A few weeks ago a reader asked if I'd consider doing a Knee Jerk Reaction-style post every week to recap Tom Brady's games in Tampa. My first inclination was to say "No way in hell" because, despite what you might think from all the typos, those KJR columns literally take hours to do. And since we are all pretty much getting close to the End of Days, I don't want to spent what little time I have left on this planet at a keyboard. But on the other hand, I've spent the last 20 or so exercising an unhealthy and downright dangerous obsession with writing about Tom Brady, so to some extent it makes sense to die like I've lived. So as much as I can, I'll try to fire off quick, short, mini-KJRs. Because I actually think it will be therapeutic.
Here goes nothing:
--As much as I thought with six months to prepare, I'd be ready for seeing the greatest winner in NFL history under center for the losingest franchise in NFL history, I was completely unprepared. Mentally. Emotionally. Spiritually. It fried all my circuits like an Electro Magnetic Pulse. I was happy. Sad. I cried. I laughed. I was like Lt. Data when they put that emotion chip in him and he couldn't figure out how to process actual human feelings. I'm still trying to make sense of the feels I'm feeling. And it may be like this all year.
--For that first drive, it was a feeling of dread mixed with elation, which makes no sense. It looked as though Brady had a complete mastery of Byron Leftwich's system after spending two full decades running the Erhardt-Perkins system. Or to put it more accurately, he was being allowed to run the system he was comfortable with. Like that playbook Leftwich handed him was just an empty notebook that said on page one, "Write down what you want me to do and we'll just call it your way."
--It all looked familiar. The "Joker" two tight end sets. Motions to make the defense declare their intentions. Empty sets. Alert calls. Kill calls. Identifying the mismatches and then exploiting them. Flats/curls to the slot guy with Scotty Miller in the Wes Welker/Julian Edelman role. Spreading them out then motioning them back in. This was the Tom Brady we know and love, but in ridiculous cosplay.
--Still, it looked early on like he was completely familiar with the machinery he was operating. Two years ago I went to Italy and rented a car with a stick, which I hadn't driven in forever. But after a couple of times grinding the gears and figuring out the feel of the clutch, I regained the hang of it. Brady looked like he'd never driven anything other than the Bucs for a while there.
--But that was short lived. After that initial burst of perfection, came all the flaws. Call them adjusting to a new team with a short offseason or the ravages of age, call it what you will. But it was wildly inconsistent throughout. That perfect dime he hit Chris Godwin with for 29 yards became a 3rd & 9 where Miller had a step on his man, but Brady hit him in the back hip instead of leading him and it went for 8 1/2 yards. That first interception where he sailed it way over Mike Evans' head and then chewed the ass of one of the best receivers in football felt eerily 2019ish. Later he missed Cameron Drake who appeared to be giving him a perfectly squared-up target in front of the coverage. He took a sack when the Saints defense had completely sniffed out a screen and he pulled the ball down. He avoided another sack with a blatant intentional grounding. Then threw an ICBM over a wide open Ronald Jones in the short flat. Missing wide on a deep out to Evans who was in tight coverage. Staring Evans down on a 3rd & 13 late in the game. Do not get me wrong. There were moments of vintage GOAT throughout. But also servings of bad mutton. And I say this as a guy with 20 years of experience in the Shameless Tom Brady Suck Up business.
--And that interception returned for a touchdown was unforgivable.
It was Brady Pick-6ing where he left off in New England. I'll see myself out. ...
--I can't help but wonder if tonight if he's realizing he's found himself on one of the least disciplined teams in the NFL. I mean, how many boneheaded errors can one team commit in 60 minutes of football? Defenders are trained since birth not to move until the ball moves. But the Bucs commit a crucial neutral zone infraction when the nose tackle jumps. When he gets his position's name because of the proximity of the football and his face. A hold by Evans negates a 1st down catch & run. A false start. Another false start by Tristan Wirfs, the 13th overall pick. That preposterous mental breakdown by the kick return unit, doing the one thing a kick return unit cannot do, which is not touch the ball. Just unforced errors all over the place.
--Not to mention how this Bucs team shows a genius for stringing together long stretches of negative plays. A blown up run play with no blocking up front followed by that Brady sack on the screen pass followed by a blocked kick. I have no doubt Bruce Arians is a bundle of fun to work for. But there's not a lot of laughs to be gleaned from turning a 1st & 10 into a 4th & 27 or total breakdowns from your defense allowing Alvin Kamara to walk into your end zone untouched.
--Rob Gronkowski looks slow and not particularly powerful. I saw a lot of handsy, finesse blocking where I used to see him driving lesser men than he into the turf. He caught a couple of balls, in the flat outside the numbers as opposed to hauling ass up the seam like we're accustomed to. And when he did get the ball in his hands, it was alarming how he was brought down. On one he was dropped where he stood as soon as he began to get into his YAC yards. On another, a defensive back drove him out of bounds short of the 1st. A friend texted me that he's considering the possibility that Gronk's unretirement is just the next great WWE plot thread, soon to be undone by his dramatic entrance into the ring to save Mojo Rawley or something. I'm not saying that. I'm just saying he looked a lot like Injured December 2018 Gronk.
--Just to accentuate the Brady positive a little, he did have outstanding moments. That 3rd & 1 in his own end when he lobbed a perfect ball over the second level of the New Orleans defense into Godwin's hands when they totally needed it. Huge throws that resulted in field-flipping DPI penalties. That vintage comeback drive that he finished to perfection by hitting Evans in stride by the side of the end zone. So there were diamonds to be found in the dog mess. And there are greater sins than losing on the road in New Orleans when you're an underdog.
--But that said, Tom Brady hasn't spent more than a couple of weeks in his life at 0-1. And I'm not sure that the issues the Bucs had on defense, offensive line and just general dumbassery have been solved just by Tommy and Gronky's arrival.
If that's the case, the fun won't last for long.
See you in the morning with the usual deep dive into the Patriots-Dolphins. Let me apologize in advance for the typos.