NEW ORLEANS — Tom Brady and Drew Brees will actually do something next week that they have never accomplished in their storied NFL careers: Face each other in a playoff game.
The second-seeded New Orleans Saints will host the fifth-seeded Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the grand finale of next weekend’s divisional-round matchups on Sunday afternoon.
“I guess it was inevitable,” said Brees, who said he knew the Buccaneers would be a significant rival once Brady decided to migrate to the NFC South this offseason. “Listen, the minute that he signed with the Bucs and came in the division, you felt like that was gonna be a team to contend with. That was gonna be a team that had playoff aspirations and beyond, just like us.”
Brees, who turns 42 on Friday and is expected to contemplate retirement after the season, said, “I don’t take it for granted. I’m very appreciative of the opportunity.”
The Saints, who became the first team ever to sweep the NFC South division in the regular season, got the better of Brady and the Bucs in their first two matchups — a 34-23 win in New Orleans in Week 1 and a stunning 38-3 rout at Tampa in Week 9.
Brees and the 43-year-old Brady became the first pair of quarterbacks ever to start against one another at age 40-plus in a NFL game in those first two meetings. Now they’ll be the first to do it in a playoff game.
Their rivalry has actually spanned four decades now, dating back to when Brady’s Michigan Wolverines trounced Brees’ Purdue Boilermakers in 1999.
Brees has actually won five of their seven career matchups in the NFL — and Brees ranks No. 1 in league history in passing yardage. However, Brady ranks No. 1 in career touchdown passes and has the ultimate mic drop when it comes to Super Bowl rings (six to one).
Brady and the Buccaneers have been on a recent hot streak, winning five straight games including Saturday night’s 31-23 wild-card win over the Washington Football Team.
But Brees and the Saints offense are hoping that they’re about to reach their peak in the playoffs after they just got receivers Michael Thomas and Deonte Harris back from injured reserve and running back Alvin Kamara back from the reserve/COVID-19 list in time for Sunday’s 21-9 wild-card victory over the Chicago Bears.
Thomas caught five passes for 73 yards and his first touchdown of the season after he was limited to just seven games this year with a nagging ankle injury. Brees and Thomas had played a total of just 10 quarters together in the regular season, thanks to Brees missing four games of his own from Weeks 11-14 with a punctured lung and 11 broken ribs.
“It was great (to get Thomas back). It was great to get him in the end zone, too. Hopefully we broke the seal and there’s a lot more where that came from,” said Brees, who threw for 265 yards and two TDs Sunday — but acknowledged that the offense has room to improve after scoring just seven points in the first 40 minutes.
“Listen, we’ve got some work to do,” Brees said. “I think still just kind of the first time getting everybody together again. Hopefully we get (receiver) Tre’Quan Smith back this week as well. There’s just so much timing and rhythm that goes into the passing game and so many little nuances of things that.”
Kamara ran for 99 yards and a TD despite not being allowed to practice with the team all week. But he said he felt like he “didn’t really miss a beat” after barely experiencing any symptoms and getting to follow the Saints’ practices via live-stream video with coaches mic’d up.
Kamara said he and Brees texted and talked throughout the week about the nuances of the game plan.
“I got a first-round bye. I got a bye week,” joked Kamara, who wasn’t able to play in Week 17 after testing positive late last week. “So it helps, obviously, just having that down time. You have no choice but to sit and recover and kind of like get your body back right. So I felt good out there today.
“With me, it didn’t really affect me too much. Just taste and smell thrown off. No real side effects, no real symptoms. I felt fine out there today. My wind wasn’t really affected. Thank god for the health. It was just something I had to deal with.”