Even after falling 27-24 to the Los Angeles Rams on Monday night, Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 7-4 remain an untrustworthy NFC contender. But the inconsistent play of Brady and his supporting cast – especially in important locations – becomes a major concern.
Brady and the Bucs have played four games against teams with seven or more wins. They’re 1-3 with Brady throwing seven interceptions in the three losses.
They also played four games in prime time. They are 1-3, with the only victory coming by just two points over the New York 3-7 Giants. Brady has five steals in those losses.
“I’m still trying to figure that out,” Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said of Brady’s struggles in big games.
The good news is that after the Buccaneers take on defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs next week, they have their Week 13 break and end the season against four opponents with four wins or less.
The bad news is, if they don’t do well against the Chiefs on a short rest, they’ll go into the playoffs (if they do) with that monkey still firmly on their backs.
Barring an unlikely flex, they will no longer play prime time this year and will therefore end up 0-4 against the spread on national TV.
Jason Behnken / Associated press
It’s good for the Bucs that they squeaked by the Giants and took care of the business against significantly inferior opponents in the Carolina Panthers, Denver Broncos and Los Angeles Chargers.
And a resounding victory over the Green Bay Packers and a road victory over the Las Vegas Raiders gives some optimism, but Green Bay’s victory came on extra rest (which will go out the window in January unless they don’t somehow come back to win the No.1 seed in the conference), and it might not be ideal that their two best performances of the year happened two consecutive weeks.
Maybe that suggests they can get hot in the playoffs and streak more games together like the two in which they beat Green Bay and Las Vegas 83-30 last month, but Brady posted a low 82. , 5 assists in the four games since, and the fluctuations in the offense are now alarming.
Tampa Bay hasn’t scored more than 25 but less than 38 points in a game since week three. Encouragingly, he tallied 38 against the Chargers and Packers, 45 against the Raiders and 46 last week at Carolina, but the latter came after being nearly shut out by the New Orleans Saints at Tampa.
There have been far too many hiccups. And although they had 24 points on Monday, all you had to do was watch the game or look past the box score to see it was a far from sharp attacking performance.
Brady didn’t get much help from a shorthanded line or a supporting cast that dropped several passes (especially running backs), but the future Hall of Famer threw two excruciating interceptions on poorly pitched balls against the manageable pressure of four-man rushes, and he arguably escaped with a strip-sack into his own end zone when play was deemed an incomplete pass.
Ed Werder @WerderEdESPN
Tom Brady attempted 48 passes to produce 216 yards with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown.
Now only Carson Wentz of the Philadelphia Eagles and Nick Foles of the Chicago Bears have thrown more picks on deep passes this season than Brady, who was 0 of 7 with two interceptions on deep pass attempts. He now has a deep passer rating of 9.3 (not 93 but nine point three) in Tampa Bay’s four-game losing streak, which is the NFL’s worst score among quarterbacks who have attempted more than 10 passes over 15 yards lost.
By comparison, in wins, his rating on deep balls is 112.5. And yes, there’s no question that quarterbacks will generally have better success numbers based on win-than-loss rates, but it’s a hell of a hole.
It’s also worth noting that Monday’s game, two efforts against New Orleans and a smooth Week 5 performance against Chicago are the only games for Brady against defenses that made it into the top 10 in adjusted value by the. defense versus average at Football Outsiders for 10 weeks.
On those outings, Brady had five touchdown passes for seven interceptions, a completion percentage of just 58.9, an average yards per attempt of just 5.6 and a score of 66.9.
B / R Gridiron @brgridiron
Brady already has nine INTs this season. https://t.co/SXYRUKZjMZ
That won’t work, and it’s obvious he and his cohorts won’t always be bailed out by a talented and aggressive defense that is also booming. Rams head coach Sean McVay crafted a smart game plan this week that neutralized that often disruptive defensive front with a range of short and quick passes, frequent movements before the snap, and a pace that’s hard to counter.
Not everyone has the brains and staff to accomplish this against the Bucs, but playoff teams are more likely to have these conditions than the rest of the NFL.
Put it all together, and the Bucs might struggle to get into the home stretch.
Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012. Follow him on Twitter, @Brad_Gagnon.