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Column: ‘Playoffs or bust’ should be Tom Brady’s new mantra

A billboard featuring an image of former New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady stands along Route 1, in Walpole, Mass., about a mile from Gillette Stadium, which is in Foxborough, Mass., Thursday, March 19, 2020. (Steven Senne / AP)
A billboard featuring an image of former New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady stands along Route 1, in Walpole, Mass., about a mile from Gillette Stadium, which is in Foxborough, Mass., Thursday, March 19, 2020. (Steven Senne / AP)
By Paul Newberry Associated Press

Well, it’s official now.

Tom Brady is a Buccaneer.

Sounds strange, doesn’t it?

Naturally, there’s been a rush of excitement in the NFL backwater known as Tampa Bay, even amid the anxiety and uncertainty of the coronavirus outbreak.

But before they start ordering those Super Bowl rings, a dose of reality is in order.

Chances are, this won’t end with a confetti and champagne shower, which is the extraordinarily high standard that Brady has set throughout his G.O.A.T. of a career.

We all know it’s extremely rare for past-their-prime athletes to leave a longtime team and somehow find the Fountain of Youth elsewhere. For every Peyton Manning, there’s a Babe Ruth or a Michael Jordan, a Willie Mays or a Joe Namath, a Hank Aaron or a Johnny Unitas.

But if expectations are kept at a reasonable level, this seismic shift in the NFL landscape could still go down as a success.

Instead of championship or bust, the Bucs should be satisfied with playoffs or bust.

After nearly two decades in New England, Brady certainly recognizes that he’s starting over at a point when most athletes have already hung it up.

“Excited, humble and hungry,” he wrote Friday in an Instagram post that included a picture of him signing his new two-year, $50 million contract – all of it guaranteed – in what appeared to be his kitchen. “If there is one thing I have learned about football, it’s that nobody cares what you did last year or the year before that.”

What Brady has done is beyond remarkable: six Super Bowl championships, 17 AFC East titles – including the past 11 in a row – and a record of 249-75 over nearly two decades as the Patriots’ starting quarterback.

But even with his 43rd birthday approaching and his legacy more than secured, he’s not satisfied.

The great ones never are.

That’s surely why they tend to hang on longer that they should. That’s why Brady was willing trade snowy New England for Florida’s sunny Gulf Coast – and not as part of a retirement plan.

“You earn the trust and respect of those around through your commitment every single day,” Brady wrote. “I’m starting a new football journey and thankful for the (Buccaneers) for giving me an opportunity to do what I love to do. I look forward to meeting all my new teammates and coaches and proving to them that they can believe and trust in me.”

Brady is joining a woebegone franchise that ranks near the bottom of the league in attendance and hasn’t won a single playoff game since capturing their lone Super Bowl title during the 2002 season.

In fact, the Bucs have made the postseason only two times since then, their last appearance coming 13 long years ago.

Only the woeful Cleveland Browns are in the midst of a longer playoff drought.

So, that’s where the bar is set for Brady and his new team.

A playoff appearance should be judged a success. Winning a playoff game would be a bonus. And no one can deviate from the ultimate goal: setting this franchise on a course for long-term success before Brady hands off to a much-younger successor, whoever that may be.

The pieces are certainly in place to make that work.

Tampa Bay head coach Bruce Arians is hailed for his offensive acumen, though he’ll have to adjust his downfield passing philosophy to better suit Brady’s possession-type style. The Bucs have a pair of Pro Bowl-caliber, 1,000-yard receivers in Chris Godwin and Mike Evans, which should be a welcome change for Brady after working last season with a New England offense that was desperately lacking in big-play weapons. Tight ends Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard add to Brady’s potential arsenal. The offensive line is decent enough, and the Bucs may be able to pick off a few more additions in free agency merely by offering up the chance to play with the NFL’s greatest quarterback ever.

If the Bucs can shore up a woeful pass defense, they’ll certainly be in the mix for a playoff berth in the NFC South.

If nothing else, Brady should improve the efficiency of the offense merely by not being Jameis Winston, his predecessor and the first QB in league history to throw 30 touchdown passes and 30 interceptions in the same season. Brady had eight picks in 2019 and has never tossed more than 14 in a season.

Of course, Tampa Bay is talking titles, which is what you would expect in the giddiness of the moment.

“Tom is the most successful quarterback in the history of our league, but what makes him so special is his ability to make those around him better,” Arians said in a statement. “He is a proven winner who will provide the leadership, accountability and work ethic necessary to lead us to our goal of winning another championship.”

Brady held off on making such bold predictions.

“I have always believed that well done is better than well said, so I’m not gonna say much more,” he wrote. “I’m just gonna get to work!”

So get ready to see Brady in a uniform other than New England’s for the first time since his college days at Michigan.

It will be bizarre, for sure.

But at least he won’t look like a Creamsicle.

For those who haven’t been paying them a lick of attention, the Bucs long ago dumped those hideous orange uniforms.

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