Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker compared Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa to NFL greats Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski after the star pair helped take down the Boston Red Sox in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series (ALCS).

Altuve and Correa each homered for the Astros, who rallied to top the Red Sox 5-4 in Friday's ALCS opener at Minute Maid Park in Houston.

The Astros wiped out a 3-1 deficit behind Altuve's two-run homer in the sixth inning – his 20th postseason home run as he became the fourth player to achieve the feat.

Correa then completed the comeback in the seventh with his 18th playoff homer – tied for seven-most all-time, while he recorded his 55th postseason RBI, the most among active players.

Baker hailed Altuve and Correa after the Astros drew first blood in the best-of-seven matchup, likening them to Tampa Bay Buccaneers superstars Brady and Gronkowski.

"It's kind of like Tom Brady and [Rob] Gronkowski," Baker said, with Brady and Gronkowski enjoying great success together with the New England Patriots and now the Buccaneers.

"They know how they think. They know probably what they eat for dinner, what they like and what their kids like."

Altuve became the fastest player (68) to reach 20 playoff home runs.

The World Series winner has now scored 11 runs in Houston's five playoff games this season. According to Stats Perform, that is tied with Carlos Beltran (2004) for the most runs in any five-game span in a single postseason.

"He is just so dangerous," Correa said of Altuve. "His track record in the playoffs is insane, and he just inspires me. He inspires me without saying much."

"When I walk into that clubhouse in spring training and I see this guy that has won MVPs, Silver Sluggers, batting titles, Gold Gloves, Hank Aaron Awards," added Correa. "Every single award you can imagine, he has won it, and then he shows up to spring training wanting to work on different things to get even better."

Correa celebrated his fourth career go-ahead home run in the seventh inning or later of playoff games, the most in postseason history.

"He is amazing. He likes this kind of game," Altuve said of Correa. "He wants to go out there and hit big homers. It seems like he expects to go out there and do it, so if you're expecting something, eventually you're going to make it happen, and that's him."

Correa's heroics prompted the Astros star to drop his bat and point to his wrist after homering against the Red Sox.

"It's to my team-mates," Correa explained. "When the playoffs start, they always tell me 'it's your time now to go out there, hit homers.' They told me to hit the watch, when I hit the homer.

"I did it in Chicago [in the ALDS] the first time on my own, and today they told me 'if you hit a homer, hit them with the, it's your time'."

Tom Brady had no problem with his thumb as the superstar quarterback guided the Tampa Bay Buccaneers past the Philadelphia Eagles 28-22 on Thursday.

All eyes had been on Brady pre-game after the seven-time Super Bowl champion hurt his thumb in last week's rout of the Miami Dolphins.

But Brady looked fine on the road in Philadelphia, where the 44-year-old threw two touchdowns as NFL champions the Buccaneers held off the fast-finishing Eagles.

"I feel great, awesome," said Brady, who finished 34 for 42 for 297 yards, two touchdowns and an interception without being sacked.

"It's football season, so I'm just prepared to play football. I feel great, I really do."

It was Brady's 10th career win on three days' rest, breaking a tie with Hall of Famer Peyton Manning for the most by any quarterback since the 1970 merger.

Brady's performance helped the Buccaneers – who lost Richard Sherman to injury in the opening half having played without Rob Gronkowski – win their third straight game as they improved to 5-1 for the season.

It marked just the fifth time in franchise history the Buccaneers have won five of their first six games. In each of the other four – including the 2002 Super Bowl campaign – they went on to make the playoffs.

The Buccaneers had to withstand a rally from the Eagles, who were 28-7 down before fighting back to close within six points of the visitors.

"It was a good win. You know, it's tough to win on the road. Obviously, we didn't play our best, so we gotta get back to work," Brady said.

"We gotta good little break here, use it and get back to work, see if we can get better."

Tom Brady and Super Bowl champions the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won their third consecutive game after outlasting the Philadelphia Eagles 28-22.

Brady threw two touchdowns as the in-form Buccaneers held off the fast-finishing Eagles, who fought back from 28-7 down in Philadelphia on Thursday.

Despite playing without star Rob Gronkowski and losing cornerback Richard Sherman to a hamstring injury early in the first quarter, the Buccaneers survived to make a 5-1 start to the season for the first time since 2005.

