He’s flawed, but Brady has been Bucs’ best

by Gary Shelton on December 18, 2020

in general

Despite critics, Brady has had a solid year./@Buccaneers

Friday, 4 a.m.

He did it there. You want him to do it here.

And so you measure every pass. You blame his age when he throws a wobbly ball. You blame the players surrounding him when he takes a sack. You question his fit in the system every time he loses a game.

You look at today, and you wish it was yesterday.

But consider this:

For all his flaws, for all of the passes that have fallen harmlessly to the turf, Tom Brady is probably the best quarterback the Bucs' have ever had.

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I know, I know. You want to teach him to count to four. You want to him to look for Mike Evans more closely. You want him to be 33 and headed toward another Super Bowl or two. You roll your eyes when he misses a throw from here to there.

The truth, however, is that Brady has been pretty darned good. Through 13 games, he had thrown for 30 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. It's Brady's most touchdowns since 2017 (he could finish with his most since 2015) and just a shade under his lifetime rating of 97.0.

Here, in the land that quarterbacks have forgotten, should any of that be sneered at?

Through 13 games, Brady has won eight times. Only six quarterbacks in franchise history have won more than that in 13 games. Time will tell, but Brady could become only the fifth Bucs' quarterback to win a playoff game.

Okay, let's be honest. A great many of us were hoping for more from the Brady Bunch this season. And the internet is filled with Brady rumors, from how he doesn't get along with his head coach to how he doesn't like the offense to how he misses Bill Belichick, none of which comes with any evidence.

But his 96.3 rating is the highest for a Buc quarterback since 2004, which Brian Griese had a 97.5 rating in 10 starts. Brady hasn't quite caught up to Jameis Winston's touchdowns from last year (he had 33), but he's thrown only 11 interceptions (to Winston's 30).

So think of it. Brady has better numbers than Josh Freeman's one big year in 2010, better than Winston's gimme Pro Bowl year of 2015, better than Brad Johnson's Super Bowl winning season, better than Trent Dilfer's Pro Bowl season of 1997 and better than Doug Williams' worst-to-first season of 1979.

“He’s really exceptional at everything," said offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich. "He’s aware of everything. I think it’s maybe because he’s been through so many of these situations, right? I don’t think there’s a human being out there who has been through more of these situations than Tom, right? Any of them you can imagine – any situation you can imagine he’s probably been through it a lot, so he helps.

"It helps to have him, to have a guy that has the awareness [and] the understanding of what it takes to play this position week in and week out, what it takes to play this position in December – especially from a leadership standpoint – and what you need to do to get your guys playing at a high level all of the time. He’s exceptional at that. He’s always probably been exceptional at that. That’s what you get when you have a guy like Tom who has all this experience in these situations. I really do believe he can help us out as we try to move forward with our team and try to become a better group of guys.”

No, Brady isn't perfect, and this won't be the season that will be remembered as his best. But it's a high standard.

For instance, Brady started slow against Minnesota last week and had to find his rhythm.

“It’s tough – those are important plays early in the game because if you hit them, then you are on the field and it’s not only five plays [in the first quarter], [so] you get in a rhythm earlier," Brady said. "I kind of said after the game, you just have to be sharp from the moment you take the field. I think for me it always comes back to technique. I’m always analyzing why something worked or why something didn’t work – whether that’s a play or a throw or a thought in my head. Sometimes it’s mental and sometimes it’s physical.

"Then you just have to try and make the correction. If you feel like it was a very decisive play and you missed the throw, it might have to do something with your technique, your mechanics [or] your timing. If it’s something you’re kind of in between where it could be a little mental issue where you just wanted to pull the trigger a little earlier but you just couldn’t get to it. Then you have to just try to play quicker in your head. It can really be a number of things and regardless [of what it is], you’ve got to clean it all up. An unproductive play is an unproductive play whether it’s a physical error [or] a mental error – and it could be either or. From my standpoint, I want to be decisive, I want to try to eliminate gray area and go out and play really technically and fundamentally sound so I can throw the ball as accurately as possible.”

If there is any problem with head coach Bruce Arians, you won't get it from Brady.

“I feel like we have a great relationship," Brady said. "From the moment I got here, we’ve just had great dialogue and I certainly appreciate all the insight he gives me and the way he coaches and leads. It’s been a different year for all of us dealing with those type of circumstances where normally you would have opportunities to get to know each other in a different way. One thing that’s tough for all of us around the facility is you don’t get one-on-one time with anybody [and] you don’t get any personal time where you’d be sitting around talking and eating together. There’s no close contact, so every conversation is just very different than what it’s been in the past. We’re making the best of it. Like I said, it’s very open [and] honest dialogue about how we think [and] certainly how I can be most effective. Any questions he has, we always have a great, open line of communication. I really enjoy my time getting to know him and I have great admiration for him as a coach, as a man, as what he is off the field and how he commands and leads the team.”

This week, there may be more pressure on Brady. Running back Ronald Jones II was having a breakout year, but he had finger surgery and then was placed on the COVID 19 reserve list. That could leave Leonard Fournette in the backfield.

“I think first of all, we’re all thinking about ‘Ro,'" Brady said. "Obviously, a tough week for him when you have an injury and then you have something that comes up with COVID. He’s been so reliable, dependable [and] consistent for us. Even in the offseason, his commitment to making improvements to his game and I think everyone has a great deal of respect for ‘Ro’ and what he’s brought to the team. For a young player, he’s shown a lot of maturity – he’s very selfless. I love when he’s in the backfield with us and I have a lot of confidence in him. I have a lot of confidence in the other backs. Leonard [Fournette] has played a lot [and] done a lot of great things, ‘Shady’ (LeSean McCoy) has done a great job, Ke’Shawn [Vaughn] has done a great job when he’s been in there."

Leftwich said the Bucs have confidence in Fournette.

“He’s been great," Leftwich said. "He’s been here all week putting in work [and] he’s been working since he got here. It’s great for us to have a guy like that, that you can lean on – especially with all those guys – with ‘Shady’ (LeSean McCoy) also and with ‘Sneak’ (Ke’Shawn Vaughn). We’ve got guys that we really depend on and we believe in that they can go out there and get the job done. Those guys will have opportunities to get that done with Ro being down this week and I’m excited to see the guys play.”

The Bucs play the Falcons at 1 p.m. on Sunday in Atlanta.

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