Tom Brady declined to kick his feet up the past two Wednesdays. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers devised, then ditched plans to excuse him from practice weekly, figuring the 45-year-old star doesn't need the rest to stay spry deep into the season.

Brady isn't the oldest NFL quarterback ever - the late George Blanda tossed a touchdown dart downfield at 47 - but his longevity astounds. Over 319 starts, Brady has shattered the career records for passing attempts, completions, yardage, and touchdowns, plus those for wins and Super Bowl rings. He hasn't missed a game because of injury since 2008, the year Blaine Gabbert, his 32-year-old backup, graduated from high school.

Spelling Brady in practice is Gabbert's time to shine. Gabbert signed with Tampa Bay in 2019 but has thrown a mere 27 passes for the Bucs, playing exclusively in garbage time of blowout victories that Brady keyed. Once a top-10 draft pick, Gabbert now drifts into view when Brady spikes a tablet.

Brady's past and present backups - Gabbert has many predecessors in the role - are an eclectic group. They're interesting for their own reasons. Quarterbacks who once rode pine for the New England Patriots, hoping to lead a drive or three during a championship season, are now influencing storylines around the league.


Jimmy Garoppolo: Once thought to be Bill Belichick's preferred successor to Brady, Garoppolo quarterbacked the San Francisco 49ers to multiple deep playoff runs but opened this season in limbo. Starting again now that Trey Lance is injured long term, he backpedaled out of his end zone last weekend in a one-point loss. Meanwhile, the visual artist and Niners fan who's drawing him daily until he's traded is on Day 241 of her social-media project.


Jacoby Brissett: The Cleveland Browns are 2-1 because Brissett has filled in capably while Deshaun Watson serves his suspension. Comfortable deferring to NFL rushing leader Nick Chubb, Brissett ranked 26th in passing yards through Week 3 but was ninth in completion rate (66.3%) and seventh in expected points added per play (0.178), per Ben Baldwin's database. He was unobtrusively efficient when he quarterbacked New England to a big win during Brady's 2016 four-game Deflategate ban.


Kevin O'Connell: The rookie head coach's Minnesota Vikings are pushing the Green Bay Packers for divisional control. O'Connell improved to 2-0 in NFC North matchups last weekend by ending the Detroit Lions' record 18-quarter touchdown streak. Drafted to New England in the third round in 2008, he threw six passes in relief of Matt Cassel that season when ACL and MCL tears shelved Brady.


Brian Hoyer: Seven teams have employed this 36-year-old journeyman, but Belichick keeps beckoning. Hoyer's job in his third stint as Patriots backup is to support the development of Mac Jones, the face of New England's post-Brady future. Jones is out Sunday with an ankle injury, elevating Hoyer to starter for the time being. Good thing he was around to witness two of Brady's three MVP seasons (2010, 2017).