TMF: 'We Go Way Back': How Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski Made History; Plus: TJ Watt’s Energy Elevates Steelers, Life Lessons, More From Week 13
Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski continue to set historic records in Tampa Bay, TJ Watt's last second pressure lifts Steelers over Ravens; Plus: Life lessons, much more from Week 13.
The year is 2021. December has arrived. Winter is coming. And Tom Brady is still very good. Are you entertained yet?
Tom Brady lobbying touchdown passes to Rob Gronkowski, both wearing a Buccaneers uniform, is still something oddly unusual to watch for a guy who grew up in Massachusetts.
But man, are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fun to watch because of them.
In Sunday’s 30-17 win over the Atlanta Falcons, the 44-year-old Brady demonstrated how he’s still plenty capable of slinging the leather downfield; attempting a whopping 51 passes in the win. Brady ended his day completing 38 of 51 passes for 368 yards and four touchdowns to one interception. Rob Gronkowski caught four passes for 58 yards and two touchdowns from Brady, which advanced the duo’s greatness in the NFL history books as well.
After connecting for their 89th and 90th touchdowns on Sunday, Brady and Gronkowski now sit second all-time for most regular-season touchdowns by a duo – behind only Pro Football Hall of Famers Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison, who have 112 regular-season touchdowns.
"That second touchdown definitely brought us back to the heyday – the fade,"
Gronkowski said when speaking to the media after the game.
"I wasn't supposed to have a fade, but he saw and just reminds me of the heyday for us."
Also, Chris Godwin set a Buccaneers franchise record with 15 receptions in the win, helping Tampa Bay improve to 9-3 on the season.
Needless to say, and until further notice; Tampa Bay is still knocking at the door in the NFC.
Shoot, you’ve seen this story before. We all have. Don’t bet against Tom Brady, not yet anyway.
TMF FRONT PAGE: “We go way back”
That, they do.
‘Way back’ to the ‘heyday’ up in the cold bitter New England weather, where the historic duo became one of the best in NFL history.
In the third quarter, Brady called an audible on a third-and-short spot just over ten yards from goal line. Brady flung the ball over safety Erik Harris, finding Gronkowski on a fade route 11-yard score – a play they spent nine years refining together in New England where they won three Super Bowls together.
“We go way back, back to the heyday with that connection”
Gronkowski said after the game.
“I mean, we’ve been working on that (play) since 2010 together – and it definitely paid off there,”
With the duo’s 90th regular-season touchdown, Brady and Gronkowski moved up to second place all-time, passing the duo of Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates.
Here’s the list for clarity on just how special Brady to Gronkowski has been throughout the years:
Peyton Manning to Marvin Harrison: 112
Tom Brady to Rob Gronkowski: 90+
Philip Rivers to Antonio Gates: 89
Steve Young to Jerry Rice: 85
Elite company of historic duos in NFL history, I’d say.
If the Brady to Gronkowski chapter in the NFL history books ended today, it would be quite the story to tell. But it’s not over. Not yet.
Behind Brady and Gronkowski’s chemistry come playoff time, the odds would tell us that there is still a hell of a lot of meaningful football left in both of them. Together, in Tampa Bay.
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LEAD TAKEAWAYS FROM WEEK 13
T.J. Watt’s heroics lift Steelers over Ravens, keep playoff hopes alive
Mike Tomlin coached teams seem to all share a common trend: zero quit. That was the case in Sunday’s dramatic come-from-behind win over the first-place division rival, Baltimore Ravens. The game ended in nail-biting, pacing the living room, type fashion, as Baltimore scored a touchdown late with just 12 seconds left on the clock.
The Ravens were then down by a single point, but instead of trotting out Justin Tucker to kick the almost certain extra point to force the game to overtime, John Harbaugh elected to try a go-ahead two-point conversation for the win.
While the decision itself to go for two was controversial, the momentum of the game and nagging injuries Baltimore had suffered throughout justified considering it, at the very least.
“We were pretty much out of corners at that point in time,”
Harbaugh answered after the game when asked why he decided to go for two instead of the PAT to force overtime.
“It was an opportunity to try to win the game right there."
The bigger story, and moment, was that of Pittsburgh’s T.J. Watt, and his final pressure on Lamar Jackson in the closing moments of the game.
On the Ravens two-point conversion attempt, Watt came rushing ablaze off the edge, practically unblocked, to Jackson’s right. Watt stayed patient as he closed in; remaining outside of Jackson; forcing him to sidestep back inside the pocket with nowhere to run. Jackson then quickly evaded, sidestepped promptly, and released a pass while Watt threw his hands up to the right, which affected the angle of Jackson’s throw.
Jackson had his Pro Bowl tight end, Mark Andrews, wide open in the flat directly behind Watt.
But he missed him.
Watt had done just enough to force a slightly off throw from Jackson, which caused him to miss Andrews neighboring the endzone. Watt’s pressure and patience in pursuit of Jackson was sufficient, helping the Pittsburgh defense get a stop to seal the win. Maybe even, help keep Pittsburgh’s playoff hopes alive.
