TAMPA — They are the two oldest starting quarterbacks in the NFL. They also have won the most games among active players.
And lately, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers share another distinction.
Their chase of perfection is really trying their patience.
The Bucs and the Packers head into Sunday’s game at Raymond James Stadium trying to play the best they can with receivers who are injured or inexperienced.
Brady will have to find a way to win without Mike Evans, who was suspended one game for his altercation with Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore in last weekend’s win over the Saints. In addition, Julio Jones (knee) and Chris Godwin (hamstring) haven’t practiced all week and seem likely to miss their second straight game.
The Bucs also lead the NFL in dropped passes, and Brady’s frustration boiled over against the Saints, leading to a melee that got Evans ejected and suspended.
Brady also broke a tablet on the sideline over the Bucs’ failure to score in the first half.
“I can always do better as a quarterback and not let my emotions get the best of me,” Brady said. “Sometimes they do. It’s an emotional sport. It’s an emotional game. And we’re all there trying to do the best we can do.
“I think there’s a frustrating part for all of us when you get a little older and you expect it a certain way and it doesn’t go exactly the way you want. But that’s the way it is, and I’ve got to do a good job as a leader to be at my best regardless of how I feel about certain situations.”
Offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich said most of Brady’s anger and frustration is with his performance and not aimed at teammates.
“If you know him well enough, he’s really talking to himself most of the time,” Leftwich said. “We know Tom. Everything is fine. This is what he does. If things aren’t going well, that’s the good thing about having Tom on your team. If things ain’t going well, you’re going to get that reaction out of him, and it normally gets the guys going.”
Rodgers, meanwhile, has had to endure the Packers trading his best receiver, Davante Adams, to the Raiders in March for first- and second round picks in the 2022 draft.
The Packers used a second-round pick to select former Plant High standout Christian Watson. Veteran Sammy Watkins signed as a free agent. Both players are questionable for Sunday, along with veteran Randall Cobb, who has an illness.
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“Guys are in and out, and you’ve got to adjust within a game,” Brady said. “Certain weeks, you start a certain way, and it doesn’t end the way it’s starting. Guys get injured.
“You put together a game plan thinking all those guys are there and you play to their strengths, but you have to adjust throughout the game.”
Rodgers is impressed that Brady has been able to maintain his high standard of play at age 45.
“It’s consistency where (Brady) is still playing at a high level and there’s not the dropoff,” Rodgers, 38, said. “I think every great player fears, you know, turning into a real below-average player on the way out. I don’t think anybody wants to really hang on.
“When you’ve achieved at a high level for a long time, you try to stay there as long as you can.”
For the record, Rodgers said, he won’t be in the game as long as Brady.
“I’ll be doing something else,” Rodgers said. “I have a lot of other interests outside the game. The game has been really, really good to me. I feel like I’ve given my all to the game. At some point, it will be time to do something else, and I strongly believe that will be before 45.”
Brady and Rodgers rank first and fifth in career touchdown passes. This is only their fifth meeting on the field.
Brady owns a 3-1 lead in the series, including two wins during the 2020 season with the Bucs. Brady not only won that year during the regular season but beat Rodgers and the Packers in the NFC Championship Game at Lambeau Field.
The two quarterbacks have become good friends over the years and used to meet up annually at the Kentucky Derby. The last two offseasons, they have competed against and with each other in “The Match” golf event.
“We keep in touch, you know, pretty frequently during the season,” Rodgers said. “And obviously, we’re both kind of doing our own thing in the offseason. I’ve got a lot of respect (for Brady), and it’s been a nice friendship. It’s a lot of football with Tommy but a lot of non-football with me, so we balance each other out well.”
Given his age and that Brady has retired once, this could be the final time the league’s most remaining iconic quarterbacks compete on the same field.
But the outcome won’t come down solely to them.
“To win the game, you’ve got to score points, and that comes back to how do you score points with young receivers?” Brady said. “A lot of it is up to the young receivers and what they’re able to do. I’ve been in a lot of situations with a lot of younger players, and it’s a challenge because they don’t have the experience but maybe they have a lot of other things.
“If you’re the quarterback, try to figure out how to win the game. That’s why we’re all here.”
Together, at least one more time.
Contact Rick Stroud at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @NFLSTROUD.
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