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New team, same old problems for Tom Brady: He struggled to connect with Bucs' receivers

Tom Brady tried to get a pass off while being dragged down by the Saints' Trey Hendrickson in the first half.
Tom Brady tried to get a pass off while being dragged down by the Saints' Trey Hendrickson in the first half.Butch Dill/Associated Press

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers look like an All-Star team on paper. Quarterback Tom Brady has six Super Bowl rings. Tight end Rob Gronkowski has three rings and will go in the Hall of Fame one day. Mike Evans has been to three Pro Bowls in five years and Chris Godwin had 1,333 receiving yards last year.

But Brady was blunt about why the Bucs suffered a 34-23 defeat to the Saints in Sunday’s season opener.

“Doesn’t matter how much talent you have if you throw interceptions that are returned for touchdowns,” he said. “I’ve got to correct that.”

Nothing about 2020 makes sense, and that applies to the NFL as well. Brady is a Buccaneer now, operating on a different side of the universe from the Patriots. His first touchdown as a Buc came with his feet, when he converted his trademark QB sneak up the middle for a 2-yard score in the first quarter. Brady’s second score went to the Saints, when Brady airmailed an outlet pass to the sideline that Janoris Jenkins jumped and returned 36 yards for a pick-6.

And Brady, owner of a career .768 win percentage, is strangely on the wrong side of yet another crushing, borderline humiliating defeat. Add in the Week 17 home loss to the Dolphins and the wild-card home loss to the Titans, and Brady is in the midst of a three-game losing streak for just the second time in his career. Brady lost four straight games between Weeks 4-7 in 2002.


Brady has also thrown a pick-6 in three straight games. Strange times, indeed.

“I made just some bad, terrible turnovers, and it’s hard to win turning the ball over like that,” Brady said. “We’re all going to wish we had a lot of plays back. Certainly I do. I’ve got to do a better job than I did today.”


Brady finished with 239 passing yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions and three sacks for a 78.4 passer rating. Counterpart Drew Brees only threw for 160 yards, but he didn’t commit a turnover.

Brady, obviously disappointed in the outcome following six months of hype, said he didn’t like the quiet atmosphere in the Superdome without any fans.

“It felt like a scrimmage out there, but obviously it counts, and I think we’re all disappointed it didn’t go our way,” he said.

The game started with promise. Brady and the Bucs marched 85 yards on their opening drive, with Brady punctuating it with his trademark sneak-up-the-middle for a score. But the Bucs were sloppy all game, committing nine penalties for 103 yards and only converting 5-of-13 attempts on third down.

Tom Brady celebrated his first TD with the Buccaneers, a 2-yard dive,  with a celebratory spike.
Tom Brady celebrated his first TD with the Buccaneers, a 2-yard dive, with a celebratory spike. Tyler Kaufman/Associated Press

“He came out lighting it up, we go right down the field and score a touchdown,” Bucs coach Bruce Arians said. “So I wouldn’t say he was out of synch at all until we started screwing it up.”

Bucs Brady certainly didn’t help matters with some careless throws and miscommunications with his receivers.

Brady’s first interception came on a miscommunication with Evans. Arians said Brady thought Evans was going down the middle, but Evans checked up.

Who was right, the quarterback or the receiver? In New England, we’d never know, as Bill Belichick would swear the entire team to secrecy. But in Tampa Bay, Arians isn’t afraid to tell it like it is. Brady better get used to it.


“Mike read it right,” Arians said. “Tom just overthrew it.”

Arians said Brady was also at fault for his second interception, the pick-6 to Jenkins early in the third quarter that made it 24-7 Saints. Arians said the Bucs called a screen pass with an outlet to receiver Scotty Miller along the sideline, and Brady chose the wrong receiver.

“He threw the outlet and it was a pick-6,” Arians said. “Bad decision.”

Brady, who notably struggled to connect with new receivers while in New England, struggled to connect all day with his receivers. Gronkowski, also making his Bucs debut, had just two catches for 11 yards and was a non-factor.

Brady hit Godwin six times for 79 yards, and Miller — who draws comparisons to great Patriots slot receivers Julian Edelman and Wes Welker — had five catches for 73 yards. But Evans, playing through a hamstring injury, had just one catch for 2 yards — a mostly meaningless touchdown at the end of the game.

It would be unrealistic to expect Brady and the Bucs to start this season operating like a well-oiled machine. Brady has a new offense to learn, an entirely new group of receivers, and didn’t have an offseason or much of a preseason to work out the kinks.

And it’s important to remember that this was just the first game out of 16.

“It’s good that this happened early,” said tight end O.J. Howard, who caught Brady’s first touchdown, a 9-yard reception in the third quarter. “Get to eat a piece of humble pie, get back in next week.”


But surely Brady and the Bucs expected better than what they delivered Sunday. At one point in the second half, Brady sailed a throw 5 feet over running back Ronald Jones’s head.

“Wow,” Fox’s Troy Aikman said on the broadcast. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen Tom miss a guy like that.”

The only thing Brady had working were the deep jump balls that drew pass interference calls. The Bucs benefited from four PI calls for 101 yards.

Brady put the loss on himself, but tried to keep perspective.

“I’ve lost plenty of games in my career,” he said. “I know I don’t like it but it happens. So we just go to do a better job.”

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Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin.