Brady took the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to Super Bowl glory in 2020, a record seventh title for the quarterback, but last year’s attempt at a repeat ended with a loss to the Los Angeles Rams in the divisional round.
The former New England Patriot then retired before changing his mind and returning for another push at the title.
The 45-year-old’s plans for the future remain uncertain but what is clear is that he retains a hunger for success.
The Bucs were 6-8 after a defeat to the Cincinnati Bengals on December 18 but Brady led them to an overtime victory over the Arizona Cardinals before clinching a playoff spot with a 30-24 comeback win over the Carolina Panthers.
Brady’s impressive throw
Brady threw for 432 yards, three passing touchdowns and a rushing touchdown in that game.
The Bucs enter the post-season as only the sixth team to do so with a losing regular season record (8-9) since the merger of the NFL and AFL in 1970, but coach Todd Bowles believes Brady and the team have shown grit to get through a difficult campaign.
“Tom Brady is tough. He’s been around for a long time. There’s not a lot he hasn’t seen or been through. I don’t think every day of his career has been a great day. He’s had some rough days here and there, but he works through them, he’s resilient,” he said.
“There’s a lot of guys that dealt with things every day that didn’t get brought to the light. But as a whole, we hung together and came through it.”
To get through the next test, Tampa will have to deal with a Cowboys team that are determined to end their franchise’s 27-year wait for a Super Bowl appearance.
The Cowboys ended with a 12-5 record but were below-par in their Week 18 loss to Washington and quarterback Dak Prescott has had a turnover heavy season — his total of 15 being a joint high in the league despite him missing five games.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is convinced that Prescott will avoid costly turnovers at Tampa however.
“It’s in Dak’s DNA to not turn the ball over. I have all the confidence in the world that he’ll find the right balance of being aggressive not creating turnovers. He understands turnovers more than all of us put together,” he said.
The Cowboys do have an explosive offense with running back Tony Pollard rushing for 1,007 yards this season, his career-best return, and wide-receiver CeeDee Lamb putting up 1,359 yards on 107 receptions.
Brady has a career 7-0 record against the Cowboys, including a 19-3 win in Dallas in Week One this season.
Jaguars look for repeat
All six games in the wildcard round involve teams who met each other in the regular season and get under way on Saturday with the Seattle Seahawks at the San Francisco 49ers.
Seattle sneaked into the playoffs after the Green Bay Packers lost their final game to Detroit and they will have their work cut out against the strong defense of the NFC South divisional rivals who beat them twice this season.
The Jacksonville Jaguars will be hoping for a repeat of their Week Three 38-10 win against the Los Angeles Chargers which saw quarterback Trevor Lawrence throw three touchdowns.
On Sunday, there is a divisional rematch with the heavily favoured Buffalo Bills against the Miami Dolphins who, with Tua Tagovailoa still in the concussion protocol, may again be forced to start with third-choice quarterback, rookie Skyler Thompson.
Fans will be in for a treat if the New York Giants and Minnesota can replicate the drama of their Christmas Eve clash which the Vikings won 27-24 on a last-gasp 61-yard field goal.
The top two teams from the AFC North meet in Sunday’s late game with Baltimore travelling to Cincinnati.
The Ravens could again be without quarterback Lamar Jackson, who hasn’t featured since injuring his knee in the December 4 game against Denver.
The Bengals, while favourites, will be weakened by the loss of guard Alex Cappa (ankle) and tackle La’el Collins (knee).
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