Breaking down Tom Brady’s Buccaneers debut: Rust (not age) to blame in first post-Patriots loss

Tom Brady finished his Patirots career with a pick-six. He started his Buccaneers career with one, too.

Brady, who threw only eight interceptions in 2019 in New England, is already up to two after only one game in 2020 with Tampa Bay, Sunday’s sloppy 34-23 loss at New Orleans. Despite his struggles last season, he didn’t have any multiple-interception games.

The Saints’ defense gave Brady a rude greeting in the NFC South, pressuring him into an overthrow of wide receiver Mike Evans. That turned into a costly takeaway by safety Marcus Williams in the first half. The other interception, an underthrow of wide receiver Justin Watson, was easily cut off by cornerback Janoris Jenkins for a scoring return in the second half.

Brady (23 of 36, 239 yards passing, 2 TDs, rushing TD) ended up with a strong passer rating (101.5) and completion percentage (63.9). Even with the interceptions, he was the more efficient QB on the field with Drew Brees struggling against an improved Bucs pass defense.

The bottom line, however, is Brady didn’t play close to his lofty standards in his first game as a 43-year old, confirmed by his 6.1 yards per attempt on top of the big game-changing mistakes. He also took three sacks while doing his best to try to get the ball out quickly as he usually does.

The Bucs signed Brady to replace Jameis Winston because Winston threw a league-high 30 interceptions last season, keeping them from being better than a 7-9 team. Considering that, it was inauspicious start.

The Bucs lost twice to the Saints last season by similar scores, 31-24 and 31-17. Brady was supposed to make them challenge the Saints in the division, not produce a Winston-like result while Winston served as a backup on the other sideline.

Coach Bruce Arians made it a point to say that Winston’s rash of interceptions were tied to systemic problems. The Bucs’ running game continue to be anemic with Ronald Jones backed by Leonard Fournette, and the pass protection took more lumps breaking in rookie first-round right tackle Tristan Wirfs. Brady faced some of the pressure Winston saw and there some familiar receiver disconnects on routes.

Even the GOAT needs time to adust, especially without any preseason game tuneups with a new offense, new team and new supporting cast save for Rob Gronkowski. 

With Evans hamstrung, the Buccaneers weren’t as dangerous as usual with the deep ball, limiting the “no risk-it, no biscuit” element of Arians’ passing game. Brady wasn’t well positioned to stretch the field for the Patriots last season, but a healthier Evans can change that quickly.

As expected, unlike Winston, Brady effectively spread the ball around in the short-to-intermediate passing game. He got nine receivers into the catch column — four wideouts, three backs and two tight ends. Clearly most comfortable with Patriots-type route-running receivers Chris Godwin and Scotty Miller (a combined 11 catches for 152 yards), Brady seemed to be getting a real-game feel for his weapons and the Bucs’ personnel groupings.

Critics will chalk it up to Brady having completely lost it, being worse than the QB who whiffed against the Titans in the wild-card playoffs. But for the first time in a long time, Brady has needed to adjust to a combination of newness and rust. He looked natural in leading the team and the offense. But as an older QB, he would be the first to admit he’s a little more dependent, and he wasn’t totally in sync with his support system out of the gate.

He also faced a established playoff powerhouse team with an active, veteran defense on the road, an environment that remained hostile without fans. This might be Brady’s toughest challenge of the entire season, for the combination of timing, situation and opponent.

Before facing the Saints in Tampa Bay again in Week 9, the Bucs face only one team that a winning record from last season, the Packers, at home in Week 6. The also face the Rams, Chiefs and Vikings in the second half, but all those games are at home, too.

The Bucs looked undisciplined, still in the process of figuring things out as a contender, while the Saints had reliability with their offense, defense and special teams. Brady wasn’t immune from struggling to put it all together right away.

Brady didn’t play as well as some of his numbers might have indicated or as poorly as some of the other numbers suggested. There are a lot more signs he can separate from his worst, be closer to his best and much better than Winston. A get-well game against the Panthers’ defense in Week 2 couldn’t come at a better time.

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