their careers they are at, they are on a par where both of those guys were or maybe even better. That’s how I look at this. What made Peyton and Tom so special is longevity but [Mahomes and Allen] have presented it so far.”
Saturday said the Mahomes-Allen rivalry has all of the classic qualities to be one of the great ones, with the Chiefs and Bills facing one another for the second straight season in the playoffs while having realistic Super Bowl aspirations.
“You see what Kansas City has already done over the last three years and you’re watching what Buffalo is trying to accomplish,” he said. “The Bills beat the Chiefs in the regular season this year but for this to be a true rivalry they’ve got to beat them in the playoffs. It’s very similar to how we were with New England. They kind of had our number and then we finally figured out what we had to do to beat them and that’s really when the rivalry developed.”
But the rivalry’s future depends on more than the quarterbacks, according to Orlovsky.
“If you look at Peyton and Tom, there was similarities that were attached to those guys that weren’t just about themselves individually,” Orlovsky said. “Both of them were parts of really good organizations that were built the right way and had a track record of drafting well, and obviously long-term established, successful head coaches. …There’s a consistency that’s happening in Buffalo right now and that’s been the case for probably the last five, six years. Obviously, that’s happened in Kansas City for a while now.”
What would the outcome of Sunday’s game mean?
Will Josh Allen or Patrick Mahomes have the better game to lead his team to the AFC Championship Game?
For the Chiefs: Mahomes would cement himself as the quarterback of a dynasty if the Chiefs advance to a third straight Super Bowl this season. Only three quarterbacks have started in three straight Super Bowls (Bob Griese, Jim Kelly and Brady).
By beating the Bills, Mahomes and the Chiefs would advance to next week’s AFC Championship Game. He would join a select group of quarterbacks who have started four straight conference title games (Ken Stabler, Kelly, Brady, Troy Aikman and Donovan McNabb).
On the other hand, a loss to Allen and the Bills signals that the Chiefs’ grip on the AFC is gone. Allen would have a second straight victory over Mahomes.
For the Bills: The Bills have been building up to this matchup since the loss in Kansas City last January. After watching Mahomes have his way against Buffalo’s defense in the AFC Championship Game and how the Buccaneers got to him in the Super Bowl, GM Brandon Beane used his first two picks in the 2021 NFL draft on pass-rushers Greg Rousseau and Boogie Basham.
The goal was to fill the gaps needed to defeat the Chiefs.
“Tampa did a heck of a job against Kansas City in that game and really did a nice job of making Mahomes move off his spot,” Beane said after the draft.
The pressure is on Allen to beat the Chiefs in a big game and on the team to become the first to win at Arrowhead Stadium twice in a single season. Did the offseason work pay off?
A loss would send the Bills into the offseason with major questions yet again about what this team needs to do to get a first road playoff win under Sean McDermott and finally get over the hump.
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