Injuries. A stalled offense. Plenty of frustration. In a few key ways, Tom Brady’s season with the Buccaneers resembles his final season with the Patriots.
Tom Brady is shaking his head at another failed third-down conversion. It’s not the same Brady on the field, and for some, the blame comes down hard on the forty-something quarterback.
Where’s the quarterback who just led his team to a Super Bowl? The one who could seemingly make it work with any and every receiver?
The better question is this: Are we in 2022, or 2019?
Aside from sharing the famous quarterback and the cachet that comes with it, both Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New England Patriots fans now have something else to bond over: a disappointing season with Brady at the helm. The numbers aren’t pretty, but neither is the fact that the problems are complex and interconnected, making it reductive to push the quarterback toward early retirement.
Similar though they are, there are distinctive differences between Brady’s last season with the Patriots and his current one with the Buccaneers. The primary similarity is that in both instances, the chemistry with receivers is off and the teams lacked tight end help, making it a challenge to complete throws and run a productive offense. Also, both of these teams have struggled mightily without the help of Rob Gronkowski, a key chess piece who made the pass and run function smoothly.
Here’s where the two seasons overlap and where they differ, with the 2022 Bucs ideally hoping for a different outcome.
Tom Brady and the 2019 Patriots
Looking at the schedule alone, it’s amusing that anyone would have panicked over the 2019 Patriots. The team finished the year atop the AFC East with a 12-4 record, boasting a league-leading defense that dubbed themselves “The Boogeymen.” The team began the year with an 8-0 record for the third time in franchise history, entering the month of December with a 10-1 record. That’s when the wheels began to fall off the Patriots campaign.
The Patriots lost three of their five games that month, ending the regular season with an uncharacteristic loss to the 4-11 Miami Dolphins at home. The Patriots went on to the playoffs only to lose to the 9-7 Tennessee Titans in the Wild Card round, which saw Brady wrap up his New England career with an interception. It was a bitter end to a season that fell apart bitterly in the colder months.
The Patriots wide receiver core, famous for making stars of overlooked players, relied on Julian Edelman and a few trades that didn’t pan out well enough. Edelman was flanked by Phillip Dorsett, Josh Gordon and Demaryius Thomas. Jakobi Meyers, the effective successor of Edelman, was an unestablished rookie at the time. So too was Damien Harris, but it was James White and Rex Burkhead and Sony Michel who played more prominent roles in the run game. Ryan Izzo and Benjamin Watson played tight end, but neither was able to replicate the Gronk effect.
In the last three games of the season, two of which registered as wins for the Patriots, Michel rushed for 89 yards, 96 yards, then 74 yards in each respective game. In those same three games, Brady completed 15/29 passes, then 26/33 and 16/29. Passing for 128 yards, then 271 yards and 221 yards was markedly different from the 341-yard, 264-yard and 306-yard games that opened up the season’s passing attack.
Rob Parker, who has made a career hoping Brady’s would soon take a nose-dive, questioned whether or not Brady’s cliff had finally come that December.
Long before Parker announced the “destruction” of Brady, Bleacher Report’s Mike Tanier had done it all the way back in January 2019, a few weeks before the Patriots won their sixth Super Bowl. Looking at Brady’s stats during the 2018 season, Tanier surmised that Brady’s numbers declined because he “is getting old.”
“He posted his highest interception total and lowest touchdown rate since 2013 this season and his fewest yards per attempt and yards per game and lowest passer rating since 2014,” Tanier observed.
The Patriots’ reliance on the run that year backed those numbers, and since Brady is an anomaly, it was difficult to suss out whether or not it was Brady’s inefficiency or a broken system. But Brady could still make passes, a fact that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were able to accurately assess when they watched the tape. Lars Anderson’s “A Season In The Sun” opens with how Brady’s move to Tampa came to be, and Tampa’s scouts quickly realized that the seasoned quarterback still had it.
A year later, the Bucs won their second Super Bowl and Brady’s seventh. But the next two seasons would prove much more difficult to make it to the top.
Tom Brady and the 2022 Buccaneers
In a sport largely birthed out of the love of the run, the 2022 Tampa Bay Buccaneers are failing miserably at football’s most essential offensive component. Despite wielding Leonard Fournette, a seasoned veteran who has proven to be more effective than Sony Michel, the Bucs are posting historically abysmal numbers in regards to their run game.
NFL analyst Warren Sharp makes key observations, notably that the Bucs need to call more effective plays on early downs, a point that journalists have repeatedly proposed to Bucs coaching staff in recent weeks. Per Sharp, when the Bucs get in third and long situations, they turn into former New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold under Adam Gase. It’s that bad.
And it creates problems down the line, too. The Bucs are one of the worst teams in the NFL when it comes to red zone opportunity due to a high punt rate, which is what happens when a team keeps failing to convert on third and long.
Once again, Brady’s offense isn’t working, but the Bucs have faced a number of obstacles this season that have made a bad situation impossible. Losing Ryan Jensen and Ali Marpet has devastated the offensive line; losing James Pierre-Paul and Ndamakong Suh — and now Shaq Barrett — has devastated the defensive line. And let’s not forget that once again, Brady is without Gronk, who often extended his massive hands to convert those third and longs and consistently drew double coverage.
Devin White has been openly criticized for jogging to tackle a player and for not sticking to his assignment, but in White’s defense (at least for the jogging critique), the Bucs defense is disproportionately kept on the field because the offense is failing.
Just like in 2019, Brady’s throwing isn’t the problem. At least, it’s not the only problem, and it’s definitely not the source of all these problems. There’s no noodle arm, just a struggle to collectively pool noodles together and devise an effective gameplan with what they’ve got.
The one thing that’s working in the Bucs’ favor is that unlike the 2019 Patriots, the 2022 Bucs are seeing their struggles early on. They do have more losses than the 12-4 Patriots, but as they proved in 2020, hitting a hot streak late in the season could mean they squeak into the playoffs and bound toward the big game.
If Tom Brady and the Buccaneers can find a way to make it work in the coming weeks, maybe they can ensure history doesn’t repeat itself.