Every week now, watching Tom Brady lead the Buccaneers is an exercise in three things:
- Finding new adjectives to describe how well he's playing
- Tracking how much the Bucs offense is morphing into the old Patriots offense
- Abject humiliation.
I'll take the last one first. If you were in that school of thought that figured Brady would do OK but the team around him would still be the same old Bucs while the Patriots would evolve into a different but still wildly successful version of Brady's Patriots - and I've been running for Class President of that school - then welcome to your worst nightmare.
Yes, the Bucs were a sloppy, undisciplined dog's breakfast early on. Negating big plays with stupid penalties. Making bad decisions. Committing inexcusable turnovers. While the Patriots were still finding ways to win or at the very least be competitive against good teams on the road. Now roughly haflway through the seeason, the two franchises have Quantum Leaped into each other's uniforms. Everything I was saying about Tampa early on applies to New England, and vice versa. The Bucs are the smart, disciplined and situationally aware team. While the Patriots are recklessly fumbling away scoring opportunities, committing presnap penalties, recklessly attempting onside kicks in a tie games and having shouting matches with their coach on the sideline.
And Tom Brady has demonstrated once again he is a luminous, ethereal being who lives on a higher plane of existence from us mere mortals, capable of changing the culture of a downtrodden franchise merely with his aura and his lilac-scented hair. On a side note, he also can throw a hell of a football still.
I'm not going to pretend I'm not jealous. I can't help but feel like Homer in that early episode where Ned Flanders invites him to his rumpus room and he freaks out because Ned's family is better than his family, his beer comes from further away that Homer's beer, he and his son like each other and Maude's butt is higher than Marge's butt.
So if you were hoping it would be different that this, even a little bit better, take this advice from your Life Coach Jer. Just embrace it. The coach you and I care most about made life so miserable for the greatest player who's ever buckled a chinstrap that he left for the franchise with the lowest winning percentage in history, while he still had plenty of great football left in him. And he transformed that franchise overnight with his mere presence. And his arm. And his former tight end. So don't just accept the humiliation. Lean into the situation. Learn to love it. Like a guy getting pegged by a dominatrix or a third party candidate. Enjoy the sweet, sweet pain of our degradation. It's the only rational response to seeing our world turned upside down like this.
As far as the other points, this wasn't even Brady's best game of recent vintage. In the 1st half he was moving the ball well between the 20s but drives were stalling at the edge of the red zone. He took a couple of sacks that I thought were on him. Missed Jaydon Mickens on a deep post/corner route that came wide open. Forced a 3rd & 9 at midfield into Tanner Hudson who was bracketed, even though he had time to throw. So it was far from perfect. But a performance like that, and a stat line of:
28 for 40, 279 yards, 7.0 YPC, 2 TDs, 0 INTs, 106.1 passer rating
… is beyond New England's wildest hopes at this point. We'd settle for just no turnovers. Brady's gone three straight games without throwing a pick and has one in his last six games, and hasn't fumbled in his last three. And this was one of those classic games where he's not taking a chainsaw to a defense, but he's not costing his team with negative plays. Instead he waits for the other quarterback to make mistakes, and Daniel Jones eventually cooperated. Games like last night's are like when I'd play tennis (pre-knee surgery) with the Irish Rose and she didn't have to be great; she just needed to keep returning as many shots at it took for me to inevitably put a back hand over the 30-foot chainlink and into the parking lot. Which averaged about 3.5. Brady's been winning games this way since Jones was playing "Mario Kart Double Dash" on Nintendo DS in the back of his mom's minivan. Bill Belichick has always drilled into his quarterback's heads that they're never going to walk off the field after failing to convert on 3rd down saying "That incompletion cost us the game." But he will say it if he turns the ball over. Joe Judge either hasn't given the same speech or it was lost on Jones because twice he threw unconscionable picks while being hauled to the ground by his shirt. He was the anti-Brady.
As far as the Bucs offense, it becomes more recognizable by the week as the system that "made" Brady a "system quarterback." A lot of 2-TE looks, with the apparently 15 tight ends the Bucs have on their roster, that feels a lot like the peak years of the Joker offense they were running in 2011 with Gronk and Murdnandez. A lot of Dagger routes (the inside guy goes up the seam and the outside Z runs a dig route under him) to stretch the coverage vertically and horizontally. Middle option routes by slot guys and running backs, particularly on the backside of the play, which not many teams do. And most of it being done off the play action.
I mean, here is vintage Brady to Gronk. Out of 12 personnel. Everyone including the lone receiver and Cameron Brate on the other side stayed home to sell the run. The play action froze the linebackers, Gronk identifies outside leverage from his defender and he and Brady both know where the ball is going to be before he makes his break.
Not to mention the usual assortment of timing routes where as soon as Gronk gets his release off the line and gets behind the linebackers on vertical and over routes, he gets his head around and the ball is already on its way. As we're now seeing first hand, that kind of connection between QB and target is hard to come by. If you can master chemistry that perfect, you could use it to either corner the blue crystal meth market or become the second most prolific touchdown hookup in league history. They've chosen the latter.
Now take this one on 1st & goal. Out of a 3X1 to isolate Mike Evans on a corner. He runs a fade route to take the single safety out of the play, wins the 1-on-1 battle and Brady delivers the ball with perfect touch.
A play design and throw like that were hard enough to defend when it was, say, Chris Hogan on the business end of it. With Brady throwing to Evans, you have no shot.
So soak it in, New England. Absorb this and learn to live with it. It's going to be a long rest of the season anyway, so there's no running from the harsh reality.
P.S. Bruce Arians looks like he runs a park filled with living, genetically engineered dinosaurs.
P.PS. Meanwhile, the guy everyone thought was the Heir Apparent is injured again.
Brady is truly living his best possible life. Deal with it.