Is the end here for Tom Brady?

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Is the end here for Tom Brady?
© Provided by Touchdown Wire

Just when it looked like Tom Brady was going to pull off the impossible again, Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp delivered a gigantic play to put the Los Angeles Rams in position for the game-winning field goal.

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And perhaps send the legendary quarterback off into the sunset of retirement.

Sunday began with reports that the veteran quarterback would be considering hanging up his cleats at the end of the season. And as the Rams built a 27-3 lead down in Tampa, it seemed like Brady’s final game might end on the wrong side of a blowout loss.

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But turnovers and mistakes from the Rams allowed Brady and the Buccaneers offense to claw back into the game. And with under two minutes to go, Leonard Fournette skipped around right end and into the end zone to tie the game at 27.

Could Brady have done it again? Could the legendary quarterback follow up his 28-3 comeback in Super Bowl LI with a 27-3 comeback to keep his current Super Bowl hopes alive?

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Unfortunately for Brady and the Buccaneers, Stafford and the Rams still had some time left to work with.

The big play came as Stafford hung in the pocket in the face of a blitz from the slot, and targeted his favorite receiver deep downfield:

COOP.@RamsNFL AT THE 10 YARD LINE. WOW.

📺: #LARvsTB on NBC

📱: https://t.co/6Hz1DjFj3t pic.twitter.com/PvQs7G5xKL

— NFL (@NFL) January 23, 2022

As always, “the dots” give a good overhead look at how the play unfolded:

KUPP 44-YARD DOTS pic.twitter.com/myLnBXlaDN

— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) January 23, 2022

You can see the blitz from the slot, and how Kupp managed to get behind the coverage for the huge play.

What followed was a mad scramble downfield, as the Rams needed to stop the clock with a spike to set up the field goal attempt. Stafford managed to get his troops to the line and drive the football into the turf, allowing Matt Gay a chance to win the game.

Gay, like his teammates seconds earlier, delivered:

RAMS WIN. WHAT A GAME.#LARvsTB | #NFLPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/FyEPdaXaqd

— NFL (@NFL) January 23, 2022

For the Rams, what awaits is a date with their rivals the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game in the familiar confines of SoFi Stadium.

For the Buccaneers and Brady, what awaits now are the decisions that follow in the wake of a season that ends with a loss in the playoffs. Tampa Bay’s front office did an incredible job this off-season finding a way to bring the gang back for another run. But numerous key players are set to hit free agency, including Chris Godwin, Leonard Fournette, Rob Gronkowski, Ryan Jensen, Jason Pierre-Paul, Ndamukong Suh, and Carlton Davis.

Jason Licht will need to work some cap magic to get the gang back for one more run. Perhaps he can accomplish that goal, but then the next issue is Brady. Was the smoke of Sunday morning a sign that the veteran passer is truly going to ride off into the sunset?

Early in the game today Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth teased some comments from the quarterback that emerged from their pre-game production meeting. Later in the game, those words were unveiled. When asked how he wanted it to end, Brady indicated that he wanted it to end with a Super Bowl, but that “might not be possible this season.”

The beauty — and curse — of sport is that it does not always end the way you want it to as an athlete. For all those who get the chance to ride off into the sunset holding a Lombardi Trophy aloft like John Elway, there are those who see it end like Dan Marino, or Brett Favre, or other countless quarterbacks and athletes who saw their careers end with a loss, and the feeling of coming up short the last time you laced them up.

Worse still, is the feeling some athletes have at the end, not only coming up short, but also recognizing that the skills of yesteryear that put them in that position were also artifacts of seasons from long ago.

That was not the case with Brady, who finished this season as one of the top candidates for the league’s Most Valuable Player award, and certainly looked throughout the course of the year that he could indeed play until he was 45, or older.

However, his first year in Tampa Bay might have offered the perfect script to ride off into the sunset. A title in his first season out of New England, outdueling young gun Patrick Mahomes in the big game. But the allure of another title run, complete with the roster largely intact, proved too good to pass up.

But again, sports have a way of changing the script. The Buccaneers battled injuries all season, unlike a year ago, and while they managed to win the division and host a pair of playoff games, the season ended with Brady and Tampa Bay coming up just short of completing a miraculous comeback, and being forced to see Stafford and the Rams celebrate a miracle of their own.

For longtime Brady observers, there was something else noticeable about the end. Brady, at midfield after the game, shaking hands with Rams safety Eric Weddle. An air of relief was almost visible on the quarterback’s face. As if the job, regardless of outcome, was done:

Eric Weddle and Tom Brady share a long postgame moment. The elder statesmen. pic.twitter.com/5Su4n7tbid

— Bobby Trosset (@bobbywbal) January 23, 2022

Was this the end? Perhaps it was, or perhaps Brady has one more run left in him. Only time will tell. If this was indeed Brady’s final game, it is in a sense fitting that it ended with him pulling out a near-miraculous comeback, leaving it all on the field, and going out with his head held high. And showing that despite the result, he still had it.

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