TAMPA — On one of his final plays during Wednesday’s minicamp practice, only 22 seconds remained on the clock when Tom Brady surveyed the field before arcing a deep pass toward the left corner of the end zone that dropped into the hands of receiver Scotty Miller.
The play was stunningly similar to the 39-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Miller with one second remaining in the first half of the Bucs’ 31-26 win over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game.
All that was missing was Fox analyst Troy Aikman bellowing, “Oh, my God!” as Miller secured the catch.
“That was a little deja vu,” coach Bruce Arians said.
But as Brady knows, repeating as Super Bowl champions isn’t as easy as recreating a few moments from a championship season.
In fact, Brady is the last quarterback to win back-to-back Super Bowls, doing it with the Patriots in the 2003-04 seasons. Brady says the Bucs can’t simply attempt to Xerox their effort from a year ago and expect to successfully defend their title.
“I think the assumption comes from the belief that it will be exactly like it was last year,” Brady said. “ ... And the reality is, everything is different. The teams will approach you a little bit differently. You’re kind of the team everyone is watching now, so there’s different degrees of expectation. There’s more external noise. There will be more people wanting to come to games. More opportunity to do things outside of football, and I think the reality is you’ve got to stay focused on what’s really important. How do you improve? How do you get better week to week? Day to day?”
However, Brady is keenly aware that, in many ways, the Bucs are better prepared to win a Lombardi Trophy in 2021 than they were in 2020.
A year ago, Brady was dealing with a knee injury that hobbled him throughout the year. He underwent surgery 15 weeks ago and says he’s better prepared to work on other aspects of his game. He did not give any details of his injury.
“From this point to the beginning of training camp, I feel like I can really work hard at football improvement as opposed to getting back to a rehab place where you’re more baseline,” he said. “It was an injury I dealt with, really, since last April-May, and I knew I would have to do something at the end of the year and I’m happy I did it. It was probably something that needed to be done and there was a great outcome, so I’m happy.”
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A year ago, Brady was struggling to learn a new offense for the first time in 20 seasons. It was the start of a pandemic with team facilities closed around the NFL and no contact allowed with coaches.
If conquering the playbook wasn’t enough, Brady also had to study the nuances and body language of his new teammates.
“It could be the way a guy leans his shoulder or the way he uses his hips to get open or he’s going to put his arm out or a head nod,” Brady said. “But there’s a lot of things you can gain over a long period of time. We’re starting at that place now. Now we’ve got 15 months invested in one another as opposed to three months. I’d rather be 15 months than three months, because I believe that continuity in football is the key to winning.”
What excites Brady is that his Bucs teammates appear to have embraced the challenge of becoming the first team in 16 years to win back-to-back Lombardi Trophies. After negotiating with Arians not to include most veterans in voluntary workouts and cutting those sessions down from 10 to six, Brady agreed to resume his throwing sessions at the team facility.
Arians continues to coach Brady hard and was critical of his red-zone performance on Wednesday.
“Just continue to see different coverages, different situations,” Arians said. “This wasn’t his best red-zone period. It was pretty solid, but our defense is doing some things that I don’t think anyone in the league is doing right now. It’s going to be good training for us.”
Brady said he draws confidence from the way Arians has begun to prepare the Bucs for the hard road ahead in defense of their Super Bowl title.
“I think he’s got the sense of urgency, too, and I think if there’s one thing we know about him, he shoots us straight all the time,” Brady said. “He doesn’t sugarcoat it a lot. What he thinks is what he says, and that’s all you can ask for as a player. And I think we all respect that, and I think when he’s like, ‘We’ve got to turn it up,’ we turn it up.
“I think the great part is we’ve got a lot of guys who love football, they love working at it, we’ve got a bunch of things that need to be done. There’s a lot of excitement about guys being together and we’ve got great chemistry on this team. We all root for each other. We want to see each other do our best. We hold ourselves to a high standard. I don’t think that we ever think we have all the answers, or we’ve got everything figured out. We’re here to work. We’re pushed by our coaches to excel at a high level, and they’re very supportive of what we’re trying to do as players so that’s all you can ask for.”
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