Tom Brady has won two Super Bowls since the Eagles handed the quarterback his last loss in the title game.

He’s beaten the Birds twice in the regular season since that memorable February night four years ago, most recently in October with another vintage performance. Brady was victorious in three of the other four regular-season meetings with the Eagles, not to mention the other time he faced them in the Super Bowl 17 years ago.

But none of his mastery can erase the memory of Brandon Graham stripping the then-Patriots quarterback and the Eagles soon after hoisting the first Lombardi Trophy in franchise history.

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It is one that has soothed the minds of fans across the Philadelphia region and beyond, and one they are likely to play over in their heads this week as they ponder the idea of the Eagles again upsetting the arguable GOAT in Sunday’s playoff matchup at the Buccaneers.

The Eagles, of course, aren’t alone among teams that have been at Brady’s mercy. The seemingly ageless 44-year old has seven rings, 277 career wins, and nearly every passing record in the NFL.

But he isn’t invincible, as the Eagles showed in Minneapolis in Super Bowl 52, and other opponents have proved during his peerless 22 seasons. Brady can’t play every position, and the 13-4 Bucs are seemingly ripe for an upset with injury and the Antonio Brown aftermath.

Or so that is the belief among those who aren’t putting much stock into a 8 ½-point line in favor of Tampa. Or maybe even Brady himself.

“It’s our toughest opponent all year,” Brady said of the Eagles on Sunday. “They’re very talented. It’s going to be a very tough game.”

The margin in the Week 6 Thursday night matchup was close — 28-22 — but Brady and the Bucs never seemed in major peril. The 9-8 Eagles didn’t beat a postseason-bound team in the regular season and they beat only one winning team — the 9-8 Saints.

In eight losses, the Eagles’ opponents finished with a combined 82-54 record (.603 percentage). In their nine wins, their foes went 53-99 (.349), which was the lowest strength of victory among the NFL’s 14 playoff teams.

It should be noted, however, that Tampa was the only playoff team to have a lower strength of schedule (.467) than the Eagles (.469), and just last year it won a championship after beating only one team with a winning mark in the regular season.

That may be as far as comparisons go between the 2020 Bucs and the 2021 Eagles. Nick Sirianni has spearheaded an impressive turnaround in his first season as head coach. And his team that faced Tampa in Philly three months ago is much different than the one that will travel to Florida.

But the task at hand is still considerable. Here’s a look at five important subplots heading into the game:


Brady’s seven titles and 10 title-game appearances may never be matched. It’s not like he hasn’t struggled in the postseason. But even in some of his lesser performances, his teams have found ways to win, often with the quarterback coming through in the clutch.

Despite the narrative that they are limping into the postseason, the Bucs won seven of their last eight with Brady often in full command of the passing offense. He set career marks for completions (485) and attempts (719), and led the NFL in passing yards (5,316) and touchdowns (43).

Brady’s quick release — he gets the ball out in a second-fastest-in-the-league 2.35 seconds — certainly helps his offensive line. But the unit is cohesive and the collective group has missed only one start all season.

No other offense had a lower rate of sacks allowed per pass attempt (3.18%) this season.

Onus on Gannon

Jonathan Gannon will be charged with devising a scheme and calling a defense that can keep Brady and the Bucs’ potent offense in check. The first-year defensive coordinator had some rough weeks in the first two months of the season, and he struggled against Tampa, as well. But it wasn’t his worst day.

That may be faint praise, but when you consider how the Eagles fared against other top quarterbacks, holding Brady to a 102.1 rating wasn’t that bad. In the Eagles’ eight losses, opposing quarterbacks completed 205 of 258 passes (79.5%) for 2,188 yards, 21 touchdowns against only three interceptions (124.3 rating). In their nine wins, quarterbacks completed 204 of 331 passes (61.1%.) for 1,788 yards, seven touchdowns against nine interceptions (71.7 rating).

When you’re losing to the likes of Patrick Mahomes vs. winning against the Jake Fromms of the NFL, there is bound to be a disparity. But the difference in passing numbers has been significant, as have been the Eagles’ sack numbers (only six in losses and 23 in wins).

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The defense’s overall statistics aren’t bad by any means. The Eagles finished 14th in yards allowed and 16th in defense-adjusted value over average. But the numbers don’t tell the full story.

