Tom Brady won’t talk about his future, but Bucs teammates know it’s in question

ATLANTA — Everyone is saying Tom Brady would be a great fit in Las Vegas. Sean Payton is saying he’s probably only going to work with Brady if it’s as a Fox television analyst. Brady himself is saying nothing about his future beyond the upcoming NFL playoffs.

“I haven’t thought about any of that,” Brady said Sunday afternoon. “I just want to be the best I can for my teammates every day and show up to work like a professional, come out and play good.”

Brady lost to the Atlanta Falcons for the first time in his career Sunday, falling 30-17 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. He fell to 11-1 all time against the Falcons (7-10), though this one deserves an asterisk. Brady played only five series and left with the lead before turning things over to backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert with four minutes remaining in the second quarter.

“Honestly, I was trying to play as long as I could, but there were so many injuries and so many people going in and out. It’s tough,” Brady said.

The Buccaneers (8-9) arrived in Atlanta already having clinched the NFC South and were locked into the No. 4 seed in the NFC playoffs. Defensive tackle Vita Vea and offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs were inactive even though Tampa Bay coach Todd Bowles said afterward they could have played. Wide receiver Mike Evans (illness), tight end Kyle Rudolph (knee), offensive lineman Robert Hainsey (hamstring) and safety Keanu Neal (hip) started but didn’t stay long.

“We got some good work in the first half,” Bowles said. “If you rest them and don’t play them all, I think you lose the momentum. I thought we started fast on both sides of the football, and that’s what was important.”

Sunday was about survival. Now it’s about advancing if the Bucs have it in them. They became the fifth team in league history to win a division with a losing record. They had the worst point differential (minus-45) in a bad division. Only one other playoff team has a negative point differential (Miami Dolphins, minus-2). Their offensive EPA (expected points added) per play is 22nd in the NFL even with Brady.

The only reason anyone gives Tampa Bay any chance at all in the playoffs is that No. 12 is behind center.

“Absolutely” you think you have a chance if you have Brady, Buccaneers wide receiver Scotty Miller said. “He’s the greatest to do it.”

There haven’t been any jokes about swan songs or references to “The Last Dance” in Tampa Bay’s locker room, Miller said.

“It’s not really mentioned, to my knowledge,” he said. “We don’t talk about it. We don’t know what he’s going to do at the end of this year. That’s his business. We know we’ve got him this year, and we’ve just got to put it all on the line and just go get it.”

Knowing this might be Brady’s last season, or at least his last season in Tampa Bay, comes with a certain amount of pressure for his teammates.

“It’s definitely a thought that crosses our head,” wide receiver Russell Gage said. “Regardless of if this is his last game or not, we have to live in this moment.”

“It was like that the entire season,” safety Antoine Winfield said. “You never know.”

Brady will be a free agent at the end of the season, and the buzz about his future grows louder by the week. Could he finally join his hometown team in San Francisco? Or ride out his golden years in Las Vegas? Would the Big Apple be a big draw? Payton, who is the most eligible bachelor on the coaching circuit these days, told Peter Schrager of the NFL Network that he’s “a big fan” of Brady but wouldn’t predict a team where the two might be able to land together in 2023.

Former New England offensive coordinator and Brady friend Josh McDaniels is the Raiders’ head coach and just sent his starting quarterback packing. Miami is home base for Brady’s children after he and Gisele Bündchen divorced, which could be a factor in his future. Brady is commenting on none of it. He’s only talking about this season and how far this flawed team might be able to advance.

“You can only win one game a week,” he said. “The team that wins is the one that plays the best that day, not the team with the best record or the home field. The team that plays the best that day is the team that advances.”

The Buccaneers will host the fifth-seeded Cowboys next weekend in the wild-card round.

“It’s a one-and-done season,” Bowles said. “We will get ready to play. We’ll load up the wagon, and we’ll try like hell to win the ballgame.”

Brady broke his own NFL records for completions and attempts in a season Sunday, pushing his completion total to 490 and his attempts to 733. He has completed 66.8 percent of his passes for 4,694 yards, 25 touchdowns and nine interceptions this season.

“He continues to defy time,” Bowles said. “Father Time is having a heck of a time with Brady. He works hard. He loves to play the game. He’s like a little kid out there. He loves to compete.”

This will be the 45-year-old Brady’s 20th playoff appearance. He was 24 when he made his first trip.

“Twenty-five, 35, 45,” he said, “it’s pretty good to be in the playoffs.”

(Photo: Alex Slitz / Getty Images)

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