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Tom Brady comes out dealing in NFC playoffs, gives Buccaneers his Patriots best

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Tom Brady comes out dealing in NFC playoffs, gives Buccaneers his Patriots best

Tom Brady got his first NFL playoff win with the Buccaneers. His performance didn’t look much different from the massive playoff wins he had for the Patriots.

Tampa Bay needed every bit of the GOAT quarterback’s greatness to outlast host Washington 31-23 in Saturday night’s NFC wild-card playoff game. In an unlikely passing duel with Taylor Heinicke and facing a tough pass rush, Brady had all the answers with every kind of throw.

A year ago, Brady struggled with a limited Patriots offense in the AFC playoffs, with a late pick-six stamping his shaky loss to the Titans. With the Buccaneers, there were zero questions about his arm or downfield accuracy.

Brady didn’t look close to 43 as Heinicke, 16 years his junior, was keeping Washington in the game until the final drive while playing for an injured Alex Smith. Brady wasn’t perfect as he faced plenty of pressure; he took three sacks and completed just 55 percent of his pass attempts. But even without completing a pass to tight end Rob Gronkowski — who was needed to help out in pass protection — he delivered big plays all over the field.

MORE: Heinicke’s play has Twitter ripping Haskins

Washington did its best, but it couldn’t keep Brady (22-of-40 passing, 381 yards, two touchdowns, 8.9 yards per attempt, 104.3 rating) from regularly sidestepping the rush and getting the ball downfield to his elite wide receivers, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown. With Gronkowski playing more in-line, Brady simply pivoted to Cameron Brate to make chunk catches from tight end.

That opened things up for Leonard Fournette to lead a prolific rushing attack. There was a perception at one point Saturday that Washington’s defense was doing a great job. But in the end, the Bucs racked up three touchdowns, four field goals and 507 yards of offense. Brady’s night could have been bigger without uncharacteristic drops by Godwin and others.

Brady is playing at a high level, but he’s also getting great support from the Bucs’ offensive line and the loads of talent at the skill positions. After a few hiccups during the regular season, he’s now in a complete mind meld with offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich that’s reminiscent of his connection with Josh McDaniels in New England.

Heinicke was a game playmaker, save for one early interception and a few bad balls. Ahead are more dangerous QBs who are contemporaries of Brady. If form holds in the NFC playoffs, then Brady would next get another shot at Drew Brees and the Saints — who swept the Bucs in the regular season. If the Bucs advance to the NFC championship game, then they would be in line to face Aaron Rodgers and the Packers — whom the Bucs routed in the regular season.

NFL 2021 PLAYOFFS: Schedule, scores, TV

The Bucs’ defense is talented. It consistently stops the run and coordinator Todd Bowles has good pass-rushers and solid defensive backs for his blitzing scheme. But in watching Heinicke pick apart that defense, it was evident that there are also plenty of holes in coverage. There will be continued pressure, then, on Brady and the offense to win high-scoring games in the playoffs. 

Brady was fired up and cool at the same time Saturday. He was never rattled, and even though Washington put up a good fight, there was no reason to believe the Bucs weren’t always in full control of the game. Along the way, he made some of his classic jaw-dropping throws perfectly tailored to his receivers.

The Buccaneers were clad in their red and pewter uniforms, trying to throw it back to the magic of their Super Bowl 37 championship. But one could be easily fooled that Brady was still sporting the red, white and navy blue of the Patriots teams that won Super Bowls 36, 38, 39, 49, 51 and 53.

Brady left the Patriots because they were no longer the team best suited to get the best out of him. He wisely picked the Bucs, and although it took a while, they completely became his team right before the playoffs.

Now that the Bucs are in the playoffs, they are getting a very familiar QB — nothing short of a full GOAT.

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Kyrie Irving’s 37-point Nets return offers positive takeaways despite loss to Cavaliers

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Kyrie Irving's 37-point Nets return offers positive takeaways despite loss to Cavaliers

In a game featuring Nets superstars Kyrie Irving, James Harden and Kevin Durant, the best player on the floor in the second overtime period was Cavaliers third-year pro Collin Sexton.

Sexton nailed four 3-pointers in quick succession to guide Cleveland to a 147-135 win.

That’s not how Wednesday night was supposed to go down for Brooklyn after the team traded for Harden last week and Irving returned from a mysterious two-week absence. But while the Nets’ stretches of ineptitude backed up concerns about their defense following the Harden deal, their moments of brilliance should perhaps be the primary takeaway from the defeat. Brooklyn recovered from a 14-point deficit late in the third quarter to send the contest beyond regulation, at times using breathtaking passing at tempo to unlock openings.

Irving, Harden and Durant combined to net 96 points on an efficient 49.3 percent shooting clip from the field. If not for a once-a-season type of explosion from Sexton, coach Steve Nash’s squad would have likely escaped with a victory.

