Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady reacts as he leaves the field...

Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady reacts as he leaves the field after the team lost to the Rams during an NFL divisional round playoff game on Jan. 23, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. Credit: AP/Mark LoMoglio

Tom Brady reportedly will not quite reach his oft-stated goal of playing until he is 45. But given what he did at 44, was there anything left to prove by sticking around one more year?

Apparently not. Brady plans to retire from football, ESPN reported on Saturday afternoon — a report that later was partially disputed — after leading the NFL in touchdown passes with 43 and in passing yardage with 5,316 in his final season.

And on his final drive, in a 30-27 divisional-round loss to the Rams last Sunday, he completed a comeback from a 27-3 deficit by leading the Buccaneers to a game-tying touchdown run by Leonard Fournette with 42 seconds left.

That followed by less than three minutes a 55-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Mike Evans that got the Bucs within a touchdown.

It was vintage Brady.

Now, a week later, it appears that could be the last we see of him on the field.

He had hinted during the week that it might be time to focus on his family rather than prioritizing his own ambitions.

FILE - New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady holds the...

FILE - New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady holds the Vince Lombardi Trophy after the Patriots beat the Carolina Panthers 32-29 in Super Bowl XXXVIII in Houston, Feb. 1, 2004. Despite reports that he is retiring, Brady has told the Tampa Bay Buccaneers he hasn't made up his mind, two people familiar with the details told The Associated Press, Saturday, Jan. 29, 2022. (AP Photo/Dave Martin, File) Credit: AP/DAVE MARTIN

But hours after the ESPN report Saturday, what had seemed to be a clear piece of blockbuster news became a tangle of confusing, conflicting reports.

Not long after the ESPN story, the Twitter feed of Brady’s TB12 company appeared to confirm the news, posting:

"7 Super Bowl Rings. 5 Super Bowl MVPs. 3 League MVP Awards. 22 Incredible Seasons. Thank you for it all, @TomBrady."

Later in the afternoon, that post was deleted.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) warm-up just prior...

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) warm-up just prior to kickoff against the Los Angeles Rams Sunday, Jan. 23, 2022, in Tampa. (Dirk Shadd/Tampa Bay Times/TNS) Credit: TNS/Dirk Shadd

Meanwhile, Brady’s agent, Don Yee, indicated in a statement to ESPN that Brady is not quite ready to formalize his plans.

"Without getting into the accuracy or inaccuracy of what’s being reported, Tom will be the only person to express his plans with complete accuracy," Yee said. "He knows the realities of the football business and planning calendar as well as anybody, so that should be soon."

Then Bally Sports reported that Brady had contacted Bucs general manager Jason Licht to tell him he has not yet made a decision, disputing the ESPN report.

There was yet another twist when KRON-TV in San Francisco reported late Saturday afternoon that Tom Brady’s father, Tom Sr., said his son is not retiring.

It is possible that while the ESPN report eventually will be proved correct, Brady is unhappy about the timing, especially with the conference championships set for Sunday.

TAMPA, FLORIDA - JANUARY 23: Tom Brady #12 of the...

TAMPA, FLORIDA - JANUARY 23: Tom Brady #12 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers looks on before the game against the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Divisional Playoff game at Raymond James Stadium on January 23, 2022 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) Credit: Getty Images/Kevin C. Cox

After the initial report, Evans tweeted: "Thanks for everything big bro it was an honor @TomBrady." He followed that with an image of a goat, symbolizing Brady’s widely referenced status as the "Greatest of All Time."

Brady has said he did not want an elaborate, extended farewell tour, and if he is done playing, he accomplished that.

If this is it, he will leave the game considered by most who follow the game as its greatest quarterback and possibly its greatest player, having risen from a sixth-round draft pick out of Michigan to a seven-time Super Bowl champion and a 10-time conference champion.

When he began his college career at Michigan, he was seventh on the quarterback depth chart. Then, even after rising to become a regular, he had to wait until the 199th overall pick for the Patriots to take a chance on him.

In New England, he was a little-known backup. Then, two games into the 2001 season, he suddenly was thrust into the limelight when starter Drew Bledsoe was injured on a tackle by the Jets’ Mo Lewis.

TAMPA, FLORIDA - JANUARY 23: Tom Brady #12 of the...

TAMPA, FLORIDA - JANUARY 23: Tom Brady #12 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers looks to throw the ball in the second quarter of the game against the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Divisional Playoff game at Raymond James Stadium on January 23, 2022 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) Credit: Getty Images/Kevin C. Cox

Brady led the Patriots to a shocking upset of the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI, and the rest is NFL history. He went on to win six Super Bowls with coach Bill Belichick and the Patriots and lost another three — two of them to Tom Coughlin, Eli Manning and the Giants.

The first of those, after the 2007 season, will stand as the most painful loss of Brady’s career. The Patriots came into the game having won all 18 of their games that season but lost to the Giants, 17-14.

Brady left New England after the 2019 season and led the Bucs to a 31-9 win over Kansas City in the Super Bowl.

The Bucs were back in the playoffs this season, but after a 31-15 victory over the Eagles in the wild-card round, the Rams survived blowing that big lead and beat the Bucs with a field goal as time expired.

Brady finished with 18 division championships, including 11 in a row in one stretch.

TAMPA, FLORIDA - JANUARY 16: Tom Brady #12 of the...

TAMPA, FLORIDA - JANUARY 16: Tom Brady #12 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers points against the Philadelphia Eagles during the first quarter in the NFC Wild Card Playoff game at Raymond James Stadium on January 16, 2022 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) Credit: Getty Images/Mike Ehrmann

Many assumed he would return in 2022 simply because of how well he played in 2021 and because of a healthy lifestyle that seemed to make the aging process go more slowly for him that for most humans.

But on Monday, he said this on his SiriusXM podcast:

"My wife is my biggest supporter. It pains her to see me get hit out there, and she deserves what she needs from me as a husband and my kids deserve what they need from me as a dad.

"I’m going to spend some time with them and give them what they need, because they’ve really been giving me what I need the last six months — to do what I need to do.

"I said this a few years ago: It’s what relationships are all about. It’s not always about what I want. It’s about what we want as a family. And I’m going to spend a lot of time with them and figure out in the future what’s next."

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