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NFL reset: Team rankings, Tom Brady plays on, Justin Herbert’s injury

Tom Brady throws a pass during the Buccaneers’ victory Sunday at New Orleans. (Gerald Herbert/AP)

Two games into Tom Brady’s post-retirement season, there is indeed a lot of stuff going on, to paraphrase the Tampa Bay star.

The seven-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback has a modest 402 passing yards. On Sunday, his frustration showed when he smashed a tablet on the sideline. But the Buccaneers, led by their defense, are 2-0 after winning in New Orleans to end a six-game regular season losing streak against the Saints.

“This is an emotional game,” Brady said during his postgame news conference. “I think a little better execution helps all the way around. The defense played great again. … [It’s] a team we really struggle with, so it feels good to win.”

Or as he said, perhaps more succinctly, in a video posted to social media: “The ugly ones count, too. And sorry for breaking that tablet. I think that’s going to be another Twitter meme or something like that.”

It has been an eventful year for Brady. He announced his retirement in February. He announced his un-retirement a little less than six weeks later, prompting Los Angeles Rams Coach Sean McVay to say at the annual league meeting, “I was thinking, ‘[Shoot], man, can we get this guy the hell out of the league?’ ”

Brady lost his coach when Bruce Arians stepped down and Todd Bowles succeeded him. He lined up a 10-year deal with Fox, reportedly worth $375 million, to move to the broadcasting booth once his playing career is done. He was a central figure in the NFL punishing the Miami Dolphins and their owner, Stephen Ross, for tampering.

Brady turned 45 in August and took an 11-day hiatus from training camp, explaining following his return: “I’m 45 years old, man. There’s a lot of [stuff] going on.” There have been recent reports about the state of his marriage to model Gisele Bündchen. Brady said last week that he accepts the scrutiny of his private life, calling it “a natural thing I’ve been dealing with for a long time.” And Bowles confirmed to reporters Monday that Brady is taking Wednesdays off from practice throughout the season as planned maintenance days.

No one should question Brady’s commitment to football — not even as it relates to his time away from training camp. The New England Patriots were so successful for so long in large part because Brady and Coach Bill Belichick are identically ruthless competitors; it was amazing not that they ultimately parted but that they were able to coexist for two decades. Brady also is winning the post-Patriots portion of his career, having immediately added another Super Bowl victory with the Buccaneers.

No one should be particularly surprised, either, if Brady secures an eighth career Super Bowl triumph this season before heading to Fox. He led the league in passing attempts, completions, passing yards and touchdown passes last season, after all, at 44.

Next comes a meeting with fellow quarterback legend Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers Sunday in Tampa. The Buccaneers could be without wide receiver Mike Evans, whom the NFL suspended for one game Monday for his role in Sunday’s scuffle with Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore. Wideouts Chris Godwin and Julio Jones were injured and on the inactive list for the win over the Saints. The Buccaneers reportedly were making arrangements Tuesday to sign free agent wide receiver Cole Beasley to their practice squad.

Brady has not said this bonus season is his final on-field hurrah. But he already has retired once, and now he has fulfilled his long-stated goal of playing until he’s 45. The Fox job awaits. He can’t play forever, no matter how he has made it seem.

When Brady’s longtime rival, Peyton Manning, no longer could play at an elite level, the decline occurred rapidly. In Manning’s next-to-last NFL season, 2014 with the Denver Broncos, he threw for 4,727 yards and 39 touchdowns and had a passer rating of 101.5. In his final season, 2015, he threw for 2,249 yards and nine touchdowns (with 17 interceptions) and had a passer rating of 67.9. The Broncos’ defense carried Manning to a Super Bowl title.

Brady hasn’t had a career-altering physical issue like Manning’s neck injury. He has basically ended all debate about the greatest quarterback in history. Yet he plays on.

And, as always, it is captivating to watch.

Top five teams

1. Bills
They have beaten the defending Super Bowl champs (the Rams) and last season’s top AFC playoff seed (the Titans) by a combined 72-17. The Bills look unstoppable.
2. Chiefs
They held on against the Chargers and now face the reeling Colts.
3. Buccaneers
The defense is leading the way. The Bucs have allowed 13 points over two games but now meet the Packers and Chiefs in consecutive games.
4. Eagles
Jalen Hurts threw the ball well. He ran the ball well. And the Eagles had no problems Monday night with the Vikings, with assistance from Kirk Cousins.
5. Dolphins
Now that was the version of Tua Tagovailoa the Dolphins thought they were getting when they drafted him.

Herbert’s problematic rib injury

The Justin Herbert situation bears watching not only this week but as the season progresses.

The Los Angeles Chargers have an interesting decision to make about their third-year franchise quarterback as they prepare for Sunday’s game at home against the improved Jacksonville Jaguars. Herbert missed one play after absorbing a hard hit and suffering a rib injury during Thursday night’s loss at Kansas City. He returned and threw a dart of a fourth-down pass to set up a late touchdown.

Coach Brandon Staley announced Friday that Herbert had suffered a fracture of his rib cartilage, calling the quarterback’s status day-to-day. The Chargers have a capable backup, Chase Daniel, to play this weekend if Herbert is sidelined. But even beyond that, such a rib injury could be bothersome to Herbert in a season of raised expectations after the Chargers just missed the AFC playoffs last season.

“Those ribs will hurt for a while,” former NFL quarterback Rich Gannon wrote last week on Twitter. “Total pain. Will make practice difficult next week. Extra days off will really help. May need an injection pregame next week.”

Staley seems to have dialed back his fourth-down aggressiveness a bit. Against the Chiefs, the Chargers converted all four of their fourth-down attempts. But they kicked a field goal on fourth and two from the Kansas City 13-yard line. They punted on fourth and two from the Kansas City 47-yard line and again on fourth and two from the Kansas City 48-yard-line.

It didn’t pay off against the Chiefs. But with the Chargers’ upgrades on defense, Staley’s more measured approach could serve them well — provided Herbert is healthy and able to throw the ball effectively. The Chargers are not a playoff team without him at something close to full capacity.

Bottom five teams

28. Raiders
Davante Adams? Hello? Are you there? He had two catches for 12 yards in the overtime loss to the Cardinals.
29. Colts
They are 0-1-1 and have been outscored 44-3 in all but the fourth quarters of their two games.
30. Texans
The offense managed only three field goals in the defeat to the Broncos. Maybe Davis Mills isn’t the answer at quarterback, after all.
31. Falcons
They tried but failed to rally from a 28-3 deficit in the loss to the Rams. That only works when they’re the team that’s ahead.
32. Panthers
They’re 0-2, and the losing streak, dating from last season, is at nine games. Matt Rhule shouldn’t take any calls from David Tepper.

‘No update or timeline’ on Commanders investigation

The NFL said last week there was no change to Washington Commanders owner Daniel Snyder’s status as the league awaits the findings of the investigation being conducted by attorney Mary Jo White.

Once White’s investigation is complete, the league said, Commissioner Roger Goodell will discuss the situation with Snyder.

“There is no update or timeline at this point, in terms of her findings,” Jeff Miller, the NFL’s executive vice president of communications, public affairs and policy, said during a conference call with reporters. “But as soon as she is done, I am sure that we’ll be talking about that. The commissioner said it. I think this remains the status quo, then he’ll have a discussion with Dan at the appropriate time. And, again, those findings haven’t been made to us yet. Her work continues.”

In July 2021, following an investigation of the Commanders’ workplace overseen by attorney Beth Wilkinson, the NFL announced that the team had been fined $10 million and that Snyder’s wife, Tanya, the franchise’s co-CEO, would oversee the daily operations for an unspecified period.