And mere presence of their enigmatic point guard should offer the Nets their greatest hope of cohesion moving forward.

“I’m just excited for the future,” said Irving, who spent the previous seven games away from the team for personal reasons.

MORE: Collin Sexton’s takeover wows NBA world

Four minutes into his return to basketball, Irving acknowledged the sparse crowd of about 2,000 gathered at Quicken Loans Arena and pointed to his ring finger. The venue had just given him a tribute video recounting his crowning achievement with the organization: A 2016 NBA championship won with the help of his iconic jumper over Stephen Curry. Fans offered a standing ovation.

That the Nets’ third-best player is worthy of emotional tribute videos is a testament to their absurd talent.

Another reminder of their abilities came soon after when Harden accelerated up the floor flanked by Irving to his left and Durant to his right on a 3-on-1 fast break. Cavaliers forward Cedi Osman was petrified, not knowing which all-time great shot creator to guard. He chose Harden. Harden chose Irving. Irving chose a delicious scoop off the window for two points.

These were the sequences in which everything seemed obvious about the roster. How could the group not become great?  Name the sports teams that have ever failed because of too many good players. Too many Hall of Famers. Too many centerpieces of worldwide brand campaigns.

The third quarter, though, seemingly poked holes through what general manager Sean Marks had done in shipping out big man Jarrett Allen, forward Taurean Prince, sixth-man extraordinaire Caris LeVert and so many future first-rounders for Harden. With DeAndre Jordan off the floor, the Nets struggled defending the interior. At the same time, they managed to neglect assignments along the perimeter. Even as their own offensive ball movement looked good enough, the lack of stops at the other end were concerning.

“Look, this was the first night when we’ve had everyone on the floor together,” coach Steve Nash told reporters. “This is going to be a process that takes the entire year.”

The process can only work if everyone participates.

Irving not only appearing but also scoring 37 points following his prolonged stretch away from teammates made it easier to imagine everything coming together, the glimpses shown Wednesday becoming more and more frequent until a Finals contender is born.

The Duke product, whose interest in his sport has been questioned by some people of late, showed plenty of emotion on the court as the game progressed. When he called for a pass in the corner from Durant in the fourth quarter and didn’t get it, he fist-pumped anyway when Durant drained a midrange jumper. When he was whistled for an offensive foul with 1.5 seconds left in regulation — a ruling later reversed — he reacted forcefully toward the nearest official.

Irving was the player Brooklyn needs him to be if it wants to get things figured out ahead of the playoffs.

“Two OTs in your first game back?” Irving asked rhetorically after the game. “You got to love NBA basketball, bro.”

The Nets sure hope he does.

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Bernie Sanders’ inauguration meme gets social media attention from sports world

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Bernie Sanders' inauguration meme gets social media attention from sports world

Bernie Sanders has a knack for online stardom.

The senator from Vermont is already the subject of one well-known meme — we’ll get to that in a second — and on Wednesday, thanks to his inauguration outfit, socially-distanced spot and demeanor at the Capitol, he earned another one. 

First off, props to Sanders who was sporting the same jacket from the original “I am once again asking” meme. If the jacket still fits and is in good shape from 2019, why not keep wearing it? 

So aside from the coat, he’s got a new meme thanks to a photo that popped up of the 79-year-old senator sitting in a folding chair socially distanced from everyone. He sat in said coat, with his arms crossed and warm mittens on his hands and his legs crossed — and, of course, he had on a mask. 

Following COVID-19 protocols, Sanders became a social media sensation once again and the sports world was quick to follow suit as well. 

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Collin Sexton beats Nets’ Kyrie Irving, James Harden & Kevin Durant on his own in double-OT

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Collin Sexton beats Nets' Kyrie Irving, James Harden & Kevin Durant on his own in double-OT

Collin Sexton did not dribble with the artistic flow of Kyrie Irving as he destroyed the Nets in double-overtime, but his pull-up jumpers and drives against Irving and Kevin Durant carried a lethal dose.

In the span of 1:31, Sexton scored 11 points on his own, including three 3-pointers in the face of Brooklyn defenders. He finished the game with a career-high 42 points, five rebounds, five assists and just one turnover in 38 minutes as his Cavaliers beat the Nets 147-135.

The performance came as the Nets played their first game with Irving, Durant and newly acquired James Harden on the floor together, spoiling a night in which Irving scored 37 points of his own.

MORE: Trae Young responds to Steve Nash’s criticism

Sexton, now in his third NBA season, isn’t far removed from being a rookie subjected to vitriol from his own teammates. Back then, Cavaliers veterans anonymously ripped him to the media and said he didn’t “know how to play.” He’s proving those critics wrong.

Sexton is averaging 27 points per game following his performance Wednesday night. He caught the attention of people around the NBA with the scoring outburst.

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