Joe Burrow’s competitive toughness, and why it places added pressure on Bengals
In five years, Joe Burrow may be viewed slightly differently than how he’s viewed amongst the fanbase and media today. Sure, the 2020 first overall draft selection comes up high expectations. But the big picture perception is vastly different with Burrow. Quarterbacks such as Lamar Jackson, Justin Herbert, Dak Prescott, Kyler Murray, and then some, have all been anointed as franchise, MVP caliber quarterbacks in 2021. Overall, those guys have earned the trust of their franchise and predominantly proved that they’re the quarterback capable of taking their team to the promised land – a Super Bowl.
Yet, the 24-year-old quarterback changing the narrative in Cincinnati doesn’t often receive the same glowing perception. Of course, a season-ending knee injury his rookie season didn’t benefit Burrow or his drive to uplift his new team. Since his return, however, he’s shown what type of quarterback, and person, he is at his core: A guy that despises losing.
We can make a strong argument that the quarterbacks mentioned above all possess a higher ceiling based strictly off of athletic ability and positional traits. Still, there’s something to be said about a quarterback who isn’t satisfied with beating a division rival Steelers team twice in one season. Something to be said about a quarterback’s passion for his team being better than average, better than the year before, is visibly evident every single week. There’s undoubtedly something to be said for a quarterback who plays almost the entirety of a 41–22 loss with a dislocated pinkie finger on his throwing hand.
Burrow’s toughness matched with his obsessive drive towards excellence has provided the Bengals with a window to gradually improve, and eventually, win. Burrow can’t do it alone though. He’ll need the supporting cast on both sides of the football, and that’s something to observe closely over the next season or two, in Cincinnati.
TEN THINGS FROM THE WEEK
Justin Jefferson isn’t talked about enough. He is without a doubt a top-five wide receiver in the NFL. Also, if things down change for the Vikings in 2022, don’t be surprised to see Jefferson take a similar path to the last top-five wide receiver in Minnesota.
Speaking of the Vikings, Kirk Cousins will be entering the final year of his contract next season. It's completely fair to wonder if there could be a lot of changes in Minnesota between now and the start of next season. Sunday's loss to the Lions was just a taste of what’s largely been a disappointing season. If the Vikings don't finish the year convincingly, it's entirely possible that we could be witnessing the end of the Mike Zimmer era in Minnesota.
Detroit, my sincerest congratulations go out to you and your team. Throw a parade, chug a beer, and celebrate this win all week long. Amon-Ra St. Brown looked pretty good on Sunday too, right? The rookie wide receiver out of USC continues to impress in Detroit.
After all the offseason praise the Jets received for the hiring of a ‘players coach’ in Robert Saleh, it hasn’t played out perfectly. That might be putting it gracefully too. Out of all the bad football teams we’ve watched in 2021, the team that seems to want to win the least out of the bunch has been the New York Jets. Remember, a rebuilding team must still display progress throughout the rebuild. And in Saleh’s first season, the Jets have shown little to no optimism.
If Ben Roethlisberger retires, who's the next quarterback in Pittsburgh? Mason Rudolph? Dwayne Haskins? The Pittsburgh Steelers are an interesting team to watch this offseason, as they’re not a standard ‘rebuilding team needs a new QB’ franchise heading into the 2022 NFL Draft. The Steelers have a stout defensive core with T.J. Watt leading the way, and the weapons on the offensive side of the ball are much better than they get credit for. If the Steelers want a quick bounce-back turnaround next season, finding the next guy to line up behind center is critically important. But whoever that quarterback is, rookie or veteran, will walk into a good situation, and added pressure of results in year one.
If there’s one team in the NFL that you could make the argument would dramatically improve with an elite quarterback, it would be the Denver Broncos. Between the impact players on the defensive side of the ball and the plethora of young talented pass catchers, and running backs, on the offensive side of the ball – Denver is a good football team. A true ‘a quarterback away’ team. If one team has the fire in their belly to make a run at Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson, or Russell Wilson this offseason, it should be Denver.
Through Week 13, who’s the NFL MVP? In a bizarrely competitive, up-and-down season, it’s yet to be seen who runs away with the award. Tom Brady has as good a shot as anyone, but tough to gauge as of today.
The Kansas City Chiefs still possess the highest ceiling of any team in the AFC. If Patrick Mahomes and the offense can manage to get back to where they once were; KC will be a hard out when the playoffs arrive.
The Arizona Cardinals didn’t miss a beat while Kyler Murray was away. In his return on Sunday, they continued their magical season with a 33-22 win over the Chicago Bears. Murray threw two touchdowns, and ran for another two. Arizona is a legicontenderer in the NFC. Oh, and Kliff Kingsbury should still be the odds on favorite to win Coach of the Year.
The New England Patriots improved to an AFC leading 9-4 record in a windy bizarre Monday Night Football showcase, beating the Buffalo Bills 14-10. The biggest takeaway from a game that saw Mac Jones only attempt three passes all night was just how critically important situational coaching is in this league. Bills head coach Sean McDermott wasted two timeouts for meaningless reasons, and the poor decisions from Buffalo didn’t end there. Bill Belichick’s coaching brilliance shined on Monday night, and the Patriots now head into a bye week on a seven game win streak.