Gannon plays more zone over man than most coordinators. His coverages can be especially soft. He doesn’t blitz much, either. These aren’t necessarily poor traits. But his employment of them has been suspect against better quarterbacks and offenses.

He made some minor adjustments in the second half of the season. His coverages challenged more. He blitzed a touch more. But the biggest difference was that Gannon was more creative with his pre-snap disguise in the secondary and at the line.

As the Bucs turn

Injuries to Tampa’s skill position players has been a running theme throughout the season. Top receiver Chris Godwin is done for the season. Top running back Leonard Fournette has been on injured reserve with a hamstring injury, but coach Bruce Arians said Monday he should be back. Linebacker Lavonte David (sprained foot) is “wait and see,” Arians said.

On Sunday, linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul (shoulder), running back Ronald Jones (ankle), cornerback Rashard Robinson (groin), and receiver Justin Watson (quad) were inactive. Linebacker Shaq Barrett missed the game after being placed on COVID-19/reserve on Friday. Arians said Pierre-Paul and Barrett should both be back.

Receiver Mike Evans left the game briefly with an arm injury but returned. Deep reserve receiver Cyril Grayson and cornerback Jamel Dean both left with hamstring injuries.

But the biggest spectacle on the team has been Brown. The mercurial receiver was suspended by the NFL for three games for lying about his vaccine status. And then last week Bucs coach Bruce Arians kicked him off the team when Brown refused to go into the game because he said he was injured.

Brown was among Brady’s more reliable receivers. But the quarterback still has Evans and tight end Rob Gronkowski and can make even ordinary receivers look like stars.

Eagles grounded

In the first meeting, the Eagles had just one running-back carry out of 22 plays before the half. It wasn’t until Miles Sanders got going on the ground in the second half that the Eagles were able to get back into the contest. His initial rushes drew mock cheers from the home fans.

But the Bucs game would end up being the final straw. Sirianni and his coaches came out of the mini-bye determined to run more. They did so early and effectively against the Raiders in the next game. But Sanders left with an ankle injury during the second possession, and Gannon’s defense couldn’t stop Derek Carr, so the Eagles had to play catch-up through the air.

Sirianni stayed committed to the run the next week in the blowout at Detroit and it’s been the formula since. In the Eagles’ first seven games, they averaged 23.4 rushes for 116.7 yards a game. In the final 10, they averaged 38.6 carries for 189.8 yards.

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Much of the Eagles’ success on the ground can be attributed to quarterback Jalen Hurts and the threat he poses with his legs. He led the Eagles with 784 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns. But Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowles was able to thwart Hurts’ early zone-read attempts back in October.

Sirianni and company finally uncovered ways to utilize the Hurts threat later in the game. But the quarterback hasn’t been as mobile since an ankle injury last month. The Eagles averaged only 3.9 yards a carry in Hurts’ last two games.

He sat in the season finale and could be close to 100% by Sunday. But running back Jordan Howard looked tentative in his first game back after a stinger injury, and Sanders is questionable with a broken hand. The Eagles’ odds decrease the less effective they are at running and keeping the ball out of Brady’s hands.

Hurts so good enough?

The second-year quarterback hasn’t quite answered long-term questions, but he has certainly made a strong argument to remain the starter into next season. He’s had hiccups throughout the season, but there has been steady improvement as a passer.

Hurts has made better throws from the pocket and hasn’t been as quick to scramble. He still has lapses and had careless fumbles in back-to-back weeks against Washington and the New York Giants last month. But he has often rebounded in the second half of games.

He had a miserable first 30 minutes against the Bucs. He completed just 5-of-14 passes for 54 yards. There was a touchdown pass in there, but also an interception. Hurts wasn’t much better through the air after the break. But he rushed four times for 24 yards and two scores.

Bowles is as good as defensive coordinators come. He’s a stop-the-run-first guy and likes to utilize five-man fronts. He’s going to try to force the Eagles to rely on Hurts’ arm. Receiver DeVonta Smith and tight end Dallas Goedert are adept at getting open. But the Eagles don’t have a reliable third option if Bowles can limit Hurts’ favorite targets.

Hurts is young, but he has qualities that aren’t quantifiable. He’s poised. He’s accountable. And he can lead. He guided the Eagles to the playoffs. That’s what good quarterbacks do, and that can’t be discounted, no matter how sharp a microscope might pick out his flaws.

Winning in the playoffs is another matter. He gets his first opportunity in five days.