The Jets, of course, weren't looking 17 weeks into the season ahead when the 2021 NFL schedule was released in April. But a lot of Green & White fans took a peek.
Jan. 2, 2022. Tom Brady returns to the Meadowlands to take on the Jets.
That day is here.
Brady, needless to say, has not been a Patriot these last two seasons. He's led his new team, Tampa Bay, to Super Bowl victory last year and to an 11-4 record and another NFC South title and prime position in his conference's playoff grid this year.
The Jets, meanwhile, have flipped the Bucs' record, taking a 4-11 mark into this next rebuilding Sunday for head coach Robert Saleh's young team. A youthful slinger will lead them against the Bucs and TB in ZW. And Zach Wilson, who was born 22 years to the day later than Brady, has a great deal of admiration and yet a realistic approach to dealing with what the Bucs' ageless GOAT can do.
"It's something that he's proven to himself that he's able to take care of himself well enough to play well into his 40s and he's doing an amazing job of doing it. It's really cool to see," Wilson said this week. "It makes guys like me try and go as long as I can, as well.
"But as far as me vs. him, that's the last thing I would think about," Wilson said. "Of course it would be awesome to say that we beat the Bucs and to be able to play against Tom Brady, to beat those guys. Of course, that's the goal. But it's definitely not me against him."
Wilson has been emulating Brady lately in terms of taking care of the football — he's on a streak of not throwing an as reached to three full games and his last 103 attempts. He also gets starting guards Alijah Vera-Tucker and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif back from the COVID protocols.
But the Jets QB also has some issues on his side of the ball. Yes, he has his new go-to guy at WR in Braxton Berrios, but for the second straight game he'll be without his top three wideouts in Corey Davis, Elijah Moore and Jamison Crowder, with Crowder out again with a calf strain. His backfield will have newly minted 100-yard rushing rookie Michael Carter but not Tevin Coleman, on reserve/COVID. And his tight end corps has been hit by the injuries to Ryan Griffin and Trevon Wesco and Tyler Kroft's COVID status and will be manned today by practice squad elevation Dan Brown and free-agent rookie Kenny Yeboah.
See the Jets Arriving for the Week 17 Game Against the Buccaneers
However, the Jets defense is getting players back this week — DL John Franklin-Myers (but not Quinnen Williams or Kyle Phillips, with Phillips going on Reserve/COVID this morning) is back to try to pressure Brady, while the secondary has Bryce Hall activated at LCB and safeties Ashtyn Davis and Elijah Riley possibly returning to the starting lineup.
And what does Brady bring with him to his old home away from home in the Jersey Meadowlands? His own passing numbers, which are as good as they've been in his storied career — league-leading figures of 632 passes, 422 completions, 4,580 yards and 37 passing touchdowns and as a result the NFL's No. 1 passing offense at an even 300.0 net passing yards/game.
And Rob Gronkowski, too. Gronk has 41 catches and six TDs this season, and his nine career TDs vs. the Jets, all on passes from then-Patriot Brady, are the most by any opposing TE in franchise history.
Yet Brady also guiding a Pewter Pirates ship to town with a few holes in it. He may get back his biggest downfield threat in WR Mike Evans (14.0 yards/catch, 11 TDs). Evans (hamstring) has been dealing with injury as has WR Antonio Brown (ankle) but both are active .However, injuries have taken away 98-catch WR Chris Godwin and top tailback Leonard Fournette plus defensive stalwarts Shaq Barrett, Lavonte David, Jason Pierre-Paul and Richard Sherman as well as punter Bradley Pinion (hip/COVID).
One more wrinkle to the game for Jets fans: They've had their way in this series so far, with an 11-2 overall record that is the best against any NFL franchise and a 7-0 home mark that is the only undefeated record against any opponent. It's Wilson's intent to continue this streak and Brady's to unceremoniously snap it in comfortable (mid-50s) but cloudy and humid MetLife Stadium this afternoon.
The Jets' six-player inactives list for this game:
- QB Mike White
- LB Javin White
- RB La'Mical Perine
- CB Isaiah Dunn
- DL Shaq Lawson
- WR Jamison Crowder
And here is the Bucs' seven-man list of inactives:
- QB Kyle Trask
- CB Richard Sherman
- WR Justin Watson
- CB Dee Delaney
- LB Elijah Ponder
- LB Shaquil Barrett
- LB Jason Pierre-Paul