ASK ME ANYTHING FROM THE WEEK
–Darkhorse team to win the Super Bowl?
New England, although I’m not sure if they’re still truly a darkhorse team.
–With MVS and Cobb most likely gone this offseason, and Green Bay finally drafts a WR in round one, who should it be?
Penn State’s Jahan Dotson would be a lot of fun to watch opposite Davante Adams.
–Regardless of how the 2021 season ends, what position do you see the Patriots focusing on in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft?
Offensive line, cornerback, maybe linebacker.
–I know this is a longshot, but what odds would you put Cleveland making a massive trade for a elite QB this offseason?
Unless there’s belief that guys like Deshaun Watson, Russell Wilson, or Aaron Rodgers would want to go there, I don’t see it happening.
–Favorite sleeper in the 2022 NFL Draft right now?
I really like safety Jaquan Brisker out of Penn State a lot. He’s improved his game tremendously this past season. Also, not sure he’s meets the qualifications of a true sleeper, but Cincinnati CB Ahmad Gardner is a player I may be a bit higher on than most.
CLOSING THOUGHTS: Life Lessons From a Grandfather
Thirteen weeks of the 2021 NFL season have past us. Thirteen Tuesday Morning Football columns have been meticulously written, in a rousing effort to bring you a unique, and hopefully interesting, perspective on the NFL every week. So, as I naturally reflect on what we’ve accomplished with this column, it brought me back to one significant moment in my life. A moment I felt compelled to share with you.
The moment that ultimately changed my view on my dreams, passions, and life in general.
Rewind the clock several years back. The year was 2016, and it was around the time winter in New England was coming to a close. My grandfather’s cancer had gotten worse – much worse. We all knew what was coming, and although I had the wonderful opportunity to prepare myself mentally and share my goodbyes with the man that helped raise me; it didn’t make it any easier.
Undoubtedly, we’ve all consumed cancer’s effect on us in some magnitude within our lives. Whether it’s you individually, or a loved one, cancer has become an existence in our lives. A common topic we woefully find ourselves conversing over while at coffee shops or at work with colleagues. For me, it took me awhile before it truthfully hit me.
But when it did, it hit me harder than anyone or anything has hit me before.
My grandfather was a veteran, a blue-collar worker and man. More importantly, he was a grandfather that grandchildren across the world envy over. It’s the little things that I remember vibrantly. The days when he would pick me up from kindergarten and stop somewhere to get me nuggets and fries for an early dinner. The Christmas mornings when I answered the door to see him with a massive bag hung over his shoulder, a bag filled with poorly wrapped gifts for us all to open in excitement. The early morning conversations we’d share when he went out of his way to give me rides to work before I bought my first car. When I waited tables at a local steakhouse chain, he would bring my grandmother there for lunch to support me and of course, help up my tips for the day.
Prior to his cancer diagnosis, he had the opportunity to meet his great grandson, my first son. Still to this day, I remember seeing him shed a tear when he held him for the very first time. It was the first and only time I witnessed my grandfather cry.
I’ll never forget it.
Needless to say, whether you love me, hate me, or don’t even know me; I’m the man I am today because of my grandfather. So, his last words to me are something I felt obliged to share with you all.
Back on a wind-filled rainy Thursday morning in April 2016, I spoke with my grandfather for the very last time. He knew he was going to die soon. In fact, he was in so much pain and agony, he wanted to go. It tormented him that nurses and family members had to help take care of him. He was very much a man of pride and honor, so having to rely on others to care for him tore him apart. And that much was written all over his face. Even through his several attempts of throwing up a poker face; you could read past it in his final days.
I still remember the feeling on that morning. The nerves and irregular thoughts about the unknown running wild within my head. But not his. He knew what was coming, and when he told me that I needed to be a better man than him, I experienced what felt like a 10-pound weight drop in my stomach.
“Life is short, too short.” He started saying before a hospice nurse handed him a glass of water. “It’s very short. You cannot wait for happiness to walk through that front door. Don’t wait for the life you want to just appear one day. Because it won’t.”
“You’re capable of more, and you know it.” He continued.
The final words I would ever hear from my grandfather are words I’ll never forget, and the very reason for me sharing this with you.
“Go get it.”
It took me far too long to realize what that message meant, and why he shared it with me and only me. Looking back and reflecting on that day almost six years later, he was right.
Whatever you want in life, go get it. Because life’s too short to waste your time living someone else’s. And that’s precisely why I’m writing this on a Monday evening as my children are sound asleep. Because at the end of the day, being a good father to them is, and always will be, the utmost important aspect of my entire existence.
Being a father my children are proud of, is second on the list. And that is explicitly what I’ll never stop fighting for.
I wanted to take a moment to share this with you because just like you, I’m a guy that loves football, but is also human. I, like you, have dreams and ambitions for myself and my loved ones. I waited too long before facing the fear of rejection.
Don’t wait. Run after it and be prepared to hear the word no. A lot, I’ll add.
Just keep running.
Don’t stop until you reach your destination. Because when your final days abruptly approach, you don’t want to be a grandparent telling your grandchildren to do something that you wish you did.
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