The debate over whether Bill Belichick or Tom Brady was more responsible for the New England Patriots' dynasty is not one likely to die down any time soon.

But for Belichick's part, the Patriots coach has long since accepted he would not have enjoyed the same success, which saw New England win six Super Bowls in Brady's 20 seasons as quarterback, had another player been under center.

Asked at a media conference if New England would have dominated to the same extent without Brady, Belichick replied: "Of course not. We talked about that for two decades.

"I think I've been on the record dozens of times saying there's no quarterback I would rather have than Tom Brady and I still feel that way.

"I was very lucky to have Tom as the quarterback, to coach him, and he was as good as any coach could ever ask for."

Belichick's fondness for Brady did not stop him from allowing the Patriots' greatest player to leave in the offseason before the 2020 campaign.

Brady moved on to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and promptly won a seventh Super Bowl ring.

While Belichick will have to plan for a game against Brady for the first time when the Buccaneers visit the Patriots at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, he will likely not have to face tight end Rob Gronkowski, whom the Patriots traded to the Bucs last season after he came out of retirement.

Gronkowski was listed as doubtful on the Bucs' injury report, having suffered a rib injury during Tampa Bay's Week 3 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.

Running back Giovani Bernard and cornerback Jamel Dean have both been ruled out, the latter's absence potentially meaning playing time for a new signing in five-time Pro Bowler Richard Sherman.

There probably won't be too much focus on Mac Jones come Sunday night at Gillette Stadium.

In the ranking of cast and characters as Tom Brady makes his return to Foxborough, having left New England after 20 seasons and six Super Bowl rings and gone on to add another in his first year away from the Patriots, Jones might struggle to even be considered a supporting actor.

Indeed, the dominant narrative as Brady brings the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the place where he built a legend that stands above all others in the NFL will be one of quarterback versus former coach.

This is a chance for Brady to get one over on Bill Belichick and, for many, to prove that he was the chief reason for the two decades' worth of success the Patriots enjoyed. In a landscape where hot takes rule over balance and nuanced conversation, the most obvious explanation that New England's dominance was a product of a quite beautiful marriage between the greatest quarterback and greatest coach of all time is drowned out.

Talk of Brady claiming a narrative-winning triumph over Belichick ignores the fact that the deck is firmly stacked against New England. In almost every area, the Patriots enter this one shorthanded compared to their opponents and the reality is the Bucs should win handily regardless of who is coaching the opponent.

But for most this is a game where that narrative trumps analysis and, with Brady almost certain to break Drew Brees' record for all-time passing yards at the home of his former team, little importance is likely to be assigned to the Patriots' first-round pick and how he performs with a team ill-equipped to topple the Bucs.

Yet in terms of the long-term outlook, that is the most important aspect of Sunday's game for New England. Belichick will not care about Brady breaking records. His focus will be on how Jones meets the challenge of facing the team that entered the season as the class of the NFL.

Coincidentally, that test comes three days after the 20th anniversary of Brady's first start for the Patriots in 2001, a season that saw him improbably lead New England to Super Bowl glory. The NFL has changed so much in those two decades that a direct comparison between Brady's first games as a starting quarterback and those of Jones is difficult to make.

However, the timing of the most challenging and most significant game of Jones' career to this point provides an opportunity to answer the question: is he on track to be the long-term successor to Brady?

A superior start?

Having used the 15th overall pick on Jones, the Patriots will hope the answer is an emphatic yes.

On the surface, the difference in his numbers from his opening three games and those from Brady across the same limited sample size provides reason for encouragement.

Brady completed 57.4 per cent of his passes across his first three starts for 618 yards and two touchdowns. Through Week 3 of this season, Jones has completed 67.5 per cent of passes for 737 yards and two touchdowns. He has six passing plays of 25 yards or more so far in his career, Brady had only three in his first three starts.

Yet Jones' advantage in those raw numbers is more than likely a reflection of a modern NFL that is far more hospitable to the passing game than it was in 2001.

And in the one area where Jones and the young Brady could be considered comparable, it is the latter who has the edge. Brady did not throw an interception across his first three starts, Jones has already thrown three.

They all came in last week's loss to the New Orleans Saints, a performance that lent credence to the argument that, while Jones has arguably been the most composed of the rookie quarterbacks to start a game this season, his poise and decision-making is not on the same level as Brady's was back in 2001.

Cleaning up the decision-making

Jones cannot be considered at fault for all those picks. He certainly takes some share of the blame for the first, which saw him step up into the arms of Kaden Elliss, who hit Jones as he delivered the ball, producing a wobbly pass that landed in the grateful arms of P.J. Williams.

The second, which was returned for a touchdown by Malcolm Jenkins, saw a well-thrown ball bounce off the hands of Jonnu Smith, while the third appeared to be the product of a miscommunication with Nelson Agholor, the throw behind the receiver with the game well out of hand.

Only the first interception could potentially be ascribed to Jones and poor decision-making in the pocket, but the numbers offer an insight into when his turnover-worthy plays are coming and provide some cause for concern.

