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Thursday night’s loss to the Baltimore Ravens dropped the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to 3-5, obviously not where the Bucs had planned to be eight games in. There is a chance for Tampa to turn things around. The NFC South is wide open and of course, Tom Brady is still the quarterback.
There’s always a sense that the future first-ballot Hall of Famer will eventually flip a switch and right the proverbial ship. The reality, though, is that Brady may not be able to save these sinking Buccaneers this time.
Brady has been part of the problem this season, and he was far from perfect on Thursday. He came into the game with a passer rating of just 92.8, his lowest as a Buccaneer and his second-lowest (88.0 in 2019) since 2014.
He finished 26-of-44 for 325 yards and a late touchdown, but he was off on several throws and struggled with the pressure (sacked three times) Baltimore brought early and often.
However, Brady’s issues largely seem to stem from his lack of chemistry with a revolving cast of pass-catchers. Chris Godwin missed two games with a hamstring injury, Mike Evans missed a game because of a suspension. Julio Jones has missed time with a knee injury.
Rob Gronkowski retired in the offseason, while fellow tight end Cameron Brate is out with a neck injury.
When Brady is on the same page with his intended target, he’s still very capable of hitting throws like this one:
Bleacher Report @BleacherReportTom Brady DROPPED IT IN THE BUCKET for Mike Evans 😱
But even if Brady starts clicking with his receivers—and that remains a big if—it won’t fix all of Tampa’s issues, and there are many.
The offense as a whole has been lacking a rhythm. A unit that ranked second in both yards and points a season ago came into Thursday ranked 22nd and 27th in those categories, respectively.
The offensive line, featuring new starters in Luke Goedeke, Robert Hainsey and Shaq Mason—has been wildly inconsistent all year. Brady was only under pressure on 14.1 percent of his passes coming into this game—according to Pro Football Reference—but that’s largely a credit to the 45-year-old’s quick release. Tampa has rarely had chances for big plays to develop down the field.
The line has struggled to open holes in the ground game too, while running back Leonard Fournette is running like he has lost a step. On Thursday, he averaged a mere 2.7 yards per carry against a Ravens defense that was surrendering 4.5 yards per carry coming in.
On the season, Fournette has averaged just 3.5 yards per carry. The Buccaneers have averaged 3.0. Tampa may want to seriously consider its trade options at running back before Tuesday’s deadline.
As a whole, the offense just seems to lack chemistry, cohesion and communication. While Byron Leftwich remains the offensive coordinator under head coach Todd Bowles, it’s fair to wonder just how big of a role Bruce Arians had on the offense over the last two years.
It wasn’t this way before Arians stepped down as head coach in the offseason.
Michael David Smith @MichaelDavSmithThis Buccaneers team has looked poorly coached all year. Mistakes that just shouldn’t be made, they keep making. Bruce Arians may not have gotten enough credit.
Even if Brady does return to his usual Pro Bowl form, the miscues and the inability to run the ball won’t disappear—and those miscues aren’t a problem for the offense alone.
NFL @NFLLOOSE BALL. Ravens catch a break early!#BALvsTB on Prime Video
Also available on NFL+ https://t.co/BDpDnHalLz pic.twitter.com/O1LcLJpxt0
And Brady can do nothing to impact a defense that is as banged up as any in the NFL.
The Bucs were without nearly their entire starting secondary on Thursday, as Carlton Davis (hip), Sean Murphy-Bunting (quad) and Antoine Winfield Jr. (concussion) were all inactive. Logan Ryan is on injured reserve with a foot injury.
On top of all of that, Tampa may now be without star pass-rusher Shaq Barrett for the remainder of the season:
Ian Rapoport @RapSheet#Bucs star pass-rusher Shaq Barrett is feared to have suffered a torn Achilles based on the initial exam, source said. Coach Todd Bowles said it doesn’t look good and he’ll have an MRI tomorrow.
However, the Ravens found success in the second half by running the football. Poor positioning, bad angles and missed tackles plagued the Tampa defense in the second half. Baltimore had just 27 yards before the break and finished with 231 on the ground.
This marks the fourth time this season that Tampa has surrendered at least 150 rushing yards.
And, let’s be honest, this game might have gotten even uglier if the Ravens hadn’t lost pass-catchers Mark Andrews and Rashod Bateman early.
Adam Schefter @AdamSchefterRavens went into tonight’s game with Mark Andrews, Rashod Bateman and Gus Edwards all listed as questionable. By the fourth quarter, each had exited the game due to injury and, unless Edwards unexpectedly returns, none will have been healthy enough to finish.
If the defense cannot get healthy in a hurry, this season could quickly spiral away from the Buccaneers.
Brady recently stated that he has no plans to retire in the immediate future.
There’s no immediate retirement in my future,” Brady said on Let’s Go! With Tom Brady, Larry Fitzgerald and Jim Gray (h/t Carly Ledbetter of Yahoo Sports). “There was a retirement in the past, but I moved on from that,” Brady said. “I made a commitment to this team, and I love this team, and I love this organization. I told them in March I was playing, and I’ve never quit on anything in my life.”
However, Brady may not be eager to return to this team in the offseason. He can’t remedy all of the issues on his own, and he’s certainly not getting any younger.
Now, the silver lining in all of this is that Tampa has nine games left in which to improve. Only one of the Buccaneers’ remaining opponents—the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 15—is currently above .500. Tampa is only a half-game behind the division-leading Atlanta Falcons (3-4) and can rally to steal the division.
Are the Buccaneers legitimate playoff contenders, though? Not right now, and if they are by season’s end, it won’t be simply because Brady finally found his footing.
The defense is running short on depth, the ground game cannot get rolling, and the Bucs are now averaging 5.5 penalties per game after having four against the Ravens. These are all issues that will have to be corrected if the Buccaneers hope to go on a run.
But if Brady continues struggling to find time in the pocket and connect with his receivers the ship is assuredly sunk. Brady can’t carry this team and, right now, the Buccaneers are completely incapable of carrying him.