If this were any other quarterback, we would stick a fork in him.
The signs are there in plain view that Tom Brady is done, and he’s just playing out the string of his legendary career.
The Bucs’ 27-22 loss to the Ravens Thursday night was their third in a row. Brady looked miserable again. The loss dropped the Bucs to 3-5 – the first time Brady has ever had a sub-.500 record after eight games. This is Brady’s first three-game losing streak in 20 years.
Brady’s body language was sullen throughout the second half. He was frustrated with teammates. Frustrated with himself. His best throw of the night may have been when he flung his helmet.
And then there’s the peripheral stuff. Brady is 45, twice the age of his teammates. He has won everything there is to win. Brady told Amazon announcer Al Michaels that his off-field life is “intense.” He’s got a lot going on with reported marriage issues. He also skipped team meetings and a walk-through to attend Robert Kraft’s wedding.
It’s tempting to bury the Bucs and start closing the book on Brady’s career.
And yet …
If there is anything we have learned about Brady in 23 years, it’s to never, ever count him out.
We learned that in 2000-01, when Brady ascended from fourth-stringer to Super Bowl winner.
We learned it in 2010, when Brady won the MVP two years after suffering a serious knee injury.
We learned it again in 2017, when Brady erased a 28-3 deficit in a Super Bowl win over the Falcons.
And we learned it in 2020, when Brady and the Bucs overcame a 7-5 start to win their last eight games en route to another Super Bowl title.
“I don’t care if he’s 45 — you never count him out despite the intensity and everything that’s going on, on and off the field,” Amazon’s Kirk Herbstreit said on the broadcast. “He’s always come up with an answer, he’s always been able to put the pieces back together.”
Brady will have to do his best Humpty Dumpty impersonation, because the Bucs are seriously broken. The preseason favorites to win the NFC, they instead are under .500 and losing to the likes of Pittsburgh and Carolina.
Brady is not playing well by any stretch. Most of his season-long numbers — yards per attempt, passer rating, touchdown percentage — are among the worst of his career. Thursday night, Brady threw for 325 yards and a touchdown, but 159 of those yards and his TD came in the fourth quarter while trailing the Ravens by two scores.
Brady’s play is a result of the Bucs’ problems, though, not a cause of it. The offensive line, missing two starters, has been abysmal. The Bucs have the NFL’s 32nd-ranked run game, and rushed for just 44 yards on 2.9 yards per carry on Thursday. And Brady has to get rid of the ball quickly because he doesn’t trust his line. He entered the game getting rid of the football in an average of 2.47 seconds, the fastest in the NFL. Thursday night, he was even faster at 2.29.
And the Bucs’ defense, which was the backbone of the 2020 Super Bowl team, fell apart Thursday. The Ravens had four possessions in the second half, and scored three touchdowns and a field goal.
But if the Bucs are going to be put back together, it has to start with Brady — most notably, his commitment to the team.
No one would bat an eye over Brady skipping 11 days of training camp, or missing a Saturday walk-through and meeting for Kraft’s wedding, if Brady and the Bucs were playing well.
But eight games into the season, they are more dysfunctional than ever. And it is obvious the Bucs are sloppy from not having practiced much with each other because of Brady’s absences and a handful of injuries:
▪ On a third and 2 in the third quarter, Brady had an incompletion to Mike Evans on a pass down the seams, with the receiver turning the wrong way.
▪ In the fourth quarter, Brady didn’t have his timing down with new tight end Kyle Rudolph, throwing too far out in front of him in the end zone.
▪ On the same series, Brady had yet another miscommunication with Evans, and was lucky that Marcus Peters didn’t intercept him in the end zone.
▪ And late in the fourth quarter, running back Leonard Fournette committed a false start on a crucial fourth-and-2 play that forced the Bucs to kick a field goal.
Brady hit Evans for a 51-yard pass in the fourth quarter, and got lucky with a long defensive pass interference call on an underthrown ball to Scotty Miller.
Otherwise, the Bucs’ offense was a grind. They are averaging just 18.3 points per game this season, about 10 points less than Brady’s career average.
“This offense is broken. They’re lost,” former longtime quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said on Amazon’s postgame show. “It was tough to watch today, because that’s not the Bucs of old. And I don’t see a fix any time soon.”
It appeared Brady and the Bucs had found some fixes early. They marched 75 yards right down the field for a touchdown on their opening drive — the first time all season they found the end zone on their opening possession. They followed it with a field goal, and a 10-0 lead at home.
But that was it. They punted five straight times and kicked two field goals as the Ravens raced ahead. Brady, who told Michaels that his future is “inconclusive,” didn’t look like he was having much fun.
Of course, count Brady and the Bucs out at your own peril. He has figured out the answers too many times to write him off.
But if this were any other quarterback, if he didn’t have “Brady” on the back of his jersey, we would stick a fork in him and say he looks done.
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.