Jones has thrown a pickable pass, per Stats Perform data, on 2.56 per cent of his attempts, putting him the right side of the league-wide average of 3.13 per cent. The modern-day Brady, a seemingly ageless behemoth content to see how close to 50 he can continue playing, has thrown an interceptable pass 1.49 per cent of the time.

The statistics indicate that Jones has been unperturbed by pressure. He has thrown three pickable passes in total this season, but none have come when under duress. Instead, they have all been thrown from a clean pocket.

Only two other quarterbacks, Dak Prescott (4) and Zach Wilson (6) have thrown more interceptable passes from a clean pocket. Brady has thrown one, with his other pickable pass coming under pressure.

The split speaks to Jones' composure under pressure but raises doubts about his overall decision-making when he has the chance to properly scan the field, and further potential issues become apparent when looking at the Patriots' quarterback under pressure versus when he has time.

A lack of aggression

Criticism of Jones to this point in his NFL career has surrounded an apparent inability to push the ball downfield. However, his air yards per attempt average of 8.24 is actually slightly superior to that of Brady (8.13).

But when he has the opportunity to assess his options, Jones eschews the more aggressive throws. His air yards per attempt average from a clean pocket is 7.38, only just above the average of 7.28 and below Brady's 8.13.

It is when he is pressured that Jones appears more comfortable going deep. With the time to think taken away, Jones' air yards average is 10.03, again above the average (9.97) but on the lower end of the scale.

Delivering a well-thrown ball 81.6 per cent of the time under pressure, Jones stands above Brady (78.8) as the joint-third most accurate quarterback under duress.

It is his overall accuracy that gives the Patriots their primary cause for optimism with Jones. His well-thrown percentage of 80.3 is above the 78.9 per cent average, though below Brady's 82.1, and Smith's drop that turned into an interception was illustrative of the lack of help he has received from his pass-catchers despite heavy investment from New England this offseason.

Receivers Agholor (66.7), Kendrick Bourne (57.1) and Jakobi Meyers (72.4) are all below the average for open percentage on plays where they are targeted among wideouts with at least five targets, speaking to a lack of separation from New England's receiving weapons.

Jones might not be getting the best of assistance, but a blend of questionable decision-making and lack of aggressiveness from a clean pocket is not a winning strategy in today's NFL. It is also not a combination Brady could be accused of ever possessing during his career, even if he did average fewer than seven yards per attempt across his first three seasons as a starter.

Stepping into Brady's shoes after Cam Newton's failed bid to become the successor was always going to be a tall ask for a rookie, so it is important not to make definitive judgements on a player whose NFL career is still firmly in its infancy.

But the early signs for Jones are mixed and if he is to snatch some of the limelight in primetime, he will need to do a better job of taking advantage of protection and making the right reads and, in the process, keep the man who has built the NFL's greatest resume off the field for as long as possible.

Tom Brady is rarely not front and centre in the NFL, but it is particularly difficult to get away from football's GOAT this week.

Thursday marked the 20th anniversary of the quarterback's first NFL start. On Sunday, he needs only 68 yards to pass Drew Brees for the most passing yards in league history.

"It's definitely a special record because it speaks to the longevity that he's been able to experience and the level that he's been able to play at," Brees said at the start of the week.

Of course, that record will fall as Brady takes the Tampa Bay Buccaneers back to Foxborough to play the New England Patriots for the first time.

The seven-time Super Bowl champion made history time and again in 19 years with the Pats and does not look like stopping now in the pick of the Week 4 Sunday matchups, broken down by Stats Perform.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ New England Patriots

A win for the 2-1 Bucs would make Brady only the fourth starting quarterback to defeat all 32 NFL teams across their careers, joining Brees, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning.

The QB comes into this game in form, having thrown for at least 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns through his team's first three games of the year for the second time, having also done so with New England in 2011. No other QB has achieved that feat twice.

The Pats will hope they have found a long-term successor in Mac Jones, whose 81 completions are the third-most by any QB in the Super Bowl era through three career games – after Joe Burrow (91) and Kyler Murray (84).

Tampa Bay have a poor record against New England, too. The Pats are 7-2 in this matchup all-time and have held the Bucs to 11.9 points per game – the fewest any current franchise has averaged against another.

Seattle Seahawks @ San Francisco 49ers

The Seahawks are in a spot of bother in the NFC West with a 1-2 record, but they are 14-3 over their past 17 games against the 49ers, making them the first team to beat San Francisco 14 times over a 17-game span since the Los Angeles Rams between 1973 and 1981.

Russell Wilson will hope his team-mates can catch up this week, having become the first QB in the Super Bowl era to complete at least 70 per cent of his passes for 250 yards and no interceptions in each of his first three games of a season. In fact, Seattle's back-to-back defeats marked the second time in franchise history they have lost consecutive games with no turnovers in either (also November 2008).

If nothing else, expect this game to be tight, with the 49ers' past seven games all decided by eight points or fewer – tying a franchise record – although San Francisco certainly have the talent to hurt the Seahawks.

