ATLANTA (AP) — While Atlanta rookie Desmond Ridder is still looking for his first TD pass, Tampa Bay's Tom Brady is poised to add to his already impressive list of NFL records.
Brady and the Buccaneers (8-8) hope to use Sunday’s regular-season finale to gain momentum for the playoffs. The NFC South champs are assured of a first-round game at home next week.
The Buccaneers clinched the division title with last week's 30-24 win over Carolina. Tampa Bay can't improve its playoff position, but coach Todd Bowles said this week he won't rest his starters against Atlanta.
“As of right now, everybody is playing,” Bowles said.
Brady, the seven-time Super Bowl champion, approves of that plan.
“I always feel like every game’s important for one reason or another,” Brady said Thursday. “I don’t care, spring practice is important, offseason workouts are important, meetings are important. To minimize the importance of a game makes no sense to me.”
While it remains to be seen how much Brady will play, the 45-year-old quarterback likely will have an opportunity to break more records. In addition to being on pace to set the NFL’s single-season record for pass attempts, Brady needs nine completions to break his own league mark of 485, set in 2021.
Brady already holds most of the NFL's career passing records, including yards, completions and touchdowns.
Brady has played well the last few games, showing off his still-sharp touch on long passes. The Buccaneers clinched the NFC South with last week's 30-24 win over Carolina as Brady connected with Mike Evans for TD passes of 63, 57 and 30 yards. Brady finished 34 of 45 for 432 yards.
Ridder, 23, was 1 year old when Brady was selected in the sixth round of the 2000 draft by New England.
Ridder will be making his fourth start as he completes his regular-season audition for the rebuilding Falcons (6-10). Falcons coach Arthur Smith has been impressed by Ridder’s poise, but the rookie's statistics have been underwhelming.
Ridder, a third-round draft pick from Cincinnati, has seen his completion percentage and passer rating rise each week since taking over for Marcus Mariota. Ridder completed 19 of 26 passes for 169 yards in last week's 20-19 win over Arizona. That was his first win as a starter. But Ridder still hasn't thrown a touchdown pass or an interception.
“We know we can’t be in the playoffs this year,” Ridder said. “One thing we talked about is we want to finish the last few games strong. Finish it for something good for the future.”
Though Brady and other Tampa Bay regulars are expected to start, it's not clear how long they'll play.
Bowles said he plans to have rookie Kyle Trask active as the third quarterback behind Brady and backup Blaine Gabbert. It's a possible indication Bowles doesn't plan to leave Brady on the field for the full game.
“If Tom comes out, Blaine will go in after him," Bowles said. "If Blaine comes out, Trask will go in after him.”
RUNNING THE RIVALRY
Tampa Bay has won the last five games in the NFC South rivalry and will be playing to complete its third consecutive season sweep. The Falcons' last home win over the Buccaneers came in 2018.
Overall, the Buccaneers lead the series 30-28.
Falcons rookie running back Tyler Allgeier has emerged as a building block for the future.
Allgeier leads Atlanta with 900 rushing yards while sharing time with Cordarrelle Patterson. The Falcons rank third in the NFL with 159 rushing yards per game after finishing 2021 ranked 31st with 85.4.
TRASK ON HOLD
Trask would make his debut if Brady and Gabbert both exit.
Bowles has been pleased with the development of Trask, a 2021 second-round draft pick who has only been active for one game in two seasons.
“Since he’s been here, every time I look out my window, he’s out there working on his own. He has the greatest resolve and toughness and inner strength almost than any person I’ve seen,” Bowles said. “A young guy coming out — he prepares every day. When his time comes, he’s going to be ready because I see him working at it every day.”
Falcons left tackle Jake Matthews is expected to make his 144th consecutive start. The streak began in 2014 and ties former center Todd McClure for the second-longest stretch of consecutive starts in team history. McClure was named to the Falcons Ring of Honor this year.
Quarterback Matt Ryan made 147 consecutive starts from 2009-19.
Evans is coming off his best game of the season, a 10-catch, 207-yard, three-touchdown performance against Carolina. He went over 1,000 yards for the season, making him the only player in NFL history to begin a career with nine consecutive seasons with 1,000 yards-plus receiving.
The Falcons also must contain Chris Godwin, who in 10 career games against Atlanta has 55 receptions and nine touchdowns, averaging 82.4 yards per game. Godwin needs two catches for his first 100-reception season and 32 yards for his third 1,000-yard season.
AP Sports Writer Fred Goodall in Tampa, Florida, contributed to this report.
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