Brady – playing with an injured thumb – made a red-hot start on the road, tossing touchdown passes on Tampa Bay's first two drives while going 11-of-12 passing for 121 yards.

The seven-time Super Bowl winner finished 34 for 42 for 297 yards, two touchdowns and an interception without being sacked.

O.J. Howard and Antonio Brown caught passes from Brady in between Jalen Hurts' TD throw to Zach Ertz for the Eagles in the opening period.

The Buccaneers took a 21-7 lead into half-time courtesy of Leonard Fournette's two-yard run and he stretched the lead with less than six minutes remaining in the third quarter after another run.

Hurts – who finished 12-of-26 passing for 115 yards, one touchdown and an interception while he rushed for 44 yards on 10 carries – tried to spark a comeback for the Eagles, rushing for two TDs having last week become the first quarterback with two rushing touchdowns in a win for Philadelphia since Mike Vick in 2010.

But Brady and the Buccaneers held on to continue their quest for back-to-back Super Bowls.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers superstar Tom Brady admitted his right thumb is a "little bit sore" but feels he "should be fine" for the Super Bowl champions' clash with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Brady hurt his thumb after throwing five touchdown passes to fuel the Buccaneers' 45-17 rout of the struggling Miami Dolphins in the NFL on Sunday.

Against Miami, Brady threw for 411 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions – it was the first time in the 44-year-old's illustrious career that he had thrown for 400-plus yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions, becoming the 14th quarterback in the Super Bowl era to accomplish the feat.

As the Bucs (4-1) gear up for Thursday's battle against the Eagles (2-3) in Philadelphia, seven-time Super Bowl champion Brady provided an update on his fitness.

"I think it's just a little bit sore, but I expected it to be. But I think I should be fine for Thursday," Brady said.

"There's no serious injury at all. It's more just discomfort, but I think that should be gone here in the next day or two.

"This is just, you play a game, you get hit -- you deal with bumps and bruises over the course of the year. It just so happens that this bruise is on my hand.

"I'm just trying to be preventative and precautious and be smart -- it's been less than 48 hours since it happened -- so it's not like it's had five or six days to do its thing. But I feel confident that I will go out there and do what I need to do."

Tampa Bay have scored 45 or more points in five of their last 15 games dating back to last season. In the 698 games in franchise history prior to that, the team only had five total games with 45 or more points, according to Stats Perform data.

In Week 4, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers faced an AFC East defense and by, their standards, looked out of sync. In Week 5, they faced an AFC East defense and could hardly have looked more impressive.

Freed from the rainy confines of Foxborough and away from the defensive scheming of his old boss Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the Buccaneers routed a Miami Dolphins team whose rebuild appears poised to come crashing down 45-17 to improve to 4-1 on the season.

Back in the Florida sunshine, it was very much a return to business as usual for the Bucs, but, for Tampa Bay, business as usual is looking steadily more remarkable.

Speaking after Sunday's game, running back Leonard Fournette said: "Prior to the third quarter Rich [Richard Sherman] came up to me and said, 'Man, I've never been part of a team with so much talent.'

"And I'm telling him like, and excuse my language, but this s*** is different."

It is tough to disagree with Fournette's assessment of the Super Bowl champions. When performing at their peak, the Bucs appear to be on a different level to almost every team in the NFL.

They were several leagues above their in-state neighbours at the weekend, with the gulf in class illustrated by a rapport between Brady and arguably the NFL's premier group of wide receivers that appears to be growing ever stronger.

Brady heading for more history

Brady finished with 411 yards passing and five touchdowns against the Dolphins for a 144.4 passer rating, tying Peyton Manning with his ninth career game with at least five touchdown passes. Only Drew Brees (11) has more in NFL history.

It was his 36th game with at least four touchdown passes, taking him past Manning (35) and one shy of Brees. Brees (16), Manning (14) and Dan Marino (13) are the only players with more 400 passing-yard games than Brady's 12.

A 62-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Brown marked Brady's 45th of 50 or more yards, moving him level with Brees and John Hadl for the third most in league history. Johnny Unitas (51) and Manning (46) stand ahead of him in that regard.