The Niners have had touchdowns from 11 different players this year, tied for the most in NFL history through three games (also the 1964 Houston Oilers, 1987 Chicago Bears and 2002 Patriots). Deebo Samuel is the chief threat right now, though, with his 334 receiving yards the most by a 49er through three team games since Jerry Rice's 341 in 1995.

Arizona Cardinals @ Los Angeles Rams

The four NFC West teams are playing among themselves for the coming two weeks, meaning another mammoth matchup as the division's two 3-0 starters meet at SoFi Stadium in a series the Rams have dominated with eight straight wins against the Cardinals. That is their longest winning streak against a single opponent since a run of nine against the 49ers from 1976 to 1980.

A 4-0 start brings back contrasting memories for these two teams. The Rams made the Super Bowl after winning their first four in both 2018 and 2001, but the last time Arizona jumped out to such a start in 2015 they lost 11 of their remaining 12 games to finish 5-11.

Cardinals QB Murray makes for an entertaining watch, with at least one interception and one rushing TD in each of his first three games in 2021. It is only the third time a player has done that since 1960, with Murray accounting for one of the other two examples in 2020 (also Charlie Frye in 2006).

Crucially, Murray has more options through the air this year. Arizona have a league-leading six players with 10 or more receptions, having only had eight players reach that mark in the entirety of the 2020 campaign – tied for the fifth-fewest in the NFL.

Elsewhere...

The Kansas City Chiefs visit the Philadelphia Eagles looking to avoid losing three in a row for the first time since Patrick Mahomes became a starter. Back-to-back defeats to the Baltimore Ravens and the Los Angeles Chargers already represent the Chiefs' worst run since a pair of losses in Weeks 5 and 6 in 2019.

Dak Prescott is in top form as the Dallas Cowboys prepare to host the Carolina Panthers, but that game may be decided on defense. The Panthers have allowed a league-low 3.8 yards per play this season, while the Cowboys' 6.7 yards allowed per play is fewer only than the Chiefs (7.0) and the Minnesota Vikings (6.8).

The Denver Broncos have made the most of a kind schedule to join the Panthers at 3-0 but now face a first real test against the Ravens. Teddy Bridgewater will aim to maintain his high standards, having become the fourth player in the past 60 years to complete at least 75 per cent of his passes in the first three games of a season, along with Brady (2007), Brees (2018) and Philip Rivers (2020). Brady did so in four straight.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have won five consecutive regular season games against the Green Bay Packers going back to 1998, but veteran QB Ben Roethlisberger has made an unconvincing start to the campaign. He is one TD shy of 400 in the NFL – Aaron Rodgers was the seventh and most recent man to that mark.

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick backed Tampa Bay Buccaneers superstar Tom Brady to play in the NFL until he is 50 ahead of the pair's reunion.

Brady will lead Super Bowl champions the Buccaneers (2-1) against former team the Patriots (1-2) on the road in Foxborough on Sunday.

The 44-year-old Brady won six Super Bowls with Belichick at the Patriots before leaving for the Buccaneers via free agency ahead of the 2020 season.

With Brady showing no signs of slowing down, long-serving Patriots coach Belichick hailed the five-time Super Bowl MVP.

"Nothing Tom does surprises me," Belichick told reporters on Wednesday.

"He's a great player, works hard, takes care of himself. He's talked about playing until 50. If anybody can do it, he probably can.

"Tom's had an unbelievable career. There's not enough superlatives and adjectives to compliment him on everything that he's achieved and continues to achieve.

"It's unbelievably impressive."

Brady has thrown for at least 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns through his team's first three games for the second time in his career (also 2011). He is the only quarterback in NFL history to do that twice.

Tampa Bay's Brady will be looking to join Drew Brees, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning as the only starting quarterbacks to defeat all 32 teams in their careers.

Brady is also on the cusp of history, with the QB requiring just 68 yards to surpass Brees' NFL career passing yardage record of 80,358 yards.

"He's as tough as any quarterback there is or ever has been. Enough said. His numbers are incredible," Belichick added.

"He's about to pass the all-time passing record. He's done more than any other player at that position in whatever measurement you want to take – whether it's yards, completions, touchdowns, championships, you name it. Put anything out there that you want; it doesn't get any tougher than that."

Future Hall of Famer Drew Brees welcomed the possibility of Tampa Bay Buccaneers superstar Tom Brady breaking his NFL record on Sunday.

Brady is on the cusp of history, with the 44-year-old Buccaneers quarterback requiring just 68 yards to surpass Brees' NFL career passing yardage record of 80,358 yards.

Brees retired at the end of last season following 14 years with the New Orleans Saints and 20 years in the NFL, and the 42-year-old is all for Brady eclipsing his feat.

"I'm a firm believer that records are meant to be broken," Brees said, with seven-time Super Bowl champion Brady due to face former team the New England Patriots in Week 4.

