There’s one factor to keep primarily above everything else while trying to digest Tom Brady’s disastrous first outing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
This was Brady’s choice.
He wanted freedom from Bill Belichick’s restrictive approach. He wanted a team with the “weapons” he felt he so lacked with the New England Patriots. Brady wanted to go somewhere where he could further his brand, a team with whom he could unleash whatever offensive firepower he has left in his 43-year-old body in order to preach the gospel of his personal, shady trainer.
There’s no feeling sorry for Brady after the Bucs’ 34-23 loss in New Orleans. After all, this was his intention; to go someplace where he wouldn’t have to deal with the intricacies that allegedly led to success in New England. He wanted to prove that he could do it on his own, that he was not, in fact, a product of Belichick’s Hall of Fame system.
He got what he wanted.
Granted, Brady also had some Game 1 stinkers with the Patriots en route to six Super Bowl titles. Who can forget the 31-0 loss at Buffalo in 2003, after which New England went on to post one of the most impressive seasons in NFL history? There was the 33-20 defeat at Miami in 2014, which led into a 12-4 season, postseason accusations of monkeying with the equipment, and a comeback victory over the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl.
So to take what happened on Sunday against the Saints and definitively deride Brady and the Bucs for their ineffectiveness would be, ultimately, foolhardy.
But Brady is also missing the ingredient that baked such success. “In Belichick, we trust” has become a mantra in New England over the past 20 seasons, particularly after a stunning loss, questionable personnel move, or even drafting Cyrus Jones.
Anyone who utters the same in regard to Bruce Arians in Tampa Bay will be the first.
It’s a bit cliche to sneer at one team’s “discipline” over another, like it’s some holy intangible that only the best and brightest are allowed to crow about. But since Brady played for a team in New England, where Belichick has made such an aspect of the game one of his coaching priorities, what he experienced with the Buccaneers was like stepping out of the Navy, straight into Lambda Epsilon Omega.
Brady’s first interception on the afternoon was a ball he overthrew after it appeared like weapon Mike Evans stopped short on his route. Nope, said Papa Arians.
“He thought Mike was going down the middle – it was a different coverage – Mike read it right. He should have been across his face, but Tom overthrew it,” Arians said. (Coach Bruce did reverse the blame Monday after looking at the film.)
Saints cornerback Janoris Jenkins grabbed Brady’s second interception and brought the ball back 36 yards for a touchdown. It was the third straight game, dating back to 2019’s regular season finale against the Miami Dolphins, that Brady has thrown a pick-six. He had 11 in the 19 years prior.
“Bad decision,” Arians said.
While Brady was gasping for air amidst the fumes under the bus, it’s necessary to point out that he wasn’t the only player at fault Sunday. There was the scene where two Bucs players went bumbling into one another trying to receive a kickoff, helping lead to another Saints score. (“You never go backward for a football,” Arians said of the kickoff fumble. “You learn that [expletive] in high school …”) There was a critical offsides that helped lead to a New Orleans field goal. These are the sorts of moments that would give Belichick nightmares, but, more importantly, an opening to understand that he would have to fix the regimen on his team, lest it wind up like the 2009 Jetson Patriots.
Bruce Arians may see the regulatory flaws on his team. Does anybody really trust that he can stabilize them the way Belichick has managed to throughout his coaching career?
Belichick’s teams have notoriously made the minimization of mistakes a proper characteristic over the years in all three phases of the game. But Brady felt like he was over not being treated above the fold, which is, in essence, goes against one of the most imperative building blocks of creating a unit. The Patriots famously spread this message when they were introduced as a team prior to Super Bowl XXXVI. Now, Brady wanted it to be the Patriots, Tom Brady, and his snake oil-pushing best friend to be the three, most important foundations.
Belichick wasn’t willing to give that to him. For Pete’s sake, he was more interested in creating a competitive team than he was having Brady’s sideline supplement business become the focus in Foxborough.
Brady found the freedom he was looking for in Tampa Bay. With the Buccaneers, he’d finally have the weapons the Patriots annually denied him of in Evans, Chris Godwin, and old pal Rob Gronkowski, who was about as invisible on Sunday as he was the entirety of the 2019 NFL season.
Still, it had to hurt to watch the Patriots and Cam Newton roll right along without him up north. It has to hurt even more that in the great debate over which person was more valuable to the Patriots’ dynasties, Brady is left looking like he’s got a lot of ground to cover in order to catch Belichick.
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