Tom Brady has started eight games against the Atlanta Falcons in his career, playoffs included, and has won them all. Five of those eight contests came with Matt Ryan, a fellow NFL MVP, at the helm of the opposing offense. From Ryan's point of view, those five games – which very memorably include Super Bowl LI – have "no bearing" on the next installment of Brady versus the Falcons.
Brady would surely agree.
The last two games in that eight-pack came late last year with Brady now playing quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after two decades with the New England Patriots. The Buccaneers came back from a 17-0 halftime deficit to win 31-27 in Atlanta in Week 15, then rolled up 485 yards of offense two weeks later in the rematch in Tampa, a 44-27 Bucs win.
Since then, the Buccaneers have won a Super Bowl and extended their active winning streak to nine games with a narrow victory over Dallas to start the 2021 season. The Falcons have imported a new coaching staff, headed by former Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith, and are 0-1 in the Smith era after a 32-6 loss to Philadelphia last Sunday. Those outcomes certainly influence the line on the game, which has the Bucs as 12-point favorites, but they don't have Brady or the Buccaneers expecting anything to be easy this Sunday, when the Falcons visit Raymond James Stadium.
"[Smith] is a really talented coach," said Brady. "I've known Dean a long time. Really challenges the quarterback. Very sound defensively, I don't think he has a lot of easy plays out there, he makes you earn everything. Obviously, Atlanta is a team that is in our division, so they know our personnel. There's no intimidation and it's not like you play them once every four years, it's a team they play twice a year. They have a lot of confidence."
View some of the photos from Buccaneers practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.
Atlanta hasn't finished out of the top 10 in passing offense for a solid decade and Ryan has a talented group of pass-catchers around him, including Calvin Ridley, Russell Gage and dynamic rookie tight end Kyle Pitts. Even though the Buccaneers swept the series with Atlanta last year, Ryan completed 67.7% of his passes in those two games, averaging 310.5 yards per game, throwing five touchdown passes against zero interceptions and compiling a passer rating of 104.3.
Atlanta's defense, however, finished last against pass in 2020 and opened 2021 by allowing 264 passing yards to Philadelphia's Jalen Hurts, who was making just his fifth career start. But Brady sees a defense that will likely produce much better numbers this season.
"They have a new scheme with Arthur but they have a lot of talented players and I think they use their players really well," he said. "Even last week's game, I know they lost but they had a lot of opportunities on defense to make a lot of plays. Jalen Hurts got out of a bunch of them and did a really good job. It's a very good defense and they're going to make us earn every yard."
Of course, Brady has every reason to be confident in his group, as well. They've already tied an NFL record by winning eight straight games while scoring at least 30 points in each contest; the other two times that was accomplished was by a Patriots team that had Tom Brady as its quarterback. Brady has also thrown at least two touchdown passes in 12 straight games, doubling the previous Buccaneers record and tripling the next longest active streak in the NFL.
The eight straight wins with 30-plus points started in the aforementioned Week 15 comeback in Atlanta. After being shut out in the first half, the Bucs regrouped in the locker room at halftime and then switched into attack mode to roar all the way back for the. They haven't switched that flip back off since.
"That was a really important moment for us," said Brady. "I think [Jason Pierre-Paul] was kind of the real leader as he came into the locker room. We obviously weren't doing what we were capable of doing and we needed a big wake-up call and we got it. I think we learned a lot from it. We were much better the last bunch of games and I think it was thinking about last game we have to start fast and we have to finish strong and we have to play well all four quarters. It will be nice to see what it looks like if we do that. Playing a four-quarter game is going to be very important. It's a good week to do it."
Brady threw for 789 yards and six touchdowns with just one interception in those two late games against the Falcons last year. That was in keeping with his history with Atlanta. In those eight games he has racked up 337.1 yards per outing, 19 touchdowns and three interceptions, putting up a passer rating of 111.6. In Atlanta's 56-season franchise history, no quarterback has won more games against them without a loss than Brady.
Brady helped beat the Cowboys in Week One with his 49th career fourth-quarter game-winning drive and he threw for 379 yards and four touchdowns. It was a good start for an offense that expects to be better early in the season than it was last year, when the new quarterback was still trying to absorb the offense. It wasn't good enough for Brady's liking, however, and he knows the Bucs need to play better in Week Two to stay in the win column against another strong opponent.
"Football is not a game that is ever perfect," he said. "I think we have to do a much better job then we did last week and there's a lot of things to clean up and a lot of things we talked about coming out of that game. We know what we're going to be challenged with this week with a lot of the schemes that they present. They're going to do a good job of cleaning up a lot of things that didn't go well for them, so we're expecting a really good football game against a really tough opponent, tough coach, a lot of good players, very physical defense, very athletic defense. We have our work cut out for us."