Monday's NFL: Brady ends 11-day break; Jets edge Falcons, 24-16

The Detroit News

Tampa, Fla. — Tom Brady (Michigan) returned to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday, ending what has been described as an 11-day, prearranged break from training camp for personal reasons.

The seven-time Super Bowl champion didn’t address the media after practicing. Teammates and coach Todd Bowles said the 45-year-old quarterback was sharp throwing the ball and essentially took up where he left off when he left the team on Aug. 11.

Tom Brady returned to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday, ending what has been described as an 11-day, prearranged break from training camp for personal reasons.

“If anybody can get away with the 11-day break during training camp, it’s Tom,” tight end Cameron Brate said. “He came back, kind of firing on all cylinders again. We’re all excited he’s back and ready to move on.”

While he was away, Brady missed two preseason games that Bowles said the quarterback would not have played in even if he were with the team.

The coach said the break had been planned since well before the start of training camp last month.

“His presence is different, just the leader he is, the type of guy he is,” linebacker Lavonte David said. “It’s great to have a guy like that back. He came back ready to take off where he left off.”

In Brady’s absence, backup Blaine Gabbert and third-stringer Kyle Trask shared most of the snaps in practice and during preseason losses to the Miami Dolphins and Indianapolis Colts. Bowles said it has not been determined if – or how much – Brady might play in Saturday night’s preseason finale at Indianapolis.

The quarterback’s return comes as the Bucs continue to deal with injuries to an offensive line facing the prospect of entering the Sept. 11 season opener with at least two new starters. Center Ryan Jensen was lost to a knee injury on the second day of camp and left guard Aaron Stinnie suffered a season-ending knee injury against the Titans last weekend.

Bowles said the biggest thing Brady missed during his time away was some conditioning.

“He’s very familiar with the offense. So him coming back in, and us getting back to work, is kind of normal,” the coach said.

“Any time you have all your guys back, you feel good,” Bowles added. “Especially after the injury bug we’ve had lately, we’re glad to have him back.”

Stinnie, who was competing for the opening on the offensive line created by the surprise retirement of Ali Marpet, and linebacker Cam Gill (foot) were placed on injured reserve Monday.

Second-year pro Robert Hainsey is the leading option to open the season at center.

With Stinnie out, rookie Luke Goedeke and second-year pro Nick Leverett will compete for the left guard job, although there’s still a possibility the team could try to find outside help.

“We like our in-home options, but there has got to be a player available for us to like to add a player,” Bowles said. “We’re not just going to sign one to sign one.”

Mayfield starting for Panthers

Baker Mayfield will start the Carolina Panthers’ Sept. 11 regular-season opener against his former team, the Cleveland Browns.

Panthers coach Matt Rhule made the announcement on the team’s website Monday.

Mayfield, acquired in a trade with the Browns earlier this offseason, beat out incumbent starter Sam Darnold for the job. The news was expected as Mayfield had outperformed Darnold during most of training camp.

“When we started this process, we were looking at three things,” Rhule said. “Number one, mastery of the offense, number two, situational football excellence, and number three, moving the ball and getting guys involved. That’s been our focus all along. Baker has made a lot of improvement, a lot of growth in all three areas in a short amount of time.”

Both Mayfield and Darnold are expected to play in the team’s preseason finale on Friday night against the Buffalo Bills. Neither Mayfield nor Darnold has seen much action in the preseason and both were held out of last week’s game against the New England Patriots.

Rhule originally said the Panthers would keep three quarterbacks on the roster, but that was before rookie third-round draft pick Matt Corral suffered a Lisfranc ligament tear in his foot.

“All along, we’ve felt like we need to have a really strong quarterback room, and have every quarterback ready to play,” Rhule said. “The reality of this league is most teams will play multiple quarterbacks. Sam has worked incredibly hard, played really well for us during training camp, and will be ready to go if and when it’s needed.”

Jets 24, Falcons 16

Marcus Mariota led Atlanta to scores on two of his three drives in the Falcons’ 24-16 loss against mostly New York Jets backups Monday night in East Rutherford, N.J.

Mariota, who strengthened his hold on the starting job, was 6 of 10 for 132 yards and a touchdown pass to Olamide Zaccheaus before giving way to rookie Desmond Ridder with a 10-0 lead in the second quarter.