Brees set the record in 2018 with a 62-yard touchdown and he added: "I'd be all for Brady just launching the first play of the game, just go ahead and get it out of the way.

"You said he needs, what? Sixty-eight yards? Let's have New England kick it in the end zone, start at the 25 and have him launch one to Mike Evans and let's just be done with it.

"There's no doubt I think that's gonna get knocked down pretty quick. I can't think of a guy who has invested more into his career and his preparation and kind of what he's meant for the game. It's definitely a special record because it speaks to the longevity that he's been able to experience and the level that he's been able to play at."

Brady leads the NFL this season in attempts (141), completions (97), passing touchdowns (10) and completions per game (32.3) for the Buccaneers (2-1).

"You're so locked into the game. You really can't allow yourself to go there too much," Brees said of Brady being able to enjoy the record. "It's really something that you try to get out of the way emotionally prior to the game.

"I'll be honest with you. ... I know the way I felt, leading up to games like this, whether it was playing an old team or chasing a record, I would visualise being in that moment, I would visualise breaking the record, I would visualise everything that was gonna happen.

"I would always get the tears and the emotions out of the way on a Monday or a Tuesday. Like literally cry it out on a Monday or a Tuesday, so that by the time it got to Sunday, it was all about business, it was all about the game, it was all about getting the job done."

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are dealing with significant injury issues at cornerback and may be about to turn to one of the best to play the position to solve those problems.

According to multiple reports, the Bucs are hosting five-time Pro Bowl cornerback Richard Sherman for a visit with a view to adding him to an ailing secondary.

Sunday's defeat to the Los Angeles Rams saw the Buccaneers lose Jamel Dean to a knee injury.

Reports suggest Dean has avoided a serious injury but, with nickel corner Sean Murphy-Bunting on injured reserve with a dislocated elbow, the Bucs require help at cornerback.

That may now come in the form of veteran Sherman. However, if he is to truly be an asset to the Bucs, he will need to bounce back from his performance in limited action in 2020.

Injuries restricted Sherman to five games for the San Francisco 49ers last year and, in his 150 pass coverage snaps as an outside corner, he allowed a burn – which is when a receiver wins his matchup with a defender on a play where is targeted – 72.2 per cent of the time.

That was the fourth-worst rate among outside corners with a minimum of 200 total snaps. Sherman allowed an average of 12.11 burn yards across his 18 targets, above the average of 10.51 and gave up a big play on 34.1 per cent of his targets (the average for outside corners was 27.2).

However, his burn yards per snap average of 1.45 yards was tied for 20th with Dean, speaking to the respect opposing quarterbacks still gave to Sherman through their unwillingness to test him in coverage. Indeed, Dean was targeted on 16.1 per cent of his coverage snaps compared to 12 per cent for Sherman.

And Sherman would likely point to his 2019 season as evidence he can still perform at the highest level.

A Pro Bowler and second-team All-Pro two seasons ago as he helped the 49ers to Super Bowl LIV, Sherman still gave up a burn on 50.9 per cent of targets, just above the average of 50.4 for outside corners with at least 200 snaps.

Yet his burn yards per snap rate of 1.17 was sixth-best for outside corners and his burn yards per target average of 7.54 over 55 targets was also sixth.

Seventh among outside corners with a big play percentage allowed of 16.9, Sherman has recent history of helping a contender come within touching distance of climbing the mountain.

Since then, he has endured injury issues and off-field troubles this offseason. However, if those problems are behind him and the Bucs feel he can get close to his 2019 levels, then Sherman is worth a low-risk signing for a Buccaneers team aiming to remain at the summit.

Tom Brady does not anticipate getting caught up in nostalgia when he returns to New England to face the Patriots on Sunday. 

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback spent 20 years with the Patriots, leading them to six Super Bowl titles. 

Gillette Stadium holds countless memories for Brady, but he will do his best to push them aside as the Bucs enter the game on the heels of their first loss since November 29, 2020. 

"I'm not going to necessarily reminisce. I don't think this is the moment for that," Brady said on his SiriusXM podcast Monday. "I'll have plenty opportunities to reminisce about my football career – none of it, none of which I really care to do right now because I'm so much in the moment.

"I'm not going to be thinking about 20 years of history. I'm going to be thinking about one night of football, a Sunday night game coming off a really tough loss."

The reigning Super Bowl champions had won 10 in a row before being derailed in a 34-24 defeat to the Los Angeles Rams. 

Brady undoubtedly will receive a warm welcome from the fans in New England, but he knows that support will not last. 

"I wouldn't expect that -- a homecoming," said Brady. "I mean, I think they're there to root for their team, and their team is the Patriots.

"I think they're gonna cheer for their team as I would expect them to, and I think if they know anything about me, they're gonna know that I'm going out there to try to win the football game, so I think they'll respect that about me."

That mindset will come as no surprise to the home fans, who watched Brady work his magic for two decades. 

Sunday, he will go head-to-head with his heir apparent, rookie Mac Jones, who beat out Cam Newton for the starting job in the pre-season. 

