When Tom Brady joined Tampa Bay in the spring, there was only one question worth debating: Can his Buccaneers become the first team to play a Super Bowl in its home stadium?
But following the Bucs’ 27-24 loss to the Chiefs Sunday, a more pressing question has emerged: Can they even make the playoffs?
Brady can forget about a Super Bowl for now, with the Bucs sitting at 7-5 after losing their third game in four weeks. And it’s no longer a given that they will even be playing games in January.
The Bucs’ ship is sinking fast, which is where we begin the Week 12 Review:
▪ On the face of it, there is nothing wrong with losing by 3 points to one of the best teams in football. And Brady did throw for 345 yards and three touchdowns, and almost led a big comeback.
But the numbers are misleading. The Bucs trailed, 27-10, before padding the stats in the fourth quarter. Brady threw two more interceptions, giving him seven in four games. A perturbed Brady ended his postgame news conference after just two minutes and 21 seconds.
The Bucs are struggling badly right now, and may not have been a good team to begin with. Their three losses in four weeks have all come at home (and all since Antonio Brown came aboard). And they are 1-4 against teams currently qualified for the playoffs, with their lone win coming against the Packers.
The Bucs were supposed to win the NFC South and contend for the No. 1 seed, but they’re only a half-game ahead of the 6-5 Cardinals, and 1½ games ahead of Minnesota, Chicago, and San Francisco, all of whom are 5-6. The Bucs have a bye this week, and all of those teams have a chance to tighten the standings.
The Bucs’ closing schedule won’t be that easy, either. They have a home game against Minnesota, a road game at Detroit, and a home-and-home against the Falcons. Though none of those teams has a winning record, the Vikings have won four of their last five, while the Falcons have won three of their last four and just crushed the Raiders. The way the Bucs are playing lately, those games are toss-ups at best.
Brady hasn’t missed the playoffs since 2002, and luckily for the Bucs, seven teams get in the postseason this year. But if the Bucs keep struggling, Brady might be riding Jetskis in January instead of marching toward a seventh Super Bowl trophy.
▪ It was a neat story to see Kendall Hinton get his big chance Sunday, but it made Saints-Broncos mostly unwatchable. Hinton completed just 1 of 9 passes for 13 yards with two interceptions in the Broncos’ 31-3 loss, with his one completion a screen pass to Noah Fant.
Hinton, a practice squad receiver who played a little quarterback at Wake Forest, hadn’t thrown a pass or even been tackled since 2018 and didn’t learn of his start until late Saturday afternoon. He became the first non-quarterback to start at the position since Tom Matte of the 1965 Baltimore Colts.
The NFL cares about getting games played, not the competitiveness of the games. With the pandemic surging again, don’t be surprised to see more teams face a situation like the Broncos’.
▪ The other quarterback in that game wasn’t impressive, either, though he didn’t have to be. Taysom Hill, making his second start, completed just 9 of 16 passes for 78 yards and threw an interception, plus he had 44 rushing yards and two touchdowns. The Saints are 2-0 under Hill, but he has some improving to do as a passer.
▪ Both of the league’s interim coaches are on fire right now. The Texans have won three of four under Romeo Crennel, and they could have won all four if not for a monsoon in Cleveland two weeks ago. And the Falcons improved to 4-2 under Raheem Morris with a 43-6 beatdown of the Raiders. The Falcons scored 43 points despite gaining just 304 yards of offense, thanks to a defense that forced five turnovers.
Crennel is likely just keeping the seat warm in Houston, but Morris, the former Bucs head coach, should have a legitimate shot at becoming the Falcons’ full-time coach.
▪ Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell certainly deserved the ax, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a team fire a GM following a loss but keep the head coach, as Jacksonville did following a 27-25 loss to the Browns.
The Jaguars have lost 10 straight games, and owner Shad Khan likely wanted to start his GM search now, so the new person could help pick the next coach and get started right away on offseason plans. But Khan told Doug Marrone that he will coach the last five games. No need to stop the march for the No. 1 draft pick.
▪ Speaking of the No. 1 pick, the Jets dropped to 0-11 with a 20-3 loss to the Dolphins, and an 0-16 season is definitely in play. Their final five games are not easy: vs. Raiders, at Seahawks, at Rams, vs. Browns, at Patriots.
Their best shot to win might be this Sunday against a struggling Raiders team, or in Week 17 if the Patriots have nothing to play for. I’m sure Bill Belichick would love nothing more than to wreck the Jets’ chances of getting Trevor Lawrence, even if it means losing a game.
▪ The battle for MVP is looking like it will come down to Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes, whose teams are the No. 2 seeds in each conference. Rodgers threw four more touchdown passes Sunday, and leads the NFL with a 117.6 passer rating. Mahomes threw for 462 yards and three touchdowns, and is second with a 115.5 passer rating.
Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson, Derrick Henry, and Dalvin Cook are also in the conversation. But this is likely a two-horse race.
▪ Bucs QB Tom Brady: He is throwing interceptions on 2.3 percent of his passes, his highest rate since 2009.
▪ Bucs TE Rob Gronkowski: Caught six passes for 106 yards, his first 100-yard game since Week 14 of 2018 against the Dolphins, a streak of 14 games.
▪ Falcons K Younghoe Koo: He was on the Patriots’ practice squad for 11 days last year after Stephen Gostkowski got hurt, but was released after the Patriots went with Nick Folk. Folk has been great this year, but so has Koo, who hit all five of his field goal attempts Sunday. Koo is 29 for 30 this year, including 6 for 6 from 50-plus yards, and leads the NFL in field goals.
▪ Texans WR Brandin Cooks: Had 85 yards on Thanksgiving, and has 719 yards this season, on pace for a 1,000-yard season with his fourth team.
▪ Mike Vrabel, Titans: Major statement win over the Colts, and the Titans are rolling again at 8-3 with the No. 3 seed in the AFC.
▪ Brian Flores, Dolphins: Said after the Jets win that Tua Tagovailoa is still his starting quarterback when he is healthy. But why? Ryan Fitzpatrick is the better QB for their playoff run.
▪ Romeo Crennel, Texans: Now 4-3 after Bill O’Brien went 0-4.
▪ Joe Judge, Giants: Current three-game win streak is over Washington, Philadelphia, and Cincinnati playing with a backup QB, but a win is a win.
▪ Matt Patricia, Lions (fired): With Steve Belichick emerging as the Patriots’ defensive leader, Patricia may have to join up with another ex-Patriot to get back in the game. The Titans don’t have a defensive coordinator and could be a good fit. The Giants also may be a good fit, especially if current DC Patrick Graham gets head coaching buzz.
Stats of the Week
▪ Tyreek Hill’s 203 receiving yards in the first quarter were the second most in NFL history (Lee Evans, 205 vs. the Texans in 2006). Mahomes’s 229 passing yards in the first quarter were second most in history (Peyton Manning, 247 vs. the Packers in 2004).
▪ The Browns have won eight games for the first time since 2007, snapping a streak of 12 straight losing seasons. It was the second-longest streak in NFL history (Bucs, 14 years, 1983-96).
▪ This is the first season in NFL history to have three players with at least 30 touchdown passes through Week 12 (Rodgers, Wilson, and Mahomes).
▪ The Bears joined the 1967 49ers as the only teams to start 5-1 and then lose five straight games.