“The last couple years were a good reset for me, but I’m excited about the opportunity, excited about this team,” said Mariota, who hasn’t started a regular-season game since 2019 with Tennessee.

Ridder, a third-round pick out of Cincinnati, wasn’t too shabby, either, going 10 of 13 for 143 yards and leading the Falcons to two field goals during his three series that were marred by penalties. Feleipe Franks replaced him midway through the third quarter.

Tight end Kyle Pitts was one of only a few other projected Falcons starters who played – and made his presence felt early with a 52-yard reception on Atlanta’s second play from scrimmage. He got wide open on Bryce Hall, who’s competing with rookie Sauce Gardner for a starting job at cornerback, to put the Falcons at the Jets 9.

“Well, you know, it makes it easy when you’ve got a guy like Kyle,” Mariota said. “But yeah, we felt good about the player, felt good about the look and hats off to Kyle for executing it.”

The drive stalled, though, and the Falcons had to settle for a 23-yard field goal by Younghoe Koo. But Mariota led Atlanta into the end zone on the next possession. He hit a wide-open Anthony Firkser for a 39-yard gain to get to the Jets 14, and then found Zaccheaus for a 13-yard TD two plays later.

The Jets sat most of their projected starters, including quarterback Joe Flacco – who took over as New York’s QB1 in place of the injured Zach Wilson.

Wilson is out a few weeks as he recovers from a bone bruise and surgically repaired torn meniscus in his right knee, with his availability for the season opener against Baltimore on Sept. 11 uncertain. It would be Flacco under center if Wilson can’t go, but Mike White got the start against the Falcons and was mostly ineffective with the backups.

White went 12 of 17 for 90 yards, and the offense punted on each of his first four series before Greg Zuerlein’s 44-yard field goal ended the first half with the Jets trailing 16-3.

Fourth-stringer Chris Streveler, who hadn’t thrown a pass in team drills before leading the Jets to two touchdowns in the preseason opener at Philadelphia, was at it again against Atlanta.

The former CFL quarterback, who had previous NFL stints with Arizona, Baltimore and Miami, replaced White in the third quarter and engineered TD drives in his first two series.

First came a 34-yard TD pass to Lawrence Cager, then an eight-play drive that was capped by La’Mical Perine’s 7-yard run that gave the Jets a 17-16 lead 11 seconds into the fourth quarter.

Streveler finished 8 of 11 for 119 yards and the TD with an interception. He also led the Jets with 33 yards rushing on six carries.

Jets WR Tarik Black (Michigan) was being evaluated for a concussion.

Vikings acquire QB Mullens

The Minnesota Vikings have acquired backup quarterback Nick Mullens from the Las Vegas Raiders for a conditional 2024 seventh-round draft pick.

The Vikings announced the deal Monday and said it will be finalized as soon as Mullens passes a physical. The Raiders will get the 2024 pick only if Mullens is on the active roster for at least one game this season.

Mullens will compete with second-year player Kellen Mond and veteran Sean Mannion to be the No. 2 quarterback behind Kirk Cousins.

Mond and Mannion have split time this preseason with Cousins sitting out. Mond, the team’s third-round pick in 2021, threw two TD passes in the Vikings’ exhibition opener against Las Vegas but had two interceptions on Saturday night against San Francisco.

Mannion, who has thrown 110 passes in seven seasons as a backup in the NFL, also struggled to move the ball against the 49ers.

Mullens has appeared in 20 career games with 17 starts with San Francisco and Cleveland since entering the league as an undrafted free agent with the Niners in 2017.

He has completed 64.6% of his passes, averaging 267.8 yards passing in his starts, with 26 TDs, 22 interceptions and an 87.3 passer rating. He went 20 for 30 for 147 yards and a TD in his only appearance last season for the Browns.

Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah knows Mullens well, having spent time with him during his tenures in both San Francisco and Cleveland.

Mullens was 21 for 29 for 205 yards and a TD in three exhibition games for the Raiders this summer.

The trade by Las Vegas clears the way for Jarrett Stidham to be the backup behind Derek Carr. Stidham had started all three preseason games, going 25 for 40 for 244 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions. He also ran for two scores.

Stidham has thrown 48 passes in three seasons as a backup in New England before following coach Josh McDaniels to Las Vegas this offseason.