Leading the league in passing yards (1,767) and second in passing touchdowns (15) and plays of 25 yards or more (16), Brady will be a strong bet to keep moving up those lists, provided he and his wideouts continue operating at a level that left a Dolphins defense known for producing momentum-stopping takeaways powerless to stem the tide.

Pressure? What pressure?

Brady delivered an accurate well-thrown ball on 81.6 per cent of his pass attempts against Miami. The average for the week heading into Monday was 81.7, but Brady was close to that mark while also averaging 10.53 air yards per attempt.

Only two quarterbacks who averaged more air yards had a better well-thrown percentage. Russell Wilson was accurate on 93.3 per cent with 12.00 air yards per attempt before his injury, and Josh Allen was on target 87.5 per cent of the time with an average of 12.46 air yards.

It was under pressure where Brady stood out in Week 5, as his first of two touchdown hookups with Brown saw him stand in against the interior rush and deliver a perfectly timed ball to the former Pittsburgh Steeler on a crossing route despite falling away from the throw.

Brown was able to collect the pass in stride, racing into open space to find the endzone and give the Bucs a 17-10 lead they never looked like relinquishing.

Arguably as impressive was Brady's 34-yard bomb to Mike Evans. The first of two touchdown catches for Evans, Brady dropped a downfield shot into the bucket despite dealing with late-arriving pressure from the backside and Byron Jones being in phase in good trail position covering the receiver.

Brady was accurate on four of his five attempts under pressure, on which he averaged 9.80 air yards, with his release time of 2.41 seconds on those passes the second-fastest in the NFL.

In a league increasingly dominated by quarterbacks who can escape pressure with their legs, Brady is a 44-year-old statue winning through his mind and his arm operating at a faster speed than everyone else on the field while continuing to demonstrate remarkable placement on throws that seemed beyond him as recently as 2019.

Part of the credit for his success, though, must be attributed to a receiving corps firmly living up to its reputation.

Business booming for AB and Co.

Evans, Brown and Chris Godwin can each be considered elite options at the wideout position, and their status in that regard was further solidified in a game where the Bucs shredded the opposing defense despite Brady being without a tight end in Rob Gronkowski who is averaging a big play on 57.0 per cent of his targets.

Brown finished with seven receptions for 124 yards and his two scores, becoming the fastest player to reach 900 catches as he took his tally to 906 in 143 career games, breaking the record set by Marvin Harrison (149 games).

He also became the fifth player in league history to reach 12,000 receiving yards in fewer than 150 games and, while Brown may never reach the levels he demonstrated during his time in Pittsburgh, he is undoubtedly worthy of Brady's increasing faith in him.

Producing a burn – when a receiver wins his matchup with a defender on a play where he is targeted – 69.0 per cent of the time, Brown is tied-third among receivers with at least 20 targets with his 5.3 burn yards per route.

Evans, meanwhile, is seventh on the list of receivers who meet that same threshold with a big play on 41.7 per cent of his targets, and Godwin – the quietest of the trio versus Miami with seven catches for 70 yards – is fifth in burn percentage for receivers with a 20-target minimum, winning his matchup on 74.4 per cent of targets.

Godwin's average depth of target of 8.3 yards speaks to a receiver who is working more as an underneath option while Evans (14.2) and Brown (13.9) are being relied on to produce the more explosive plays downfield.

Yet when performing at the standard they showcased on Sunday, the nature of their deployment is almost immaterial. With three receivers who could be number one targets on most teams in the NFL and a quarterback whose arm and ability to process are seemingly unaffected by the passage of time, a Bucs offense that is clicking is a near-impossible one to stop.

Any notion of a short stay in Tampa being akin to a Florida retirement home for Brady has long since been dispelled. With an embarrassment of riches at receiver, he is continually polishing a legacy that glistens more than any other in league history. With more offensive performances like his 400-yard blitz of the Dolphins, he may end the year buffing up an eighth Lombardi Trophy.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers superstar Tom Brady was non-committal on his playing status after suffering a hand injury in his five-touchdown performance against the Miami Dolphins.

Brady threw five TD passes to fuel Super Bowl champions the Buccaneers' 45-17 rout of the Dolphins in Week 5 of the NFL season on Sunday.

