Low moment led to the Bucs’ turnaround

by Gary Shelton on January 29, 2021

in general

Brady will play in his 10th Super Bowl./TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Friday, 4 a.m.

For the typical Bucs fan, there are games in which to revel. The comeback against the Chargers, for instance. The regular-season win over the Packers. The playoff wins against the Saints and the Packers.

The truth of it, however, is that this Super Bowl team was forged on different weekends.

On one of them, the Bucs did nothing at all.

On the other one, they didn't do a whole lot.

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And yet, when the Bucs look back toward their turning points, they can embrace a loss to Chicago and a bye week as two of the main reasons they became the team they did. It was in that sloppy loss to Chicago, and the refocused open weekend, that the Bucs became a team that mattered in the NFL.

Take the Bears game. The Bucs had entered with a 3-1 record, but things still were not smooth. And, after 109 yards worth of penalties led to a late Bears' field goal in a 20-19 loss, it was clear this team had a way to go.

"When we came back and looked at the film, [we saw] 11 or 12 penalties, turnovers – it was us beating the hell out of ourselves," said Bucs's coach Bruce Arians. "We knew we were a good football team, [but] we couldn’t win that way. The players took it upon themselves to become one of the least penalized teams in the league from then on out.”

In their last 14 games , the Bucs have committed 25 yards or less of penalties in a game eight times. Brady has thrown for three touchdowns or more six times.

The Bucs won three in a row after that, but then they lost three of four. It was clear the team was not among the league's elite.

But after a bye in Week 13, the Bucs have reeled off seven straight victories, including three playoff wins on the road.

“It was such a late bye," Arians said. "We did our self-scouting every week, but we did a major one [during the bye]. Looked at the running game, the passing game, everything that we were doing and simplified some things. We really started playing [well] in the second half of that Kansas City game and built the momentum from them. Obviously, the second half in Atlanta [was also good] – gaining that confidence, gaining that continuity. Defensively, playing so well in the playoffs and playing good, complementary football, taking the ball away and scoring touchdowns. Since that time, we’ve been playing some pretty good complementary ball.”

The Bucs scored 148 points in their final four regular season games. They've scored 92 in their three playoff games. The running game has been better. The penalties have been fewer. Until last week, the turnovers were rare.

And, by the way, no one is talking about how Brady's experience is at odds with Arians' no-risk-it, no-biscuit attack.

"I’d like to think that it wasn’t that much of a change after a lot of years," Brady said. "Becoming a free agent and then having the opportunity to continue my playing career. I love the opportunity that presented itself here, which is ultimately why I chose here. I really love the coaching staff, I loved the players that they had. I looked at those players and thought, ‘Wow, these are really great players. This would be a good opportunity for me.’ Obviously, a different conference and a different division – all of that I didn’t quite know about. In the end, I just made a lot of different choices. I don’t want to revisit them all, but I’m pretty detailed and thorough. I went through a process of decisions and thinking about everything that really mattered to me in some way [and] one form or another.

"Obviously, a lot of family considerations. My son lives in New York and I didn’t want to be too far from him. It just ended up being a great fit and as it’s played out, I’ve just thought, ‘Wow, this has really been a magical year.’ For me as a player to switch teams, that takes a lot. To move my family, to go to a different conference, to keep building the way we did and develop a rapport with the guys that we have here – so much of football is about the relationships that you get with your teammates [and your] coaches. The fact that we’re still playing feels really good for me and [I] understand that we’ve put a lot into it. Hopefully we can go finish the job – that would be the best part about the season. It’s always been a goal to win the last game of the year. We’ve got an opportunity to do it – it’s certainly not going to be easy. It’s going to take everything we’ve got. We’re going up against a great, championship-level team and it’s going to take our best.”

For the record, Brady likes playing under Arians. Really, he does.

"He’s a great man, he’s a great leader, he’s a great person, he’s a great friend [and] he’s very loyal," Brady said. "He’s just got a great way about communicating effectively with everybody around here. Everybody has a great affection for him for the person he is. There’s nobody that ever would say anything bad about B.A. He’s just so endearing to everybody and I think everyone wants to win for him. I think that’s what you want to do for a coach – you want to get out there and you want to win for him. He puts a lot into it, expects a lot out of it, has high expectations for us every day in practice [and I am] just really excited for him to be recognized in the way that he is. I know he’s a two-time Coach of the Year, but [he has] just done an amazing job this year with the team in really adverse situations. I love playing for him.”

Arians has also enjoyed Brady's longtime teammate Rob Gronkowski.

“I didn’t know about Gronk’s work ethic," Arians said. "It’s unbelievable – he comes in early, stays late [and] is great. But, he’s Gronk, so he’s got that great personality to go with his work ethic. You knew Tom was a great leader. With COVID, I don’t go into the locker room very much, but those two guys brought something extremely special because they’ve been there and done it. When young players see that, they listen. You see two totally different personalities doing it the same way.”

For the record, Arians still likes biscuits.

“You can’t hit a home run unless you’re going to swing for one," Arians said. "You can’t do anything special in life sitting on a fence. The question back then was, ‘If there was a quarterback that was a free agent, who would you want?’ Of course, it was Tom Brady, not thinking he’d become a free agent. Once he did, it was a pursuit that we wanted to make and [we] knew he had some interest. That’s how you live life. Do you sit and live in a closet trying to be safe, [or are] you going to have some fun?”

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