The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had Jameis Winston under center last season and finished 7-9 and out of the playoffs.
They swapped in Tom Brady this season, and they were 11-5 and are playing in Sunday’s NFC Championship game against the Packers.
We can now quantify the Brady Effect. He is worth four extra wins and a deep playoff run.
“That’s a simplistic way to look at it, but yes, I think they’re there because of Tom,” said Hall of Famer and Fox Sports analyst Howie Long. “I don’t know that everyone down there understood what it took to be great individually and collectively. I think Tom’s impact from the minute he walked in the building was transformative.”
There is something about watching a 43-year-old quarterback organizing offseason practices and working as hard as any guy in the building that seems to get the most out of his teammates. Here is what former Patriots receiver Chris Hogan told the Globe this past week:
“I’ve read some different things about the Brady Effect, and I think that’s a real thing. When you play with a guy like Tom, who puts so much in, cares so much, and just works relentlessly to win football games, you really find yourself putting in that extra effort. He raises guys to a different level. His competitiveness, his passion for the game, it just trickles down to every other single person on the roster.”
When Brady got to Tampa this season, he joined a team that was deep on talent but short on success. Prior to this season, the Buccaneers hadn’t made the playoffs since 2007 and hadn’t made the NFC Championship game since the 2002 season.
But Brady made believers out of all of his teammates the moment he arrived. Whatever he does on and off the field, they know it works, to the tune of six Super Bowl rings and now 14 trips to the conference championship game.
“Just seeing him out there, he’s always locked in, and watching him practice, it gives me a perspective of how I’m supposed to practice,” cornerback Antoine Winfield Jr. said. “You can see him reading his keys and going through his progressions and things like that, so that’s great to see. I’m like, ‘That’s the GOAT right there, so I’ll go ahead and lock it in.’ ”
Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians said this past week that “I allow [Brady] to coach. I just sit back sometimes and watch.” Third-year running back Ronald Jones said Brady’s biggest impact is helping the Buccaneers with their preparation.
“He always pulls us to the side and gives us things to look for,” Jones said. “We’ll see a look and he’ll be like, ‘Yeah, expect this, too.’ It’s also like having another coach out there. You can never have too many words of wisdom from him.”
Brady said he has enjoyed the mentoring aspect of his job this season.
“I have a lot of experience playing, and I like to try to convey a lot of different things that I think could be successful,” he said. “It’s been a really fun process, we’ve put ourselves in a decent position, now we’ve got to go capitalize on this.”
It’s not just Brady’s work habits that have rubbed off on his teammates. He has brought an obsession to detail and discipline that has had an instant effect on his new team.
Avoiding turnovers has been a hallmark of Brady’s career. He has thrown an interception on just 1.8 percent of his career pass attempts, which is the second-lowest rate in NFL history (behind Aaron Rodgers) for quarterbacks with at least 100 starts. From 2001-19, the Patriots’ 358 turnovers were 58 fewer than any other team.
Last season with Winston, the Buccaneers led the NFL with 41 turnovers (30 of them interceptions). This season with Brady, the Bucs have the seventh-fewest turnovers with 17 (12 of them interceptions).
That alone is probably worth four extra wins and a deep playoff run.
“It’s a huge, huge part of it,” Arians said. “That was a major emphasis — that and eliminating penalties. Getting more disciplined was a huge part of our offseason. Obviously, Tom doesn’t turn it over much, but we’ve hammered everybody about protecting the football — anybody with their hands on the ball. That and penalties.”
Penalties are another area in which the Buccaneers have made astounding improvement. In 2019, the Bucs led the NFL with 133 penalties. This season, they tied for 20th with 84.
A deeper look inside the Buccaneers’ turnover and penalty numbers shows an even more drastic improvement.
Between Weeks 1-5, the Buccaneers had the most penalties in the NFL (42) and the eighth-most turnovers (seven).
Between Weeks 6-17, the Buccaneers had the fewest penalties in the NFL (42) and the second-fewest turnovers (10).
It shouldn’t be surprising that the Buccaneers showed significant improvement throughout the season. The first five games were sloppy because Brady didn’t have much of an offseason or training camp with his new teammates. As the season wore on, Brady and the Bucs found their rhythm.
“The analogy Terry [Bradshaw] made — every once in a while, Terry has a remarkable analogy — he said, when he was young and his daddy taught him how to paint, you had the paint where you had to stir it. And as you kept stirring it, it finally became the color that you wanted,’ ” Long said. “I think that’s the story of the Buccaneers.”
Brady has been the one stirring the paint, turning a group of talented players into a group of winners.
“He’s the greatest player to ever play the game. You add him on any roster, and I’m sure the outcome would be somewhat like this,” receiver Mike Evans said. “He always gets his team to the playoffs. He’s a winner. He’s a natural-born winner, leader, all that. At this point in his career, he’s just playing chess, and we’re definitely very happy he’s on our side.”