Tom Brady’s year of distractions may be manifesting itself in a significant way.
As part of an overall offensive malaise for Tampa Bay, the Buccaneers are having a particularly hard time scoring early in games. Through six weeks, the Bucs have yet to score an offensive touchdown in the first quarter.
Worse, the team ranks No. 21 in the NFL in red zone touchdown scoring at 50 percent after being in the top 11 each of the past two years. Not only is the percentage poor, but the raw numbers (nine touchdowns in 18 red-zone possessions) are also poor.
That has led people within the organization to increasingly look at Brady as both the cause and the cure.
“Right now, everything that happens in the building revolves around Tom and his world,” one member of the coaching staff said in the aftermath of the team’s loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday. “What does he want to do (in the game plan)? Can he practice? Is he going to be here? Is he focused? Look, we all know we need him. We’re not kidding ourselves. We also know he’s going through a lot of crap.”
After another 30 seconds or so of talking about how vital Brady is to the chances of the Bucs making the playoffs and winning a Super Bowl this year, the coach took a deep breath and said, “We need him. We just need him in every way you can imagine. Just his presence makes people accountable.”
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But in a year where Brady retired, then unretired, missed 10 days of training camp for an undisclosed reason, has been dealing with reports of the break up of his marriage to supermodel Gisele Bundchen, has been regularly resting during practices on Wednesday, and then missed practice Saturday after attending the wedding of New England owner Robert Kraft on Friday night in New York, the list of things getting in the way of Brady being bought in to the team seems to be getting longer.
And the frustration is becoming obvious. Brady’s sideline blow up at his offensive linemen on Sunday was considered out of character. It was interpreted by some as him lashing out at bigger issues.
“Tom is emotional and let’s people have it from time to time, but it’s usually not that way with teammates,” said coach from Brady’s days in New England. That coach recalled Brady blowing up at former Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien. “That was epic, but it was also a little bit of a rallying cry. The other players were basically behind Tom, saying, ‘Yeah, let ‘em have it.’”
On Sunday in Pittsburgh, the interpretation of the events was much different. In that case, it was seen as Brady lording his authority over the offensive linemen at a time when Brady is the authority. Two sources said this week that Brady and Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich are mapping out the game plan each week without another person to check their work now that former head coach Bruce Arians is gone.
“Tom didn’t like Bruce telling him what to do or lecturing him, but now we have a really stagnant offense. You’re dead on when you say that we don’t work the play-action game nearly enough and we don’t have movement around the goal line. Those are the little things that players don’t get. You have to have things that make the defense think and slows them down. We don’t do that,” the coach said.
All of that is on top of the fact that Brady’s shoulder appears to be hurting more than he is letting on. Tampa Bay threw deep only once on Sunday against a depleted Pittsburgh secondary. Some of that was because the Steelers played a lot of soft zones to prevent deep throws. Some of it was because Brady didn’t appear to want to throw deep and test his shoulder.
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Ultimately, the belief within the organization is that all of that can be fixed pretty quickly if the offensive line can get health and Tom Brady can regain his focus. In 2020, Brady’s first season in Tampa Bay, he was considered completely dialed in to the process. In three of the first five games of the season, the Bucs scored a touchdown on their opening drive of the game. That happened even though the team dealt with a Covid-impact training camp and practice schedule.
Or as the coach said: “He was geeked up to prove something coming out of New England, so I don’t know if we’re going to have that again. But we don’t need that level. Like I said, we just need him. We need him here and focused.”