As signs go, the clock literally running out on Tom Brady while he’s trying a desperation comeback is pretty on-the-nose.
After an offensive performance Sunday against Green Bay that would have needed three shots of espresso to even be described as anemic, Brady had at last started doing Brady things. With 3:04 remaining in the game, down 14-6 and starting at his own 11 yard line, Brady engineered one of those vintage TB12 fourth-quarter drives that took the Bucs all the way down to the edge of Green Bay’s goal line.
We’ve seen this movie before. Touchdown, two-point conversion, win in overtime. Only this time, the movie took a turn and the film unspooled onto the floor. On the scoring play – Brady on a short pass across the middle to Russell Gage – the Bucs averted a delay-of-game penalty by microseconds, since “0” doesn’t apparently mean “no time left” in the NFL.
But Aaron Rodgers, who never misses a chance to bedevil his many foes, noted that the Raymond James Stadium scoreboard operator had made the crucial mistake of showing that the clock had, in fact, expired before the Bucs snapped the ball. Rodgers passed along the information, and just like that, the Bucs got slapped with a crushing delay-of-game penalty on the two-point conversion.
A manageable two yards to tie the game became an unworkable seven yards, and Brady’s desperate force to Gage was tipped by linebacker De’Vondre Campbell. The clock bit Brady, and the Bucs lost, 14-12.
“Bad execution, that’s really what it is,” Brady said after the game. “Bad execution on offense at a time when we needed good execution.”
The question now is, how worried should 2-1 Tampa Bay be? The answer: not much … yet.
Tampa Bay has now scored exactly three offensive touchdowns all season – one in each of its three games – and continues to struggle with its offensive identity. The Bucs’ roster tends to look like your fantasy team from three or four years ago – names you recognize, but production well below their peaks and, in many cases, falling fast.
“We’ve just got to do a better job,” Brady said, keeping both his voice and his meaning level. “It’s not just one thing. We’re not running as good as we’re capable of, the pass game hasn’t been very good, the screen game … a lot of things.”
The team is also suffering through a wicked run of lost receivers, either to injury (Chris Godwin, Julio Jones) or suspension (Mike Evans). The Bucs literally pulled a receiver in off the street – Cole Beasley, who has substantial NFL experience, but still – and targeted him four times for 12 yards. For all the jokes about Brady being able to haul down four bros from the stands and turn them into an elite receiving corps, this is still the NFL, and there will be no pity for Brady’s plight.
“We didn’t have to have those (missing) guys to win this ballgame, we just needed to play smarter,” Tampa Bay head coach Todd Bowles said. “Talent had nothing to do with the way we shot ourselves in the foot.”
Brady allowed himself a rare moment of humor in what's been an otherwise gloomy early season when he talked about his breakaway run, an 18-yard scamper that was ultimately called back on yet another penalty. "I saw a lot of open green grass and no Packers. I can turn a 40-yard gain into an 18-yard gain better than anyone in the NFL," he smiled. "But if I'm running it, it's usually not a good thing."
On the positive side: suspensions end, (some) injuries heal … and then there’s the defense. The Bucs’ defense leads the NFL in points allowed at 9.0 per game, and ranks fourth in yards allowed at 289 per game. Rodgers guided the Packers to two touchdowns in their first two drives, but after that, the Tampa Bay defense solidified and forced a fumble, an interception and five three-and-outs while holding the Packers scoreless the rest of the game.
The Bucs get no chance to rest; a marquee game against the Chiefs awaits on Sunday night. The Chiefs aren’t invulnerable – losing to the Colts Sunday is proof of that – but the Bucs’ offense will need to step up to keep up with Patrick Mahomes.
“We’re 2-1. There’s a lot of football left, we’ll keep working at it,” Brady said. “No one feels sorry for us, nor should we. Just got to go back to work.”
Contact Jay Busbee at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @jaybusbee.