The 44-year-old was 30-of-41 passing for 411 yards without throwing an interception against the struggling Dolphins (1-4) in Tampa, where the Bucs improved to 4-1.

Among Brady's touchdown passes was a 62-yard TD throw to Antonio Brown – the longest pass TD he has completed with the Buccaneers, while it was the seven-time Super Bowl champion's 25th career pass TD of 60-plus yards, which is tied for ninth-most in NFL history.

But afterwards, Brady was seen with his right hand bandaged as the Bucs quarterback provided an update on his injury.

"Yeah in my younger days I probably [would have] never showed you guys that I wrapped it up, because I'd probably try to keep it a secret, but I think in my old age I don't care as much," Brady told reporters post-game, with the Bucs due to meet the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday.

"I mean it's just a kind of a football injury. So, do my best you know to get ready for this game. We'll see what happens."

In the win, Bucs wide receiver Brown became the fastest NFL player to 900 receptions in just his 143rd career game, eclipsing Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison (149 games).

Brown – a seven-time Pro Bowler and four-time first-team All-Pro – finished with two touchdowns from 124 yards on seven receptions against the Dolphins.

"I take so much inspiration from Tom. As a professional, as a leader, making sure that I'm doing my job, making sure that all the other 10 guys are doing their job," said Brown, who played alongside Ben Roethlisberger at the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"He just continues to up the standard and raise the bar."

Brown, 33, added: "I've played with some great quarterbacks. Roethlisberger. Tom Brady. It's a blessing."

Brady, who played alongside Brown briefly at the New England Patriots before reuniting in Tampa last season, said: "It's pretty amazing. Just give him a lot of credit.

"He's been through a lot and he's shown a lot of mental toughness, a lot of resilience. Everyone just wants him to succeed.

"We've got a unique group of guys. Very talented, but very selfless too. All those guys are getting opportunities to make plays, and just fun to see when everyone's involved how fun it can be."

The Green Bay Packers went 4-1 for the 2021 season after Mason Crosby's overtime field goal secured a dramatic 25-22 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.

Crosby missed two field goals in the final quarter as Cincinnati pegged back the visitors at 22-22, with the Packers #2 then squandering another chance early in overtime.

His third miss came sandwiched in between Bengals rookie Evan McPherson twice hitting the post with field goal attempts of his own.

Yet a brilliant pass from the superb Aaron Rodgers – who threw for two touchdowns to take him into outright fifth place in the all-time list for quarterbacks with 422 – to Randall Cobb teed up the game-winning moment.

Bengals QB Joe Burrow also threw for two touchdowns, having got Cincinnati started when he picked out Samaje Perine from close range in the first quarter. 

Burrow collected his second TD pass of the game in style, throwing 70 yards (the longest pass of his NFL career) for Ja'Marr Chase to cross.

Chase's score came after Rodgers had propelled the Packers ahead with passes to Davante Adams and AJ Dillon, and although Joe Mixon forced OT, Crosby held his nerve at the fourth time of asking.

Brady downs Dolphins

A week on from breaking Drew Brees' NFL passing record, Brady was at his imperious best again for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, throwing for five touchdowns and 411 yards in a 45-17 win over the Miami Dolphins.

His 72 touchdown passes against the Dolphins mean he is the joint-leader, alongside Dan Marino (72 v. the New York Jets) for TD passes against a single opponent in the Super Bowl era, while his 62-yard pass for Antonio Brown on Sunday was the longest he has thrown while at the Buccaneers. 

Pitts stars in London

The NFL returned to London on Sunday, with the Atlanta Falcons overcoming the New York Jets 27-20. Rookie receiver Kyle Pitts was the star of the show at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, taking nine catches for 119 yards and a touchdown, the first of his NFL career.

Mac Jones emerged from the New England Patriots' loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with great credit, but that was of little interest to the rookie quarterback after a defeat that dropped them to 1-3.

The 15th overall pick in this year's draft and the man the Patriots hope will be the long-term successor to Tom Brady came up short as the seven-time Super Bowl champion made a winning return to Gillette Stadium.

Yet Brady was arguably outperformed by Jones during an unexpectedly close battle, which saw the defending champions hold on to claim a 19-17 win.

