Jets defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins has seen the look in teammates’ eyes before. When they line up against Tom Brady, suddenly the young player realizes … that’s really Tom Brady.
“You’ve been a fan of football for so long and you’ve seen guys play at the highest level,” Rankins said Monday. “Tom Brady has won what, seven Super Bowls? To be able to witness that as you’re growing up, him win no matter the circumstance or situation and then to line up across from him, that’s something a lot of people dream about. Then, to be able to do it, for a split second guys can really sit there and be like, ‘Wait a minute, that’s Tom Brady.’ It’ll happen to somebody but when the bullets start flying, it’s football. It’s time to go win a game.”
The Jets have plenty of young players on their defense this season and for most of the Jets, Sunday’s game against the Buccaneers will be their first meeting with Brady. Rankins faced Brady three times while a member of the Saints, once in 2017 when Brady was on the Patriots and twice last year when Brady joined the NFC South with the Buccaneers (Rankins was injured for one other meeting).
Rankins said it will be up to him and other veterans on the defense like linebacker C.J. Mosley to make sure the younger players don’t get starstruck when they face Brady.
“At the end of the day, football is football,” Rankins said. “He is Tom Brady but you’ve got to treat him like a nameless, faceless guy and go out there and go through your progressions, go through your keys and play football the way you’ve played football your whole life.”
Rankins recalled his first meeting with Brady. The Saints and Patriots had joint practices in 2016 when Rankins was a rookie. Rankins intercepted a Brady screen pass on the first day and raced toward the end zone.
“I look back and he was like really trying to chase me, really trying to come after me,” Rankins said. “That’s a different level of competitive nature. This is practice and at this point in his career he is Tom Brady. He’s not trying to prove anything to anybody. He didn’t have to do that.”
Rankins said it is easy to see why Brady is the greatest quarterback in NFL history.
“You watch it unfold and you realize that’s a different level of greatness right there,” Rankins said. “I’ve had some battles with him and came out on the good end of some of them and came out on the bad end of some of them. Hats off, he is, you can’t argue with it, the greatest to ever do it. At the end of the day, he is the opponent this week and we’ve got to go get him.”