It’s been a long time since Tom Brady was just a player.
In the second half of his career in New England he was part-coach, a locker room reminder of the Patriot Way, echoing Bill Belichick’s “Do your job” mantra, serving as a team-first presence by accepting criticism and trying to outwork even the back of the depth chart.
Some of that carried over to Tampa Bay, including, teammates said, his Super Bowl-week belief — complete with late night texts expressing confidence against the mighty Kansas City Chiefs — that was critical in winning it all.
You hang around this long, you wear a lot of hats. Including midseason recalibration expert.
So as baffling as Tampa Bay’s two-game losing streak (with an off week in the middle) is, as bad as the defense looked in giving Washington a 10:30 fourth quarter drive to salt away Sunday’s 29-19 victory, as off-kilter as the offense has been of late … the vision of a clearly bothered Brady, echoing the sentiments of head coach Bruce Arians and with the passive-aggressive brevity of Belichick, is a sign of solace for Bucs fans.
Tom is dialed in on making sure this team doesn’t slip off into complacency. For example, when asked about what happened on two interceptions, Brady explained: “We started with the ball, they came away with it.”
Meanwhile, after Arians called his team “very dumb” due to a rash of pre-snap penalties, Brady echoed, “you can’t run a play.”
A frustrated coach and quarterback is par for the course after a couple of losses. Every coach and QB in the league would be the same. But this is Brady, and his words, or lack of words, carry a lot more weight than anyone else in the league.
Tampa Bay has a lot of work to do to make a return trip to the Super Bowl — and a lot of competition to get through to do it. Perhaps the Bucs' problems are unfixable. Yet at 6-3, they are in fine shape with plenty of time to work it out.
To go back to what Brady learned in New England, nothing really matters until after Thanksgiving weekend. December and January (and February) is when the team needs to be rolling. Everything else is just the appetizer en route to that moment — motivating losses included. The Patriots always believed that.
In Brady’s 10 Super Bowl appearances, his teams have gone a combined 42-5 after Thanksgiving weekend. That includes 4-0 last year for the Bucs.
So when Brady is working with the good stuff that is capable of capturing a conference title, his team is nearly unbeatable (89.5 winning percentage) in December and January of the regular season. Comparatively, their November record in those same seasons is 27-7 (79.4). That’s still good, but not nearly as good.
Last season, at the start of December, the Bucs were 7-5 and had sputtered in three of their previous four games. Then it all kicked into gear and they never lost again.
In other words, check back in a few weeks. A November wakeup call is often part of the plan, part of the process. And Brady wants his teammates to know it.
“If you throw interceptions, if you commit penalties, if you get behind by 10 points at the end of the first quarter, it’s going to be a hard day, I don’t care who you play,” Brady said on his “Let’s Go” podcast Monday. “You could play Tampa Bay High School, and we’re going to have a hard time beating those guys.”
Brady’s peer leadership has always been a huge part of his success. He built credibility through hard work. His backstory of a late-round pick who seized his opportunity resonates with the majority of the locker room, very few of whom were sure-bet draft selections.
At age 44, he now plays alongside teammates who grew up watching him win Super Bowls. Some of their first memories of the NFL were watching this guy lead improbable comebacks or making impossible plays. It is why when he says to follow, or he says to do something, they listen. Why wouldn’t you?
The Bucs' defense looks flawed right now. The offense is missing too many key cogs — including Gronk, who remains irreplaceable in the red zone. Still, guys will be back and the potential is still there.
“That had nothing to do with ability,” Arians said Sunday of the WFT loss. “It’s all about execution and being a smart football team.”
Can Tampa Bay get smart again? Can the defense get organized enough so it doesn’t lose a time of possession battle with Washington by a nearly 20-minute margin? Can Brady get back into late season/playoff form?
Of course. The NFC is loaded but every team has had its bizarro-week performances and even mini-slumps. One week seems to bear little resemblance to the next.
Either way, as Tom Brady surely knows and is surely trying to set up once again, it’s November.
Until the leftover turkey has been polished off, none of this truly matters.