Nick Folk's 56-yard field goal as time expired amid driving rain hit the left upright, denying Jones a game-winning drive on his resume that would have been well deserved.

Jones finished 31 of 40 for 275 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, at one point completing 19 consecutive pass attempts.

But the former Alabama star was clearly not in the mood for looking on the bright side, telling his post-game media conference: "We could be 90 per cent or 85 per cent and you lose, so we don't really do moral victories.

"Those are always forgotten. But you just kind of have to take it for what it's worth and move on.

"I think we moved in the right direction. We made plays and played hard the whole game and I turned the ball over.

"That's one of the problems, you know, turnovers can kill you, and you know if you turn the ball over — If you don't turn the ball over, you have a 90-something per cent chance to win, and it's just statistics but I have thought we moved the ball, passing well and the run game needs to improve and we'll come up with ways to do that.

"I thought everyone fought really hard. It sucks we lost but yeah, look at it, like you said, that we're making some progress."

The night did ultimately belong to Brady, though, as he made history by breaking Drew Brees' NFL passing yards record.

Brady, who finished 22-of-43 passing for 269 yards without a touchdown or interception, eclipsed the 80,291-yards mark in the opening quarter – the 44-year-old's 28-yard completion to Mike Evans seeing him surpass Brees.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers superstar Tom Brady revelled in his "very cool record" after becoming the all-time passing yards leader during his emotional Foxborough homecoming against the New England Patriots.

Brady broke Drew Brees' NFL record and led Super Bowl champions the Buccaneers (3-1) past former team the Patriots (1-3) 19-17 on Sunday.

All eyes were on Brady as the seven-time Super Bowl champion made his first appearance in New England since leaving the Patriots for the Buccaneers ahead of the 2020 season, having won six rings at Gillette Stadium.

Brady received a warm welcome from Patriots fans, with the 44-year-old going on to eclipse Brees' mark of 80,291 yards and join Brett Favre, Peyton Manning and Brees as the only QBs to defeat all 32 NFL franchises.

"I just think it's amazing statistic in that so many people can share in it with me," Brady told reporters after finishing 22-of-43 passing for 269 yards without a touchdown or interception, while he rushed for three yards on four carries.

"Quarterback doesn't throw and catch. Quarterback can just throw it. It's yards. Passing yards have to be caught, so I just hope that everybody who caught passes from me over the years just had a little smile on their face tonight knowing they contributed to a very cool record."

"It's not that I would predict what would happen," Brady said. "There were a few emotional moments thinking about the people that meant so much in my life. My football journey took me somewhere else."

Brady shared an embrace with Patriots head coach Bill Belichick following the game, which saw a desperate 56-yard field-goal attempt from Nick Folk bounce off the upright in the final minute as the former got the better of New England.

"All of that is personal," Brady said when asked about what was said between him and Belichick. "We've had a lot of personal conversations that should remain that way.

"So much is made of our relationship... nothing is really accurate that I ever see. I have a lot of respect for him as a coach and this organisation."

"It was a tough, hard-fought game. It was a very typical Patriot-type weather. Very tough to come into the environment. I thought the fans did a great job. That little, what do they call that horn? That foghorn or whatever? That thing's loud," Brady said of the noise that plays before opponents' third-down plays.

"You don't think about it much when your defense is on the field. I just had to be on the field when that thing was going off."

It remains to be seen whether Brady will play another game in Foxborough as the five-time Super Bowl MVP said: "It's been a great stadium for me for a long time. I don't know what the future holds, obviously. So there could be an opportunity to come back here. So we'll see."

After the reunion, Belichick added: "We went against Tom Brady every day, every day in practice defensively. So it's not like we've never seen Tom Brady before."

Drew Brees said he is not surprised by Tom Brady's form after watching the evergreen Tampa Bay Buccaneers superstar break his NFL record.

Brady eclipsed Brees' passing yards record in Super Bowl champions the Buccaneers' 19-17 victory at the New England Patriots on Sunday.

In his first appearance in Foxborough since leaving the Patriots for the Buccaneers after 19 seasons and six Super Bowls ahead of the 2020 season, Brady surpassed Brees' mark of 80,291 yards in the opening quarter.

Brees – who retired at the end of last season – hailed the 44-year-old quarterback, who continues to defy 'Father Time'.