The 23-year-old had a dose of NFL reality in Sunday's 28-13 home loss to the New Orleans Saints, as he completed only 30 of 51 passes (58.8 per cent) and threw three interceptions on the heels of a pair of solid starts to open his career. 

Brady, meanwhile, keeps chugging along. He threw for 432 yards but just one touchdown in the loss to the Rams after combining for nine TDs in wins over the Dallas Cowboys and Atlanta Falcons as he eases into his 22nd NFL season. 

Tom Brady was frustrated by a host of aspects during the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 34-24 defeat by the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday and is demanding they learn from their mistakes.

Both teams went into Week 3 of the NFL unbeaten this season and all eyes were on quarterbacks Brady and Matthew Stafford.

But unfortunately for Brady, it was Stafford who stole the show as he inspired a fine victory for the Rams over the Super Bowl champions.

Stafford threw four touchdowns to lead the Rams to a 3-0 start to the campaign, with the 2014 Pro Bowler also recording 27-of-38 for 343 yards and just one sack.

That haul of four TDs improved Stafford's season tally to nine, matching Hall of Famer Kurt Warner (1999) for the most by a Rams quarterback in the first three games of a season. Warner won the NFL MVP and Super Bowl MVP that season.

Brady was coming off a five-touchdown performance, making him the fifth player all time to throw four or more touchdowns in each of his first two games of a season, but the 44-year-old was limited to just one against the Rams.

Although he did rush for a score, Brady finished with 41 of 55 for 432 yards and three sacks. While those passing yards were the most he has racked up in a game for Tampa, it only served to further highlight how he struggled to get the Bucs into the end zone.

Brady touched on that, accepting he threw more than should be necessary, but his struggles were seemingly indicative of collective issues.

"They [the Rams] played the kind of game they wanted to play," Brady said. "If we're going to beat a team like that, we have to play well in all phases.

"We've got to get some turnovers and we've got to keep protecting the football. We've got to start fast and get a lead, run the ball well, throw the ball well, play good defense, play good special teams. It all fits together when you play good teams.

"The throwing needs to be better, the all-around offense, the red area, [we must be] better on third down. We definitely had some opportunities to help the team win, but we didn't get it done.

"Those guys up front are trying to create space, and our backs are trying to run hard. But again, when you're losing all day, you're going to get into more throwing than we probably want.

"It's just not a great complementary game by us. We've got to learn from it, but anytime you come up short it's not a great feeling.

"It's a tough loss. I'll just get through the plane trip and evaluate what we need to do. I want to win every time we take the field."

Head coach Bruce Arians struck a similar chord to Brady, adamant the Bucs fell short of their potential, but he has no concerns when it comes to learning from mistakes.

"Our locker room, they know we didn't play up to our ability," he added. "When we play up to our ability, we're a better team than this one.

"We'll make sure that we make the corrections. Everybody's eyes and ears will be open to the coaching, and our guys do a great job with it."

Matthew Stafford is "playing lights out" for the undefeated Los Angeles Rams as Aaron Donald hailed the quarterback following his performance against Tom Brady's Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Stafford outduelled superstar Brady as the Rams beat NFL Super Bowl champions the Buccaneers 34-24 in Los Angeles on Sunday.

In a blockbuster Week 3 showdown, Stafford stole the show with four touchdowns to condemn the Buccaneers to their first loss of the season.

With his haul of four TDs, Stafford improved his season tally to nine – matching Hall of Famer Kurt Warner (1999) for the most by a Rams quarterback in the first three games of a season.

Stafford, who arrived from the Detroit Lions via a trade in the offseason, finished 27 of 38 for 343 yards and no interceptions as he earned praise from team-mate Donald.

"He's playing lights out," Rams defensive linseman Donald said. "That's why he's here, we expect that from him and I know he's going to continue doing what he's doing and even at a higher level."

"It's only three games, still got a long season, but obviously that's the ultimate goal [a Super Bowl], that's what we're chasing," said Donald. "That's the only thing I'm chasing."

Stafford – a Pro Bowler in 2014 – was also lauded by Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians post-game.

"He pushes it down the field so easily," Arians said. "You're right up in his face one time, he finds a guy wide-open down the field and gets it to him.

"A lot of guys, they see it but they can't get it to him. He's a special player."

Stafford, who threw a 75-yard touchdown pass to DeSean Jackson in the third quarter to give the Rams a 21-7 lead, added: "I was the new guy coming in and they've embraced me, which was awesome.

"I'm just trying to be myself every single day, bring my best every single day and see where that takes us."

Matthew Stafford won the battle of the quarterbacks and the Los Angeles Rams stayed unbeaten while ruining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' perfect record in a 34-24 victory.

All eyes were on Rams QB Stafford and Buccaneers superstar Tom Brady as the two undefeated teams went head-to-head in Week 3 of the NFL on Sunday.

Stafford, who was 27-of-28 for 343 yards and just one sack, stole the show in Los Angeles, where the 2014 Pro Bowler threw four touchdowns to lead the Rams to a 3-0 start to the campaign.

