Spending the 2022 season in Tampa never was the plan for Tom Brady.
When he flew south in 2020, he signed up for a two-year commitment. Brady was supposed to be in Miami this year, but his scheme imploded due to circumstances out of his control. Coming back to the Bucs for a third season just sort of happened; it was better than staying retired.
Brady and the Bucs thought they could wing it this year, without much vision or fanfare or any sort of a coherent plan. But not even the greatest quarterback of all time can will a dysfunctional team to victory. They were eliminated from the NFL playoffs on Monday night, losing, 31-14, to the Cowboys. It was a dispirited and ignominious end to a joyless, rudderless season in Tampa Bay.
Brady finished with 351 yards on a whopping 66 attempts and a 72.2 passer rating that was his third-worst of the season. Brady was shut out in the first half in the playoffs for the first time since the Tuck Rule game in 2002. He was missing wide-open receivers, dropping snaps, and sliding spikes-up at opponents in frustration. There was a glimmer of fourth-quarter magic when the Bucs recovered a late onside kick, but Mike Evans had a potential touchdown glance off his fingers, Brady took one last sack, and the Bucs went out with a whimper.
Brady and the Bucs finished 8-10, the first time in his 21 years as a starter he had a losing record. This is just Brady’s fifth healthy season in which he didn’t win a playoff game (2002, 2009, 2010, 2019).
Everything about this season felt off. Brady didn’t have Rob Gronkowski as his security blanket. He had a surprise, extended absence in training camp. There were divorce distractions. And he skipped one Saturday of pre-game meetings to attend Robert Kraft’s wedding.
To be clear, Brady was hardly a problem for the Bucs, and the franchise will do whatever it takes to bring him back. Brady had five game-winning drives and four fourth-quarter comebacks, and was one of the only reasons that the Bucs won the NFC South, even if it was with an 8-9 record. Brady may be the oldest starting quarterback in NFL history at 45, but he’s not showing his age. He set an NFL record with 733 pass attempts this season.
Most of the Bucs’ issues were around Brady. A head coach (Todd Bowles) and offensive coordinator (Byron Leftwich) who weren’t up to the task, receiver Chris Godwin not himself after ACL surgery, no third receiving option emerging behind Godwin and Mike Evans, and multiple injuries to the offensive line before the season.
It resulted in Brady’s worst season as a pro — a bottom-three season, at least. And it ended with one of his worst playoff performances, including the first red-zone interception of his Bucs career.
Brady was helpless to keep up with Dak Prescott, who avenged a Week 1 loss to the Bucs by shredding their defense with precision. Prescott was 25 of 33 for 305 yards and five total touchdowns in picking up just the second postseason win of his career.
Brady hasn’t said whether he plans to play next year at age 46, but every indication is that he is. Monday’s game may have been his last as a Buccaneer, however, and his final days in Tampa are reminiscent of his exit from New England in 2019.
This year, as then, Brady made sure he would be an unrestricted free agent after the season. In 2019 and 2022, Brady was miserable all year as his receivers struggled and his offense sputtered. And both years ended with Brady walking dejectedly off his home field after suffering a beatdown in the Wild Card playoffs.
The Buccaneers have been a good home for Brady as he authored a second act of his NFL career. He won his seventh Super Bowl in his first year in Tampa, putting to rest all of those Brady-or-Bill-Belichick debates and making the Patriots look foolish for not believing in him. Brady made the playoffs all three years, led the Bucs to back-to-back division titles for the first time in franchise history, and shattered all notions of what an athlete can accomplish into his mid-40s.
But the party lasted a year too long. There weren’t many smiles in Tampa this year, for reasons on and off the field. The Bucs didn’t have a coherent plan, and played like it. It will go down as one of the few wasted, unremarkable seasons in Brady’s superlative career.
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.