Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are in big trouble.
The New Orleans Saints shut down Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday night.
Brady led his offence to 0 points. He lost a fumble and threw an interception. Marshon Lattimore, Malcolm Jenkins and Cameron Jordan led the way for the Saints. Most teams don't have the talent on defence to match that performance. But most teams won't need to match it based on what happened on Sunday.
Not only did the Buccaneers lose, but Brady was particularly bad and their weaknesses were emphasized. Furthermore, Chris Godwin tore his ACL and will miss the remainder of the year. Leonard Fournette suffered a hamstring injury. Mike Evans is also hurt.
The Buccaneers are the third seed in the NFC. The Packers are the first seeds and the Dallas Cowboys move up to the second spot. Kyle Shanahan's San Francisco 49ers would be their wildcard matchup if the playoffs began next week.
At the rate those teams are going, the 49ers will fancy their chances.
Brady is not unfamiliar with this feeling. He famously lost to the Saints twice in the regular season last year. The Saints bullied the Buccaneers in both games. But the Buccaneers won in the playoffs. Optimists call this a good omen. Realists recognize the flaws and understand the NFC playoff picture is too tough for that.
Aaron Rodgers and the Packers should have beaten the Buccaneers last year. They won't miss if given the same opportunity this year.
Tom Brady threw an interception on the first play of the game. Or at least, he should have. Marshon Lattimore couldn't hold onto the ball as it arrived into his chest. Lattimore made a great play in coverage. He beat the receiver early in the route so he was further infield than him when the ball arrived.
Brady assumed his receiver would win and threw the ball to a spot.
More importantly, Brady missed his open receiver in the middle of the field. Chris Godwin, who caught 15 passes in a game two weeks ago, is wide open over the middle. Brady looks to him but then looks past him for no apparent reason. Godwin later left the field injured with a knee injury.
Lattimore is an outstanding player. He's one of the best cornerbacks in the league and regularly makes Mike Evans' life hell in these games.
He didn't have Evans to deal with. And after Godwin went out, the Buccaneers had to look to Rob Gronkowski.
Lattimore had some plays against Gronkowski but it was veteran safety Malcolm Jenkins who took on the assignment more often than not. Jenkins used to be a star in the NFL. He's no longer that but now he's a valuable role player. He's a man coverage specialist. While nobody locks down anyone in the NFL anymore, he's probably the best tight end defender in the league.
Jenkins gets on top of Rob Gronkowski early in the route here and stays on top. Brady has no window to throw into and the defence has shifted its coverage away from this matchup so he has to throw in this direction.
Gronkowski played all four quarters. He was the only big name to do so in Brady's supporting cast. But he doesn't look fully healthy either. He's had injury issues previously this season which are limiting his explosiveness and flexibility. It didn't help that he had a couple of drops in the game too.
The Saints sacked Brady three times in the first half. And without his star receivers to turn to, that pressure took its toll in the second. He was a rattled quarterback by the end of the game.
This was a pivotal moment in the game. It's the third quarter and the Buccaneers are in field goal range. The Saints would be only a field goal ahead if Brady takes a sack or runs without fumbling the ball. For some reason, he's pressing to get the first down. This has never been his game. He's not a scrambler, there's a whole line of jokes dedicated to him being as slow as he is.
So why not go down after the short gain even though it's third down? Why not go down in the pocket? Nothing was there, so live for the next play. He's made a career of doing that very thing.
Maybe it's the constant hits and pressure, or maybe it's him feeling he needs to do something drastic without his star players on the field. Regardless, this was a major mistake and a costly one.
It was so uncharacteristic for him.
Another uncharacteristic play saw Brady drop his eyes prematurely in the pocket to take a sack. He's arguably the best pocket passer in NFL history. That reputation is built on his ability to stand tall in the pocket and survey the coverage downfield without overreacting to pressure. He overreacts to arriving pressure here.
Even if he's inevitably going to be sacked, he needs to give the passing play every possible chance to succeed by standing in. Dropping his eyes guarantees that he'll be taken down because he has no escapability.
Brady beats himself as much as the defence beats him.
The game was gone by the time Brady threw this interception at the end of the game. It doesn't make it any less ugly though.
Without Chris Godwin, the Buccaneers offence becomes a lot easier to defend. The Buccaneers still have plenty of talent and will be a force if they play to their potential in the playoffs, but now Brady's job becomes a lot bigger. He will have to elevate the pieces around him. That's not something he's done in a long time.
The Buccaneers are still Super Bowl contenders, but not strong ones. They're definitely not favourites anymore.
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