With his haul of four TDs, Stafford improved his season tally to nine – matching Hall of Famer Kurt Warner (1999) for the most by a Rams quarterback in the first three games of a season. Warner won the NFL MVP and Super Bowl MVP that season.

Brady was coming off a five-touchdown performance, his ninth career game with five-plus passing TDs (including playoffs) – the fifth player all time to throw four or more touchdowns in each of his first two games of a season.

But the 44-year-old was limited to just one TD pass against the Rams, finishing 41 of 55 for 432 yards and three sacks though he did rush for a score as Super Bowl champions the Buccaneers fell to 2-1.

After a scoreless opening period, Stafford threw touchdown passes to Tyler Higbee and Cooper Kupp as the Rams earned a 14-7 half-time lead.

The Rams never trailed despite Brady's best efforts after the Buccaneers signal-caller rushed for a TD in between Stafford's scoring passes to DeSean Jackson and Kupp in the third period.

After Matt Gay's field goal stretched the lead to 34-17 in the fourth, Brady's first touchdown pass of the game gave the Buccaneers a glimmer of hope with just over a minute remaining but it was a mere consolation.

Carlson lifts Raiders in OT

The Las Vegas Raiders won their third straight game to open the season thanks to a thrilling 31-28 overtime victory against the Miami Dolphins.

Daniel Carlson was the hero for the high-flying Raiders in OT, his 22-yard attempt seeing off the Dolphins in Las Vegas.

Derek Carr completed 26 of his 43 attempts for 386 yards, two touchdowns and an interception with three sacks as the Raiders improved to 3-0 for the first time since 2002.

The third week of the NFL season is not short of enticing matchups.

A divisional showdown between two high-powered AFC West offenses in the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers headlines the early slate of games, while Sunday's primetime matchup sees a rematch of the NFC Championship Game as the Green Bay Packers visit the 2-0 San Francisco 49ers.

Sandwiched in between those fascinating contests is an encounter that most will see as the game of the week, one that could have a pivotal impact on the NFC playoff picture come the end of the season, as Tom Brady plays in Los Angeles for the first time in his professional career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers going out west to take on the Rams.

Beyond being a battle of unbeaten teams, it is an encounter that pits one of the game's most celebrated quarterbacks against one of its most underappreciated, who is thriving in his opening weeks playing for the Rams having been freed from the shackles of a listless Detroit Lions franchise.

Both Brady and Matthew Stafford have started the season as most expected them to, operating at a level to suggest they can propel their respective teams to deep postseason runs.

However, they each will take on defenses stacked with the talent to shut down even the most prolific offenses when at their best. It promises to be a tremendous spectacle at SoFi Stadium, one that should provide an early barometer as to who is the class of the NFC.

Little to separate stellar QBs

Brady is ancient by NFL standards, but his remarkable longevity has turned the fact he continues to excel at age 44 into old news. Nobody is surprised by his continuing brilliance, which sees him lead the league with nine passing touchdowns in two games, four more than Stafford.

Yet a man who has turned performing when the pressure is at its highest in the playoffs into an art is essentially neck and neck with a quarterback yet to taste a postseason victory when it comes to accuracy so far this season.

Stafford has a well-thrown ball percentage of 81.5, putting him just below Brady on 81.7, though it is the former Lion who has the edge when it comes to delivering accurately under pressure.

The Rams' signal-caller ranks fifth among quarterbacks with at least 10 attempts under duress this season with a well-thrown percentage of 80 when pressured. Brady has a less impressive ratio of 75 per cent, though that is still well above the average of 69.2 per cent.

Stafford also has a string to his bow that is not a part of Brady's arsenal, as he has settled superbly into Sean McVay's offense and quickly adapted to an attack that consistently relies on the play-action bootleg.

On his nine throws where he has been on the move, Stafford has produced a well-thrown ball 88.9 per cent of the time, compared to 75 per cent on four such attempts for Brady.

That difference reflects the contrasts in offensive approach, but the opportunity to get on the move and outside of the pocket gives Stafford a potentially pivotal avenue to avoid an often ferocious Buccaneers defensive front.

Compelling cases for the defense

Stafford may find encouragement in that a Buccaneers pass rush that pressured Patrick Mahomes 33 times in their Super Bowl win last season has been, for the most part, held in check through two weeks.

Edge rusher Shaquil Barrett, who led the Bucs with 13 pressures of Mahomes, has won just 11 of his 44 pass rush attempts so far, according to Stats Perform data. Things have gone even worse for veteran Jason Pierre-Paul with a solitary win on 34 attempts.

Pierre-Paul's struggles may mean more of rookie Joe Tryon, who has won four of his 12 rushes, but Tampa can at least be fairly confident of pressuring Stafford up the middle, with defensive tackle Vita Vea prevailing on nine of his 25 attempts.

