While the New England Patriots offense is spluttering, an inspired Tom Brady has overcome a slow start in new surroundings to help propel the Tampa Bay Buccaneers into the conversation surrounding Super Bowl contenders
By Cameron Hogwood
Last Updated: 29/10/20 9:01pm
The older Tom Cruise gets, the more spectacular the save-the-world, age-defying stunt seems to be in his Mission Impossible films. It’s a little like Tom Brady on a football field.
Neither Brady or his cinematic namesake possess unrivalled physical gifts, nor are they the freakishly shifty athletes or strapping assassins of their respective disciplines at this stage in their careers. But both are still somewhere near the top of your list of seasoned protagonists.
No matter how hard you try and hide from it, a 43-year-old Tom Brady 20 years on is still the story in the NFL.
It was a point in favour of team ‘should have kept Brady’ in Week Seven as Cam Newton and the New England Patriots’ pass offense stalled in rather alarming fashion against the San Francisco 49ers.
November 3, 2020, 1:00am
Brady’s successor in Foxborough threw just nine of 15 for 98 yards and three interceptions, with the scheme recalibrating to incorporate the read option and quarterback design runs following two decades of a pocket-passer having lost its early-season sparkle.
Earlier that day Brady had put on a clinic in the Bucs’ win over the Las Vegas Raiders, finishing 33 of 45 passing for 368 yards and four touchdowns, as well as sneaking in another from a yard out.
In the latest installment of Mission Impossible, Cruise fights Henry Cavill on the edge of a cliff, at one point hanging off the edge in a helicopter he just crashed, before removing the key from a detonator threatening to set off two nuclear bombs.
In the latest installment of what could be Brady’s thrilling finale, he rolled back the days to his time with Wes Welker as he expertly navigated the pocket before dropping an inch-perfect pass into the path of Scotty Miller at the back corner of the end zone for a 33-yard touchdown.
‘That used to be me,’ you could hear a distant Julian Edelman utter, with five-foot-10 little-known Miller, a 2019 sixth-round pick out of Bowling Green, having emerged Brady’s new undersized go-to target in Tampa.
Poor Scotty was ignored amid excitement over the weapons awaiting Brady in Tampa upon his arrival. For him to lead the team with 365 receiving yards from a joint-second most 22 catches is a sign of his quarterback making this offense his own.
Brady’s 18 touchdown passes and four interceptions tie for his third-best ever after seven games, while his 15-1 touchdown-interception ration since Week Three ranks first in the NFL.
It should not come as a shock that it has taken him some time to settle down in a new environment. When you spend 20 years playing to the tune of one team, particularly with the Patriots’ way of doing things, time was always needed, even more so when considering delays to training camp and the absence of preseason.
A lot of the early concerns stemmed primarily from the opening game defeat to the New Orleans Saints when Brady was intercepted twice, Janoris Jenkins returning one of those for a touchdown.
The Bucs offense was out of sync, a banged-up Mike Evans was barely involved, rookie left tackle Tristan Wirfs was tasked with a tough debut assignment and Brady was working with head coach Bruce Arians and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich in a live situation for the first time.
Brady went on to throw another interception against the Carolina Panthers in Week Two, followed by a fourth of the season in the comeback win over the Los Angeles Chargers, during which he became the oldest quarterback to throw for five touchdowns in a single game.
Injuries have not helped either. Pro Bowl wide receiver Chris Godwin will miss Monday’s clash with the New York Giants with a fractured finger having missed three games earlier this year due to a concussion and hamstring issue, Evans has not been fully healthy at all times and tight end O.J. Howard is out for the year with a torn Achilles,
Of Cruise’s crack teams down the years, his most recent of Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson and Ving Rhames is up there with his most talented. The same can be said for Brady, with Antonio Brown still to come – we just have not seen it at full strength just yet.
The emergence of Rob Gronkowski in recent weeks has been a major plus point after his old friend had spent the opening month brushing off the cobwebs upon his return to the NFL.
The win over the Raiders saw Brady and Gronk connect for their 92nd touchdown, tying for second most in NFL history with Steve Young and Jerry Rice behind only Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison.
Having hauled in just 12 catches in his first five games as a Buccaneer, Gronkowski has 10 receptions for 140 yards and two touchdowns across his last two outings. That includes a sideline catch on a beautifully-weighted pass between two defenders in the win against the Green Bay Packers.
Gronk Spike for #NationalTightEndsDay 🙌
📺: #TBvsLV on FOX pic.twitter.com/6o8eNPmHz5
— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) October 25, 2020
“It just takes time,” coach Bruce Arians said of Brady’s start. “I think the lack of continuity also hurt him a bunch. Hopefully we can have some continuity going forward, and he can continue to work with timing and all those things.
“I think Byron (Leftwich) has done a great job of having him ready to play, him seeing the coverages and where we want to place the ball.”
Arians made a point of noting that Leftwich takes note of Brady’s preferences in view of adding them to the offense, which again alludes to a relationship that is only going to strengthen and garner more results on the field as the season progresses.
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In leading the NFL’s No 3 ranked scoring offense, Brady has shunned suggestions that he has lost his arm strength. It’s not the same, of course it is not, he’s a 20-year vet in his 40s? But he can still sling it.
Brady’s deep pass rate is ranked fourth in the NFL this season, while he has thrown a third-most 505 yards on deep passes. His deep pass rate (14.6) is the highest it has ever been in the Next Gen States era since 2016 and his passer rating when targeting go routes (137.9) is fourth-highest in the league.
According to Pro Football Reference, Brady’s 2,289 intended air yards are also fourth-most in 2020.
His efforts were recognised this week with the NFC Offensive Player of the Month award for October after he had led all quarterbacks with 12 touchdown passes and 13 scores in total, helping the Bucs average a second-most 35 points per game.
Brady will meet a familiar face on Monday when he comes up against Giants head coach Joe Judge, who was on the Patriots coaching staff from 2012 up until his departure earlier this year.
For Judge, who is five years younger than Brady at 38, his former six-time Super Bowl-winning colleague’s recent form is no surprise.
“He was a ton of fun to be around,” he said. You really got to see one of the great competitors on a daily basis of not only how he performed, but more importantly how he prepared.
“I think that’s some of the things that get overlooked. It’s not accidental this guy’s playing this late in his timeline of being 40-plus years old and still playing at this high level.”
Todd Bowles’ exceptional defense are equally deserving of a nod, ranking third overall and first against the run as well as recording a second-most 25 sacks. And as he was in the latter stages of his Patriots career, Brady has been complemented well by a capable run game led by Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette.
Right now, the Bucs look like one of the NFL’s juggernauts, stacked with talent on both sides of the ball and, crucially, led by a quarterback threatening to put together one of his best seasons.
“We’re 5-2. I don’t think anything has been perfect out there,” Brady said. “We’re fighting and clawing for every win. I think we’re improving every week, which has really been fun for me to see dating back to the offseason when we started talking about football.”
It may not be 2007 Brady or 2016 Brady, but 2020 Brady could shape up to be something special.
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Source : Sky Sports