TAMPA — Aside from when he tore his ACL in the 2008 season opener, Tom Brady has always been an ironman at quarterback.
His mind is just as unbending when it comes to not sitting out of a game even when there is nothing at stake.
Though the Bucs are locked into the No. 4 seed in the NFC, Brady insists on playing Sunday in Atlanta.
“We always try to improve the football team,” Brady said Thursday. “It’s how do you improve and get better? Do you sit? Do you play? What plays do you run? Who plays? ...
“My view is I’m ready to play. I’ve never missed a game in my life; I never want to miss a game now. Well, actually I have missed a few games but (I was) hurt.”
Brady also was suspended the first four games of 2016 for his role in Deflategate, but you get his point.
He is also keenly aware of the risks. He played in the 2009 regular-season finale against Houston even though the Patriots’ playoff seeding had been determined, then New England lost receiver Wes Welker to torn knee ligaments.
New England lost the next week to the Ravens in an AFC wild-card game.
In addition to finishing with a 9-8 record, the Bucs would like to win their third game in a row and continue to generate some momentum heading into the playoffs. Tampa Bay is coming off its best statistical game on offense, with Brady passing for 432 yards and three touchdowns, all of them deep shots to receiver Mike Evans.
Bucs offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich believes the final regular-season game provides another opportunity to improve.
“Even when we do things well, I don’t think that’s something we can say, ‘We got it,’” Leftwich said. “I never view it that way. So I think you’ve got to work on it continuously. ... Reps are so big in this league. Especially with the practice schedule that we have, it’s not as physical as it’s been before. So as many of those communication, game reps you can get, I think the better. I really do.”
Leftwich said he isn’t preparing to play the Falcons without all the starters on offense but allowed that some of them may not play the whole game.
“I’ll let Todd (Bowles) handle that, really,” he said. “Because if they’re out there, they’re going to play because we’ve still got things to work on, things we can get better at.”
The Bucs were fortunate to beat the Falcons on Oct. 9. Leading 21-15 late in the fourth quarter, Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett threw Brady down to the ground for an apparent sack. But he was flagged for a controversial roughing-the-passer penalty, giving Tampa Bay a first down and enabling Brady to run out the clock.
The Falcons are 6-10 overall but 5-3 at home and have turned to rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder.
Brady is bracing for a tough challenge and believes it can only help the team moving forward.
“I think any time you take the field you want to be the best you can be,” Brady said. “To minimize the importance of a game makes no sense to me.”
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