Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have run their last full-speed rep before the 2021 season – and their efforts to repeat as Super Bowl champions – begins in earnest. Now it's time to make sure their minds are right.
"I feel like we have a great opportunity ahead of us and any time you start the season and it's the first game of the year, it's pretty exciting," said Brady on Tuesday after the Bucs' final Week One practice. "I know the stadium will be packed and it will be an exciting night for all of us. We worked pretty hard to get to this point and now we're through all the physical prep. Now we have a couple more days – 48 hours plus – to really mentally prepare, lock in and then try to go play our best game."
Indeed, the Buccaneers and the Dallas Cowboys will play the very first game of the NFL's 2021 schedule on Thursday night at Raymond James Stadium in what is appropriately known as the Kickoff Game. The Bucs have the honor of being the hosts for that annual showcase because they are the league's defending champs after beating Kansas City in Super Bowl LV.
The Buccaneers made it back to the NFL's highest peak in Brady's first season in red and pewter, an astonishing accomplishment given that the new starting quarterback had very little time to integrate himself into the offense before the game's began. Brady enters his second season at the helm of the Bucs' offense with a whole year in Bruce Arians' offense under his belt and a much better connection with his talented group of pass-catchers. As such, expectations are high for that offense and the Bucs as a whole, but there is still a lot of work ahead. At the moment, that work is fine-tuning the team's mental preparations for Thursday night.
"The physical preparation is over," echoed Arians. "Now it's all mental from here to the ballgame – still a lot of work to do."
"[We will] go back over a lot of scenarios. We'll go through our walk-through tomorrow and cover as many scenarios as we possibly can. The 'what-ifs' of this game that always happen and always show up. Something new always shows up, that's for sure."
Brady admitted that there are butterflies associated with the start of each new season, even though this is his 22nd, and a record seven of them have ended with a Lombardi Trophy in his hands. Emotions run higher than in the preseason, when players ultimately know the results of the games don't matter. The last three days have felt much more like the regular season.
"When you know everything counts – everything is in the books on this one – you want to be at your best," said Brady. "We've had a really good three days of prep and we just want to go out there and play really well. We have to go do it, it's one thing to talk about it. We put ourselves in a decent position to be ready to go. I feel like we're going to go out there and we'll be excited and we're playing against a really good football team with a bunch of really talented players and that's really well coached. We're going to have to play a great game."
The Buccaneers (and the Cowboys) didn't have to endure the typical short week that precedes a Thursday night game since the preseason ended earlier than usual. There was even a four-day 'mini-bye' after the preseason finale followed by a pair of 'bonus practices' late last week. The actual game week, which usually includes practices on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday simply ran Sunday-Tuesday instead. The Buccaneers will have a walk-through on Wednesday and will hold some meetings on Thursday, all in an effort, as Brady said, to "lock in" mentally.
The Buccaneers should be ready by Thursday evening, especially with Brady as their leader. He is famously competitive and he knows exactly what it takes to get himself and the team prepared for the first game of 2021. There's little doubt he'll use the next 48 hours well.
"I just really want to play at a high level for our team," he said. "I think they're counting on me to play really well, to play the type of football I'm capable of. I think just for me it's going to be about trying to kind of be the great leader and great player I can be on a consistent basis – day in and day out, week in and week out, month in and month out. That's what I'm trying to be every year. I'm trying to go out there and be the best that I can be."