The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, entering the season looking for more of the same, ended their game against the Carolina Panthers 21-3 and regrettably got more of the same up against a team with their fourth option at quarterback and one that just traded away their top offensive player amidst a fire sale.
It’s More of the Same for Tom Brady and the Buccaneers
Last year’s Buccaneers hit on what they thought was a fantastic strategy when they returned all 22 starters at the beginning of the 2021 season following a Super Bowl-winning season.
It mostly turned out; they went 13-4 and still found ways to improve some elements of their team, with draft pick Joe Tryon-Shoyinka providing an instant boost to the pass rush, but they mostly stayed the same.
It was hard to fault that approach, but it’s no accident that they lost in the playoffs to a team that was hyper-aggressive about getting better in the Los Angeles Rams. The Rams, like the Buccaneers, weren’t concerned with age or an infusion of youth so much as they were about talent. The difference is that the Rams took advantage of opportunities to get better, and the Buccaneers didn’t.
Now, one season later, it almost seems like an insult to the 2020 Buccaneers to call this current unit a shadow of their former selves. Retirements on the offensive and defensive lines weren’t replaced with developmental bench players ready to play right away. Instead, the Buccaneers are left with an interior unprepared for the task ahead of them on the offensive line, requiring two second-round rookies to take over the jobs of Pro Bowlers.
Injuries across the receiving corps have been replaced with returning specialists, and they’re getting less than ever from their running game. The defense has not progressed despite a lot of talent in the secondary, and they strike everyone as a very… average team.
The elephant in the room is Tom Brady, the Hall of Fame quarterback whose consensus position among quarterbacks in history is first. Brady, after retiring, abdicated on his retirement to return to the Buccaneers, giving former head coach Bruce Arians license to hand the team off to Todd Bowles.
Brady has looked completely different, whether that’s because of a decline in physical skills, distractions in his personal life, or disinterest in playing entirely – or even a combination of all three.
The Buccaneers’ run-it-back mentality has left the team without options at quarterback. Though they do technically have a second-round developmental quarterback, they either couldn’t give him the attention to developing him or found out he was unable to take on the role.
In either instance, the Buccaneers were unprepared to move on.
We saw Devin White and Keanu Neal out of position on a big D’Onta Foreman run, and the subsequent score from Chuba Hubbard saw White fail to replace Mike Edwards on the read option. Rookie Zyon McCollum was out of phase on the Tommy Tremble touchdown catch, a toss from PJ Walker.
Brady’s response to what turned out to be a good day for Walker, despite a rough start, was a passing performance that only saw him throw 5.90 yards per attempt.
It would also be fair to ask about what Bowles is doing. A high-level defense is great, but there are reasons to wonder why the offensive coaching staff hasn’t found a way to produce coherency. The problem seems to be with Brady’s insistence to play while he’s clearly not himself and on the front office resting on their laurels and hoping that they could repeat their way into contention.
But the NFL doesn’t work like that – teams that don’t get better just get worse. Treading water is a death sentence, and any team hoping to run it back will have to account for the fact that what worked before will not work again without some tweaks.
Now, the ghost of Brady is leading an offense unable to give the defense the wins it deserves, and the defense responds with big lapses. The fact that the greatest quarterback in NFL history lost a dueling match against a quarterback picked up off of a spring league is an indictment on the whole franchise.
The new Panthers regime deserves credit for what they’ve done – especially in recognizing that they didn’t need Christian McCaffrey to produce a good running game. But this game tells us much more about the Buccaneers.
The Buccaneers might not be done, but they certainly aren’t recognizable.