Despite the lack of pressure, Stafford – who has thrown an interceptable pass on 3.7 per cent of his attempts – must be wary of a defense that has already produced four turnovers, including two interceptions returned for touchdowns, with starting cornerbacks Carlton Davis III and Jamel Dean each enjoying strong starts to the campaign. Davis has allowed a receiver to get open on five of his 22 coverage matchups, with Dean (6/21) also proving difficult for pass-catchers to separate from.

The primary threats on the Rams' defense are easy to identify.

Three-time Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald has won a massive 65.63 per cent of his pass rushes despite being double teamed 19 times.

Meanwhile, on the back end, cornerback Jalen Ramsey has yet to allow an open receiver in 18 coverage matchups, further illustrating his status as one of the league's most dominant cornerbacks.

For the Bucs to prevail, Brady must avoid both.

Stacked supporting casts

For as much as the two defenses each possess the calibre of player to make a quarterback's life misery, both Brady and Stafford have the luxury of extremely strong offensive lines.

Indeed, the Rams have allowed only 16 pressures of Stafford this season, the fewest in the NFL. Tampa Bay's offensive line has given up 10 more, yet that still puts the Buccaneers tied fifth in the league.

And, should the theme of the two O-Lines giving their quarterbacks time continue, Brady and Stafford will have the opportunity to find some excellent pass-catching options.

Buccaneers receiver Chris Godwin has recorded a burn, which is when a receiver wins his matchup on a play where he is targeted, 88.9 per cent of the time. That is the most among wide receivers with at least 10 targets. His big-play percentage of 46.7 is third among such wideouts.

Antonio Brown's presence on the reserve/COVID-19 list may see even more targets go to Godwin while tight end Rob Gronkowski should play a featured role with a burn percentage of 84.6 and four touchdowns through two games.

The change from Jared Goff to Stafford has not changed the identity of the two most important receivers for the Rams.

Robert Woods' burn percentage of 76.9 is sixth for wideouts with a minimum of 10 targets, and Cooper Kupp's burn yards per target average of 13.94 is second among receivers who have been targeted at least 20 times.

With two extremely accurate quarterbacks, weapons all over the field and a pair of elite defenses, there is little to choose between two teams that for now appear destined to be playing in January. Home advantage, a Rams offensive line that the numbers suggest is slightly superior to that of Tampa Bay and Stafford's greater mobility tip the scales in Los Angeles' favour on paper. Yet, if there is one player who can redress the balance, it is Brady.

The only two remaining unbeaten teams in the AFC are tied in the AFC West, but neither will be in action at Arrowhead on Sunday.

While the Las Vegas Raiders and the Denver Broncos have made strong starts to move to 2-0 in 2021, division favourites the Kansas City Chiefs and the Los Angeles Chargers were each beaten in Week 2.

Those results ramp up the pressure heading into Week 3 when leading young quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert meet.

Mahomes sat out last year's Week 17 game, which the Chargers won on the road, but he will be involved this time and hoping to bounce back.

This is one of a number of intriguing matchups to look forward to this Sunday, as explored by Stats Perform.

Los Angeles Chargers @ Kansas City Chiefs

That late-season win for the Chargers last year moved them to 2-1 at the Chiefs since the start of 2018. Kansas City are 18-4 at home to every other team in that time.

The Chiefs are a little vulnerable right now, too, having allowed a league-high 938 total net yards so far this season – music to Herbert's ears – and last week lost to the Baltimore Ravens despite leading by 11 points entering the fourth quarter. It was their first defeat with Mahomes under center when leading by double digits through three quarters, having previously gone 29-0 in such scenarios.

But the Chargers have an awful knack of coming up just short. Their 20-17 defeat to the Dallas Cowboys last time out was a league-high 16th loss by seven points or fewer since 2019.

Herbert does not know when he is beaten, though. He leads all QBs in completions (19), passing yards (271) and first-down conversions (16) on third down this season, while he is a stunning five-for-six for 112 yards and four first downs on third-and-11 or more.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Los Angeles Rams

There are also two games this week that could easily be early rehearsals for the NFC Championship Game, starting with Tom Brady versus the Rams defense.

Brady threw for five touchdowns against the Atlanta Falcons last week and became the fifth player – including a former Buc in Ryan Fitzpatrick (2018) – ever to toss four or more scores in each of the first two games of a season.

However, the Rams, who gave up a league-low 281.9 yards per game in 2020, recorded three sacks and two interceptions against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 2.

They pose a threat on offense, too, with Cooper Kupp's 271 receiving yards the third-most by a Ram through the team's first two games of a season in the past 60 yards. Reaching new heights alongside Matthew Stafford, Kupp had just 252 receiving yards over his final five games of 2020.

Green Bay Packers @ San Francisco 49ers

The Packers and the 49ers will consider themselves worthy challengers to the Bucs and the Rams, with Green Bay hoping they are now back on track after a dismal Week 1.

They restricted Kyle Shanahan's run game to 55 rushing yards in last year's matchup, with the Niners having averaged 176.8 yards on the ground across their previous eight meetings, going 6-2.

On offense, the Packers have obvious threats in the form of Aaron Jones and Aaron Rodgers.

