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Defense game plans for Tom Brady, 'the final boss'

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Logan Ryan played 70 games - including 10 in the postseason - as Tom Brady's teammate in New England and has faced him three times as an opponent. That experience makes the eight-year veteran as qualified as any NFL player to speak to the challenge the Giants' defense faces Monday night against Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"To me, he's the ultimate test as a player," Ryan said this week. "He's like the final boss in Mario or whatever game you might play when you're on the last level and they have hammers and cannonballs and everything going off in the game. He presents every threat to you possible. You have to stay super locked in. As a competitor, I feel like he brings the best out in me because I know I have to be my best in order to compete with him. I love playing against him because it's the greatest challenge in football, definitely mentally, and physically, as well."

He'll get his chance in MetLife Stadium, where the 1-6 Giants will host the 5-2 Buccaneers, who have won two in a row and five of their last six games.

Ryan, a starting defensive back in his first season with the Giants, is one of several players and coaches on the team with ties to Brady. Safety Nate Ebner played for the Patriots for eight seasons before leaving at the same time as Brady to join the Giants. Coach Joe Judge was an assistant coach on New England's staff each of those years. Defensive coordinator Patrick Graham was a Patriots assistant from 2009-15, as was quarterbacks coach Jerry Schuplinski from 2013-18.

"He's a tremendous, tremendous player, and he's great to be around on a daily basis," said Judge, who worked more closely with Brady in 2019, when Judge was both the Patriots' wide receivers coach and special teams coordinator. "I think as coaches, you have to really open your eyes and ears because you can learn a lot more from the players than you can ever imagine when you just watch them go to work and you watch how they have success. Especially being able to watch an older, veteran player like Tom and all the things that he's accomplished in his career."

"I have a lot of respect for him as a football player, as a man," Graham said. "He was never too big to talk to, whether it was me as a defensive quality control or a rookie wide receiver. That's what makes him special. I haven't seen anybody work as hard as him, be as studious as him."

Defensive lineman Leonard Williams faced Brady 10 times during his four-plus seasons with the Jets.

"Every time I've played against Tom Brady, even back in my early career against him, he's known for getting the ball out really quickly," Williams said. "He's also not a scrambling type of quarterback, he doesn't want to roll out of the pocket and stuff like that. He can if you allow him, but he doesn't want to run the ball. He wants to step up in the pocket, he wants a clear step up lane and he wants to get the ball out quickly. For a D-line, we want to get that middle presence, that middle push, and not allow him to step into his throws. Get him throwing off of his back foot and stuff like that. Just getting pressure in his face."

The Giants know Brady. But can they stop him, his talented teammates and the high-scoring Bucs, whose 31.7 points-per-game place them third in the NFL? Brady is 43 and in his 21st pro season, but he's playing as well as he ever has.

Last week, he was named NFC Offensive Player of the Month for October. It was an NFL-record 11th time he has won such an award. It was the first time a Buccaneers player was named on Offensive Player of the Month in the franchise's 45-year history.

Tampa Bay was 3-1 in October, scoring 38, 38 and 45 points in the victories and losing a 20-19 Thursday night game in Chicago. The Bucs led the NFL with 17 touchdowns in the month.

Brady's passing yards (272.9 a game) and passer rating (102.7) are his best since his MVP season in 2017, when the numbers were 286.1 and 102.8. His completion percentage of 65.7 is significantly better than the 60.8 he posted last year. Brady's 18 touchdown passes are second in the NFL behind Russell Wilson's 22.

"He's continuously gotten better in his career, and he's really playing at a high level now, and that's not by accident," Judge said. "This guy works tirelessly. He's a great communicator in the meeting rooms, he's a great communicator at the line of scrimmage and on the sidelines as far as making adjustments. This guy is thinking ahead within situations and really thinking about the next series, the next play, the next call all the time, and he's doing everything he can to help set it up. He's done a tremendous job in (Tampa Bay coach) Bruce's (Arians) offense right now, and he's making all of the players around him, obviously, they're having a lot of big plays. They have a really good, explosive offense."

"What I see in Tom Brady is Tom Brady," Ryan said. "Like fine wine, he keeps getting better. Twenty years of experience, arguably, I think the best player to play the game, the best quarterback. He does everything he can to figure out the defense. He's a great point guard in this league where he just distributes the ball to his playmakers. … He brings the best out of his teammates. He is one of the greatest teammates I ever had. He makes everyone around him better and that's what I see in Tampa. The same old Tom Brady to me and that's excellence."

Ryan and Brady were last on the same field on Jan. 4, when the Tennessee Titans visited New England for an AFC Wild Card Game. The last pass Brady ever threw for the Patriots was intercepted by Ryan, who returned it nine yards for a touchdown to clinch a 20-13 victory.

"Definitely the interception was a big play in my career, a big play in both our careers," Ryan said. "He reached out to me afterwards. I had dropped one earlier in the game and he said, 'Why can't you drop them both?' I said, 'Even though I like you, I can't drop them both.' We have much respect for each other."

That certainly won't change Monday night.

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