"Congratulations @tombrady on breaking the NFL All-Time Yardage Record!," Brees wrote via Instagram.

"We have had some epic battles over the years, but more importantly, have been able to develop a great friendship along the way.

"Some may be surprised what you are doing at age 44, but I am not. Your commitment and dedication to this game, your team, and to being the very best, are second to none.

"Very few realise the stress, sacrifice and struggle it takes to play the QB position for so many years.

"You continue to put greatness on display and bring out the best in those around you. Enjoy the moment as you have earned it!"

Brady – a seven-time Super Bowl champion – got the better of the Patriots and Bill Belichick to join Brett Favre, Peyton Manning and Brees as the only QBs to defeat all 32 NFL franchises.

Tom Brady made history in his Foxborough homecoming as Super Bowl champions the Tampa Bay Buccaneers held off the New England Patriots 19-17.

Brady returned to New England for the first time since leaving the Patriots for the Buccaneers ahead of the 2020 season, having won six Super Bowls during his 19 years at Gillette Stadium.

The seven-time Super Bowl champion received a warm reception in his homecoming as the Buccaneers superstar broke Drew Brees' NFL passing yards record.

Brady, who finished 22-of-43 passing for 269 yards without a touchdown or interception, eclipsed the 80,291-yards mark in the opening quarter – the 44-year-old's 28-yard completion to Mike Evans seeing him surpass Brees.

Bill Belichick's New England (1-3) led 7-6 at half-time thanks to Mac Jones' 11-yard pass to Hunter Henry in the second quarter.

Ronald Jones II's eight-yard run helped the Buccaneers (3-1) reclaim the lead before Mac Jones' second TD pass of the night – a short completion to Jonnu Smith – tipped the contest back in the Patriots' favour to start the final period.

Mac Jones completed 19 consecutive passes, tying the longest streak in a single game by a Patriots quarterback in the last 30 years. That run was posted by Brady in Week 1 of the 2015 season.

The topsy-turvy clash continued as Ryan Succop and New England's Nick Folk traded field goals before the former converted a 48-yard kick to put Tampa Bay ahead inside the final two minutes following a seven-play, 45-yard drive led by Brady.

A desperate 56-yard field-goal attempt from Folk bounced off the upright in the final minute as Brady got the better of the Patriots and Belichick to join Brett Favre, Peyton Manning and Brees as the only QBs to defeat all 32 NFL franchises.

Tom Brady broke Drew Brees' NFL passing yards record on Sunday as he returned to play the New England Patriots with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Legendary quarterback Brady came into his first game back in Foxborough on 80,291 yards in the regular season, needing 68 to pass Brees.

The 44-year-old reached that mark with a 28-yard completion to Mike Evans in the opening quarter, which led to the game's opening score and a 3-0 Buccaneers lead.

The Patriots, who won six Super Bowls with Brady under center, acknowledged his achievement, although the game quickly resumed.

Given New Orleans Saints great Brees retired at the end of last season, Brady will now own the record for the foreseeable future. Fellow veteran Ben Roethlisberger is his closest challenger among active players on 61,149 prior to the Pittsburgh Steelers' loss to the Green Bay Packers. [before Packers game].

Brees had taken top spot from Peyton Manning (71,940) in October 2018, while Manning only himself passed Brett Favre (71,838) in the final regular-season start of his career in November 2015.

Brady already owned the record for the most passing TDs, which now stands at 591.

The seven-time champion, who added his latest ring in his first season with the Bucs in 2020, tallied 74,571 of his passing yards and 541 of his passing TDs across 20 seasons with the Pats.

Facing New England and Bill Belichick for the first time, Brady was looking to become the fourth starting QB to beat all 32 teams in the league, alongside Brees, Manning and Favre.

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians says four-time SuperBowl champion Rob Gronkowski will be a "game time decision" to play on Sunday against the New England Patriots.

The Bucs take on the Patriots in Tom Brady's return to Foxborough, with Tampa Bay currently 2-1 after a Week 3 loss to the Los Angeles Rams 34-24.

Five-time Pro Bowler Gronkowski missed two practices this week with a rib injury and is questionable to play.

Gronkowski, who was also with the Patriots from 2010 to 2018, suffered the injury in the third quarter against the Rams but did return to play.