Jones had four total TDs against the Detroit Lions, becoming the fifth running back in the past 25 yards to record three or more receiving scores in a game, while Rodgers has thrown 18 TDs to two interceptions in eight regular-season games against the Niners, with his 106.9 passer rating the highest versus San Francisco in the Super Bowl era (minimum 100 attempts).

Elsewhere...

The Seattle Seahawks are coming off their first loss under Pete Carroll when leading by 10 at halftime (now 31-1) but face favourable opponents in the Minnesota Vikings, who have lost the teams' past seven meetings – a joint-record including playoffs in the Vikings' history.

The Miami Dolphins also suffered a painful defeat last week and are unlikely to find any comfort in Jacoby Brissett's promotion in Tua Tagovailoa's absence at the Las Vegas Raiders. The backup QB has lost five of his past six games as a starter, while his streak of 146 consecutive passes without a touchdown in the NFL is the longest ongoing run.

Jameis Winston's regression for the New Orleans Saints in Week 2 came at a bad time, with the New England Patriots next up. The Pats have had four or more interceptions in a league-high 16 different games in the Bill Belichick era, including against the New York Jets last time out.

Beaten by both the 49ers and the Packers, the Lions' next test is against Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens. Jackson has rushed for 80 yards in four consecutive regular-season games, the most by any QB in the Super Bowl era.

Those numbers pale a little next to running back Derrick Henry's 182 yards and three rushing TDs in Seattle. Only Jim Brown (five) has had more 175-yard, three-score rushing games than the Tennessee Titan's four – tied with LaDainian Tomlinson. He plays the Indianapolis Colts next.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians admitted that the franchise have reached out to veteran cornerback Richard Sherman following an injury to Sean Murphy-Bunting.

Cornerback Murphy-Bunting was placed on injured reserve after dislocating his right elbow in the Bucs' 31-29 win over the Dallas Cowboys in Week 1.

Arians said that Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht had spoken to 33-year-old Sherman to gauge his interest.

Five-time Pro Bowler Sherman was released by the San Francisco 49ers in February but has legal issues to manage after being arrested in July.

"Jason's reached out. We got to see," Arians said. "He's got other things going on too.

"Just a matter of, 'I coach the ones that we got and let him handle the rest of that.' We'll kick the tires on some other guys too.

"But it's just a matter of, 'No, we'll talk and see, and if it's the right fit, it's the right fit and we'll move on it'."

Arians confirmed no timeframe for Murphy-Bunting's absence but he will miss at least three games on injured reserve.

Sherman only played five games for the 49ers last season due to injury but would add experience to the Bucs secondary.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers saw plenty of room for improvement even after a 48-25 defeat of the Atlanta Falcons that featured five touchdown passes by superstar Tom Brady. 

NFL Super Bowl champions the Buccaneers held a 28-10 lead following the opening drive of the second half, but watched Matt Ryan and the Falcons narrow the deficit to three by the end of the third quarter on Sunday.

Brady's final TD pass of the game and a pair of interception returns for touchdowns by Mike Edwards in the fourth period accounted for the lopsided final score, but the Buccaneers did not sound satisfied afterward. 

"The defence made some huge plays, that's the great thing," Brady told reporters. "Fourth quarter, three-point game and they make a huge stop and [we] went down there and scored, which was good. Then a few big turnovers, so that was great to see.

"Offensively, we grinded out and found a way but obviously we all wish we could have done some things to be more productive. It was a good team effort."

Brady improved to 9-0 in his career against the Falcons and broke one of his own NFL records in the process. 

The 44-year-old has already thrown nine touchdowns through two games this season – a new career-high after two games of a season.

Brady has thrown for at least four passing touchdowns in four successive regular-season games, dating back to last term. It ties Hall of Famer Dan Marino for the NFL's second longest streak since 1950 – one shy of Peyton Manning's streak of five straight games.

Including the playoffs, Sunday was the ninth straight game in which the Buccaneers won while scoring at least 30 points, breaking the league record of eight previously shared with Brady's 2007 and 2011 New England Patriots. 

On the heels of a tense 31-29 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in the season opener, Tampa Bay are grateful to be unbeaten but do not believe they have found a rhythm. 

"We left points out there," Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said. "Obviously we got 14 out of the defence but we left points out there offensively.

"I haven't seen us getting close to playing consistently yet. Hopefully we'll get there next week because we're going to have to."

The Buccaneers will face the high-powered Los Angeles Rams in Week 3 in their first road game of the season, and Brady agrees that the offence will need to do more going forward. 

"What I think and I'm sure other guys feel the same way is I think we can do better," Brady said. "I really do. I think we have the opportunity, the way the games are flowing and the opportunities we're getting with the ball we can maybe have even more opportunities.

"We were a little loose with the ball, some penalties at different times that have knocked us out of some scoring drives. Some missed throws that I've had, some missed reads. I certainly wish I had made a few better throws tonight.

"But, again, it's good to get the win. We're 2-0 and there's a lot to build on."

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