No Longer a Patriot: Was Tom Brady a Fit for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers?
By Joanne Kong
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had not been to the playoffs in 13 years, and haven’t had a playoff win in 18 years. After several frustrating seasons hoping Jameis Winston would return the franchise to the post season, enough was finally enough. And Tom Brady was going to be the one that changed everything.
Brady was going to lead them to victory in the NFC South, the conference and perhaps even to the Super Bowl. And going into Week 1, the hype was deafening, and Buccaneers nations was all in, making Brady’s jersey the hottest selling NFL item online.
Top 5 selling jerseys, in order: Tom Brady, Cam Newton, Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, Nick Bosa. https://t.co/t6tkYfrn77
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) September 14, 2020
Unfortunately, in the Week 1 game against the defending NFC South division champions, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay learned the hard way that Tom Brady might not be the answer.
There was excitement for Tampa Bay fans when Tom Brady took the field at the Superdome for the first time as a Buccaneer.
— Tampa Brady (@Tommy6Rings) September 13, 2020
Brady looked confident taking the field. After all he is Tom Brady, 6-time Super Bowl Champion. Tampa Bay’s confidence carried the team during their first drive of the game, and seven and a half minutes into the first quarter, the Buccaneers were a yard from the goal line and Tom Brady ran it in for his first touchdown as a Buccaneer. Reality appeared to have met the hype in spades.
But after their first drive, Brady and the Bucs began to look lost. Brady’s first interception lead to an Alvin Kamara 6-yard touchdown run. After going down 17-7, Brady threw another interception in the third quarter, this time to New Orleans cornerback Janoris Jenkins, who returned it for a touchdown. Alas, these weren’t the only missteps for Brady and the Buccaneers [Editor’s Note: Sounds like a band name, doesn’t it?]. The Buccaneers were penalized a staggering nine times in the game, something Brady isn’t too familiar with when he was a New England Patriot, but something the Tampa Bay franchise is quite familiar with, as the Buccaneers led the league in penalties last year.
Brady completed 23 of 36 pass attempts for 239 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions, most of which came during garbage time. Chris Godwin was Brady’s top target, who grabbed 6 of 7 receptions for 66 yards, and tight end O.J. Howard out-produced much-hyped Rob Gronkowski with double the targets and more than double the yards. Mike Evans, playing at less than 100%, was targeted just four times and managed only one reception for two yards and a meaningless touchdown (but for fantasy players) in the last two minutes of the game.
One bad game doesn’t make for a bad season, and Brady wasn’t the only one at fault, even if head coach Bruce Arians laid blame directly at his feet. The Saints defense is among the top in the NFL, being ranked 8th per DVOA in 2019, having the 2nd most turnovers and 3rd most sacks in the regular season. So it’s not surprising that they managed to contain the Bucs, regardless of who was under center, and particularly in a week where Mike Evans wasn’t 100%. Also keep in mind that, historically, other elite quarterbacks to move systems have also had tough games at the beginning, such as Peyton Manning in his second game in Denver where he put up 3 interceptions to just 1 touchdown, ending with a 58.5 passer rating and a loss to the Atlanta Falcons. Manning still managed to lead the Broncos to a 13-3 record that 2012 season and a playoff appearance. Similarly, the last 3 seasons Brady lost a Week 1 game (2003 against the Bills, 2014 against the Dolphins and 2017 against the Chiefs) he managed to bounce back and lead the Patriots to the Super Bowl.
So don’t lose hope yet, Bucs fans. We’ll need a lot more data points before we can conclusively pass judgement on the Tom Brady acquisition. There’s a reason why there are 16 games in the regular season, and the expansion of the playoffs to 14 teams this season will also help. Next up in Week 2 are the Panthers coming off a tough loss to the Las Vegas Raiders.
Some interesting relevant history: Although the New Orleans Saints and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are division rivals, Tom Brady and Drew Brees have only faced each other three times in their careers, with Brady and the Patriots winning 2-out-of-3 against Brees and the Saints. The last time these two future hall of famers faced off was on September 17, 2017, when the Patriots defeated the Saints 36-20 at the Superdome.
Drew Brees has won 4 of the 6 head-to-head matchups vs Tom Brady
— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) September 14, 2020
Brady’s history with the Superdome actually runs deep. Eighteen years ago, Brady won his first Super Bowl at the Superdome against the St. Louis Rams — Super Bowl XXXVI — which also happened to be New England’s first Super Bowl championship, and the franchise’s first league championship of any kind. For the Rams, it would be the last time the Rams reached a Super Bowl during their time in St. Louis. The team would return to Super Bowl LIII in 2019 as the Los Angeles Rams, 17 years later, where they would face the New England Patriots again and lose 13-3.