For Brady-led Buccaneers, playoffs provide fresh start

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Tom Brady doesn’t waste a lot of time dwelling on the past.

Just as he understands winning the Super Bowl a record seven times doesn’t guarantee future success, the 45-year-old quarterback says entering the playoffs with a losing record shouldn’t be a hindrance for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“I was part of teams that were really good and didn’t make it very far. I was part of teams that were fighting really hard and made it a long way, so everything will be determined by what we do from here going forward,” Brady said.

The Bucs (8-9) won the NFC South title despite finishing with the only losing record Brady has compiled in 22 seasons as a starting quarterback. They will host the Dallas Cowboys (12-5) in an NFC wild-card game next Monday night.

“We’ve learned a lot over what’s happened over the course of the season and now we have to put our best foot forward offensively, defensively and special teams. We’ve got to get a lot of guys healthy and put our best group out there and see if we can go,” Brady said.

“You don’t think about winning anything more than one game,” he added. “The team that wins is the team that plays the best that day, not the team that had the best record or the home field. The team that plays the best that day is the one that advances.”

Brady played little less than two quarters on Sunday, when Tampa Bay was outscored 20-0 in the second half of a 30-17 regular season-ending loss at Atlanta.

Nevertheless, coach Todd Bowles felt his regulars played well enough before exiting the finale to maintain momentum generated by a division-clinching victory over the Carolina Panthers the previous week.

“We got in some good work in the first half. … I think if you rest them and don’t play them at all, then you lose momentum,” Bowles said. “We still had that competitiveness and that eager-to-go once the game starts. I think we started fast on both sides of the football, so that’s still there, and that was important.”

Now the challenge is to regroup for a fresh start against the Cowboys, who have lost to Tampa Bay in each of the past two regular-season openers.

Brady and the Bucs — two years removed from winning the quarterback’s seventh Super Bowl title — are 5-1 over the past two postseasons.

Bowles noted the team has a “clean slate” entering the playoffs.

Linebacker Devin White knows some people are counting the Bucs out because of their record.

“We didn’t play the way we wanted (most of the season) … but we got in,” White said. “We found a way to get in, and we showed resilience. We like being doubted and counted out because the only thing that matters is the people in this room.”

WHAT’S WORKING

Brady broke his own league record for completions in a season with 490 and enters the playoffs on a high note after throwing for a season-best 432 yards and three touchdowns against Carolina, then getting the Bucs into the end zone on a game-opening drive for only the third time all season against Atlanta.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

Once again, the defense showed against the Falcons that it can be vulnerable to the run, yielding 174 yards rushing on 35 carries at Atlanta. Sure, the starters didn’t play the entire game; however, the Bucs have allowed over 150 on the ground seven times this season.

STOCK UP

After only forcing four turnovers during a 10-game stretch from Oct. 9-Dec. 18, Tampa Bay’s defense has seven takeaways over the past three weeks.

STOCK DOWN

Despite playing much of the game with young backups on the field, Bowles felt the Bucs should have been able to protect a seven-point halftime lead and beat Atlanta.

“Regardless of who’s out there, we’re trying to win the game. We went into halftime with the lead. We should’ve been able to preserve the lead and try to win the ballgame,” Bowles said. “We got beat on fundamental stuff with some of the younger guys, and we’ve got to go back to the drawing board with those guys.”

INJURIES

Bowles said he did not have an update Monday on C Robert Hainsey, who left Sunday’s game with a sore hamstring. LT Donovan Smith (foot), RT Tristan Wirfs (ankle), NT Vita Vea (calf), WR Julio Jones (knee), S Mike Edwards (hamstring/hip), CB Carlton Davis (shoulder), LB Carl Nassib (pectoral) and S Logan Ryan (knee) all sat out vs. the Falcons due to injuries that will be evaluated as the week progresses.

KEY NUMBER

2 — With six catches for 55 yards at Atlanta, WR Chris Godwin joined Keyshawn Johnson as the only players in Bucs history to finish with more than 100 receptions in a season. Godwin had a career-best 104 catches for 1,023 yards. Johnson set the franchise record with 106 catches in 2001.

NEXT UP

Tampa Bay hosts the Cowboys next Monday night. The Bucs are 0-2 all-time vs. Dallas in the postseason, though the teams haven’t met in the playoffs since January 1983.

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