The tight end has been a key offensive weapon for the Bucs this season, with 16 receptions for 184 yards and four touchdowns.

The Bucs have further injury worries with outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul in doubt with a hand/shoulder issue.

Brady going to his former side has been the subject of plenty of attention this week but Arians said the team's main focus was on a strong response after the Rams defeat.

"Hell of a week of practice," Arians said. "You could really feel the difference in intensity this week.

"It doesn’t have a damn thing to do with Brady. It has to do with losing. I liked the way we bounced back on the practice field."

The debate over whether Bill Belichick or Tom Brady was more responsible for the New England Patriots' dynasty is not one likely to die down any time soon.

But for Belichick's part, the Patriots coach has long since accepted he would not have enjoyed the same success, which saw New England win six Super Bowls in Brady's 20 seasons as quarterback, had another player been under center.

Asked at a media conference if New England would have dominated to the same extent without Brady, Belichick replied: "Of course not. We talked about that for two decades.

"I think I've been on the record dozens of times saying there's no quarterback I would rather have than Tom Brady and I still feel that way.

"I was very lucky to have Tom as the quarterback, to coach him, and he was as good as any coach could ever ask for."

Belichick's fondness for Brady did not stop him from allowing the Patriots' greatest player to leave in the offseason before the 2020 campaign.

Brady moved on to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and promptly won a seventh Super Bowl ring.

While Belichick will have to plan for a game against Brady for the first time when the Buccaneers visit the Patriots at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, he will likely not have to face tight end Rob Gronkowski, whom the Patriots traded to the Bucs last season after he came out of retirement.

Gronkowski was listed as doubtful on the Bucs' injury report, having suffered a rib injury during Tampa Bay's Week 3 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.

Running back Giovani Bernard and cornerback Jamel Dean have both been ruled out, the latter's absence potentially meaning playing time for a new signing in five-time Pro Bowler Richard Sherman.

There probably won't be too much focus on Mac Jones come Sunday night at Gillette Stadium.

In the ranking of cast and characters as Tom Brady makes his return to Foxborough, having left New England after 20 seasons and six Super Bowl rings and gone on to add another in his first year away from the Patriots, Jones might struggle to even be considered a supporting actor.

Indeed, the dominant narrative as Brady brings the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the place where he built a legend that stands above all others in the NFL will be one of quarterback versus former coach.

This is a chance for Brady to get one over on Bill Belichick and, for many, to prove that he was the chief reason for the two decades' worth of success the Patriots enjoyed. In a landscape where hot takes rule over balance and nuanced conversation, the most obvious explanation that New England's dominance was a product of a quite beautiful marriage between the greatest quarterback and greatest coach of all time is drowned out.

Talk of Brady claiming a narrative-winning triumph over Belichick ignores the fact that the deck is firmly stacked against New England. In almost every area, the Patriots enter this one shorthanded compared to their opponents and the reality is the Bucs should win handily regardless of who is coaching the opponent.

But for most this is a game where that narrative trumps analysis and, with Brady almost certain to break Drew Brees' record for all-time passing yards at the home of his former team, little importance is likely to be assigned to the Patriots' first-round pick and how he performs with a team ill-equipped to topple the Bucs.

Yet in terms of the long-term outlook, that is the most important aspect of Sunday's game for New England. Belichick will not care about Brady breaking records. His focus will be on how Jones meets the challenge of facing the team that entered the season as the class of the NFL.

Coincidentally, that test comes three days after the 20th anniversary of Brady's first start for the Patriots in 2001, a season that saw him improbably lead New England to Super Bowl glory. The NFL has changed so much in those two decades that a direct comparison between Brady's first games as a starting quarterback and those of Jones is difficult to make.

However, the timing of the most challenging and most significant game of Jones' career to this point provides an opportunity to answer the question: is he on track to be the long-term successor to Brady?

A superior start?

Having used the 15th overall pick on Jones, the Patriots will hope the answer is an emphatic yes.

On the surface, the difference in his numbers from his opening three games and those from Brady across the same limited sample size provides reason for encouragement.

