TAMPA, Fla. (AP)Tom Brady holds Joe Burrow in high regard.

”He’s a great young player. He’s got a great arm, runs well, very athletic. I’m really impressed by him overcoming the adversities that he has,” said the seven-time Super Bowl champion, who faces the top pick in the 2020 draft for the first time Sunday, when the sputtering Tampa Bay Buccaneers host the red-hot Cincinnati Bengals.

”There were high expectations for him coming out and he’s lived up to it. So a lot of credit to him, and their team’s done a great job,” Brady added. ”They were in the Super Bowl last year, they’re playing really well this year. Good defense, good offense, good special teams group. Well-coached. It’s going to be a tough game.”

Especially the way the underachieving Bucs (6-7) have been playing lately.

While Brady leads the league in completions and is fourth in passing yards behind Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert and Burrow, a talented Tampa Bay offense continues to struggle getting into the end zone.

After averaging over 30 points per game the past two seasons, the Bucs are down to 17.2 – 28th in the NFL – after losing 35-7 at San Francisco last week.

The Bengals (9-4) have won five straight, seven of eight overall, to match the Baltimore Ravens for the best record in the AFC North.

While there may be no quick fix for Tampa Bay’s scoring woes, the Bucs can take solace in knowing a playoff berth is still within reach.

Despite having a losing record, they’re in first place in the weak NFC South, one game ahead of the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons with four games left.

”I think the one thing about football is you get what you deserve. You’ve got to go earn it,” Brady said of the Bucs still having all of their goals in front of them.

”The Rams were the Super Bowl champions last year. This year they’re not having the kind of year they want,” the 45-year-old quarterback added, noting there are a lot of things – penalties, lack of offensive execution and other factors – that can bring a team back to the pack.

”It’s a challenge, and you just try to figure out the challenge,” Brady said. ”It’s a long race. It’s not over in Week 13. That’s why you play all 17. … We’ll see where we’re measured at the end of the year. But there’s no … quit, there’s no lack of fight. … We’re trying hard to make the right improvements.”

Meanwhile, Burrow and the Bengals have rebounded from a slow start to play like a team capable of making another deep playoff run.

The third-year quarterback is looking forward to facing Brady’s Bucs, though he’s not especially fond of people trying to draw comparisons between him and the seven-time Super Bowl winner at this stage of his career.

”I don’t really pay attention to it. He’s Tom and I’m Joe,” said Burrow, who also doesn’t want to make too much of the first-ever meeting between the quarterbacks.

”It’s our 14th game of the season,” the Bengals star said. ”You know, obviously, the greatest quarterback ever is on the other side, but we got a job to do, too, and our job is to go and win, get to 10-4 and move on.”

WOUNDED SECONDARY

The Bucs played with three injured starters in the secondary during last Sunday’s 28-point road loss to the 49ers.

Cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting and safeties Antoine Winfield Jr. and Mike Edwards all practiced this week, though it’s uncertain whether they’ll play against the Bengals.

Regardless of who winds up playing, though, Bucs coach Todd Bowles stressed his defense will be tested by Burrow.

”He’s great, he’s poised in the pocket, he throws a great ball all over the field, he can throw at any angle, he can make any throw, he has some great receivers to throw to, he has a good understanding of the offense and the game, he can take advantage of what you’re trying to give him, he can run the ball when he has to run the ball, he can throw people open, he can use his feet,” said Bowles, who wasn’t finished.

”He has a knack for the game,” the coach added. ”Certain guys when they come out of college that young have a knack for the game already. He has it.”

GOTTA BE BETTER

Bucs LT Donovan Smith has drawn holding penalties that have wiped out touchdown receptions each of the past two games. The eighth-year pro has been flagged a career-high six times for holding this season, a trend Bowles said needs to stop.

”You can’t keep doing the same thing over and over again. It’s costing us,” the coach said, adding he has no plans to bench Smith.

”We’ve considered everything and Donovan, right now, is our best option,” Bowles said.

CAPPA HOMECOMING

Bengals RG Alex Cappa was part of the offensive line that protected Brady the past two seasons in Tampa Bay. He signed with Cincinnati last winter and is looking forward to facing his old team for the first time.

”It’ll be fun,” Cappa said.

AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP-NFL