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NEW ORLEANS – Tom Brady put on a Bucs uniform and lo and behold … played like a Bucs quarterback.
Brady’s forgettable (for him) debut with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be remembered (by many) for the mishaps that doomed the legend and his team during a lopsided loss to the New Orleans Saints at the Superdome.
He started fast enough, leading his offense to an 85-yard TD drive on its first possession.
Then the reality of the moment took over. Brady is not in Foxborough anymore.
Brady, after 20 years and six Super Bowl triumphs with the New England Patriots, is trying something new with a franchise that hasn’t won a playoff game since 2006. He’s in transition: to a new team, a new playbook, with new teammates.
If he’s going to live up to the hype and guide the Bucs to the promised land, it will take time.
This may sound odd, but the fact is the NFL’s oldest player is looking at growing pains.
“There’s no excuses,” Brady, 43, said after the 34-23 defeat.
There were explanations, though, and they don’t exactly put Brady in a great light. He threw two interceptions and, according to his new coach, they were both clearly on TB12.
The first pick came on a throw that sailed way over the head of Mike Evans, who cut across the field after adjusting his route to account for the defense.
“Miscommunication,” Bucs coach Bruce Arians said. “Mike read it right. Tom overthrew it.”
Arians also didn’t mince words when breaking down Brady’s second interception, which was worse than the first in that Janoris Jenkins returned it 36 yards for a touchdown.
“Bad decision,” Arians said.
Jenkins said that he and fellow cornerback Marshon Lattimore anticipated that the staple from the Bucs playbook – double out routes – were coming after Tampa Bay didn’t try a single play with that route combination in the first half. They talked about it during the second half and sure enough, Jenkins was ready for it when it came.
“Just bad throws,” Brady said of the picks. “Can’t do it.”
Long-suffering Bucs fans have heard that before. Surely, they had reason to believe that with Brady, the most decorated quarterback in league history, it would be different.
But it wasn’t. Remember, last season Jameis Winston became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for 30 touchdowns with 30 interceptions. The turnovers drove Arians absolutely batty. And he repeated it over and over: “The Bucs need to stop beating the Bucs.”
Funny, but Winston was on the Saints’ sideline, backing up another legend, Drew Brees. The Bucs released Winston to make room for Brady. And as the quarterback market ramped up last season, Arians talked of wanting to look behind Door No. 2 to see if it was a better option than Door No. 1.
Well, Door No. 2 had a Door No. 1 vibe.
New Bucs quarterback, same mishaps. Brady wound up completing 23 of 36 passes for 239 yards. Even with two touchdown passes, he finished with a mediocre 78.4 passer rating. He also took three sacks.
Beneath the numbers, Brady, who embodied discipline and minimal-mistake football for much of his career with the Patriots, just looked out of place, and a bit lost at times. He was sacked three times and in each case it appeared he held onto the ball a bit too long. He fumbled (and recovered the football) on one of the sacks as he tried to escape. And some of the throw missed so much you’d thought he was trying to throw the ball away…except that he wasn’t.
Arians said that Brady had a good grasp of the playbook, evident by his propensity to correctly check out of plays. But even with that, the timing with his new cast of targets wasn’t always in rhythm.
“Poor execution,” Brady lamented. “That’s what it comes down to. It’s a game of execution.”
O.J. Howard, the tight end who snagged Brady’s first TD pass as a Buc on a 9-yard job in the third quarter, acknowledged the disappointment of TB12’s debut, which came after so much hype.
The challenge had the added layers of a virtual offseason that prevented on-field work at team headquarters due to the pandemic, then no preseason tune-up games.
“That’s how it’s going to be sometimes when you go live against opponents,” Howard said.
He’s nowhere close to panicking, with the same to be said for Brady and Arians.
Insisted Howard, “It comes with repetition.”
Brady knows. Week 1 in the NFL is notorious for overreactions. Super Bowls are not won in Week 1. Shoot, there was the time the Patriots with Brady were blown out 31-0 in an opening-day loss to the Bills. They wound up finishing the season as Super Bowl champs.
Not predicting that here, but there’s much season remaining.
“It’s Week 1 of the NFL season,” Brady said. “A lot of things are going to be corrected. Every team is going to wish they did things better.”
Brady listed a few things they will need to establish to get into a winning mode: Mental toughness, urgency, hard work.
Then, he added, “Not turning the ball over is a good place to start.”
So there. TB12 is a Buc now. Yet that’s a double-edged sword as he suddenly sounds like a Bucs QB.
Follow Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.
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