Brady completed 57.4 per cent of his passes across his first three starts for 618 yards and two touchdowns. Through Week 3 of this season, Jones has completed 67.5 per cent of passes for 737 yards and two touchdowns. He has six passing plays of 25 yards or more so far in his career, Brady had only three in his first three starts.

Yet Jones' advantage in those raw numbers is more than likely a reflection of a modern NFL that is far more hospitable to the passing game than it was in 2001.

And in the one area where Jones and the young Brady could be considered comparable, it is the latter who has the edge. Brady did not throw an interception across his first three starts, Jones has already thrown three.

They all came in last week's loss to the New Orleans Saints, a performance that lent credence to the argument that, while Jones has arguably been the most composed of the rookie quarterbacks to start a game this season, his poise and decision-making is not on the same level as Brady's was back in 2001.

Cleaning up the decision-making

Jones cannot be considered at fault for all those picks. He certainly takes some share of the blame for the first, which saw him step up into the arms of Kaden Elliss, who hit Jones as he delivered the ball, producing a wobbly pass that landed in the grateful arms of P.J. Williams.

The second, which was returned for a touchdown by Malcolm Jenkins, saw a well-thrown ball bounce off the hands of Jonnu Smith, while the third appeared to be the product of a miscommunication with Nelson Agholor, the throw behind the receiver with the game well out of hand.

Only the first interception could potentially be ascribed to Jones and poor decision-making in the pocket, but the numbers offer an insight into when his turnover-worthy plays are coming and provide some cause for concern.

Jones has thrown a pickable pass, per Stats Perform data, on 2.56 per cent of his attempts, putting him the right side of the league-wide average of 3.13 per cent. The modern-day Brady, a seemingly ageless behemoth content to see how close to 50 he can continue playing, has thrown an interceptable pass 1.49 per cent of the time.

The statistics indicate that Jones has been unperturbed by pressure. He has thrown three pickable passes in total this season, but none have come when under duress. Instead, they have all been thrown from a clean pocket.

Only two other quarterbacks, Dak Prescott (4) and Zach Wilson (6) have thrown more interceptable passes from a clean pocket. Brady has thrown one, with his other pickable pass coming under pressure.

The split speaks to Jones' composure under pressure but raises doubts about his overall decision-making when he has the chance to properly scan the field, and further potential issues become apparent when looking at the Patriots' quarterback under pressure versus when he has time.

A lack of aggression

Criticism of Jones to this point in his NFL career has surrounded an apparent inability to push the ball downfield. However, his air yards per attempt average of 8.24 is actually slightly superior to that of Brady (8.13).

But when he has the opportunity to assess his options, Jones eschews the more aggressive throws. His air yards per attempt average from a clean pocket is 7.38, only just above the average of 7.28 and below Brady's 8.13.

It is when he is pressured that Jones appears more comfortable going deep. With the time to think taken away, Jones' air yards average is 10.03, again above the average (9.97) but on the lower end of the scale.

Delivering a well-thrown ball 81.6 per cent of the time under pressure, Jones stands above Brady (78.8) as the joint-third most accurate quarterback under duress.

It is his overall accuracy that gives the Patriots their primary cause for optimism with Jones. His well-thrown percentage of 80.3 is above the 78.9 per cent average, though below Brady's 82.1, and Smith's drop that turned into an interception was illustrative of the lack of help he has received from his pass-catchers despite heavy investment from New England this offseason.

Receivers Agholor (66.7), Kendrick Bourne (57.1) and Jakobi Meyers (72.4) are all below the average for open percentage on plays where they are targeted among wideouts with at least five targets, speaking to a lack of separation from New England's receiving weapons.

Jones might not be getting the best of assistance, but a blend of questionable decision-making and lack of aggressiveness from a clean pocket is not a winning strategy in today's NFL. It is also not a combination Brady could be accused of ever possessing during his career, even if he did average fewer than seven yards per attempt across his first three seasons as a starter.

Stepping into Brady's shoes after Cam Newton's failed bid to become the successor was always going to be a tall ask for a rookie, so it is important not to make definitive judgements on a player whose NFL career is still firmly in its infancy.

But the early signs for Jones are mixed and if he is to snatch some of the limelight in primetime, he will need to do a better job of taking advantage of protection and making the right reads and, in the process, keep the man who has built the NFL's greatest resume off the field for as long as possible.

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