NEW ORLEANS — It was a shock to the system. It was hard on the eyes. It was more than the new colors or the new team or no longer being in New England.
Something didn’t look right about Tom Brady in Sunday’s season opener.
Scanning the field for a receiver, Brady threw late to the sideline toward Justin Watson. Saints cornerback Janoris Jenkins intercepted the pass and returned it 36 yards for a touchdown to start the third quarter.
It was Brady’s second interception of the game. Safety Marcus Williams had a pick in the second quarter after a miscommunication between Brady and Mike Evans.
Those were the biggest mistakes in an error-prone 34-23 loss to the Saints, making a dud of Brady’s Bucs debut.
“It certainly was poor execution,” Brady said. "That’s what it comes down to. It’s a game of execution and obviously they made more plays than we did and I made some bad, terrible turnovers and it’s hard to win turning the ball over like that. Obviously, I’ve got to do a much better job.
"They were bad throws. That’s what it comes down to. Bad throws. Can’t do it."
Nobody is more familiar with pick-sixes than the Bucs, who watched Jameis Winston throw an NFL-record seven interceptions returned for scores among his 30 stolen passes in 2019.
But until Jenkins waltzed into the end zone, Brady had only thrown 14 regular-season pick-sixes in his career.
Counting his last pass for the Patriots — against the Titans in the playoffs — Brady now has had a pick-six in each of his past three games. This is what the Bucs had hoped to put in their rearview mirror when they parted ways with Winston, who served as the Saints' third quarterback Sunday.
And to be honest, those who questioned whether Brady’s arm was losing strength pointed to some of those throws.
But with the Bucs and all their receiving talent, it was supposed to be different. Then Superman met the men of steal from New Orleans.
“It doesn’t matter how much talent you have if you throw an interception returned for a touchdown,” Brady said. “I’ve got to correct that.”
Okay, that’s enough self-abuse for one future Hall of Fame quarterback with six Super Bowl rings. If Brady is willing to take a few chunks out of his unequaled legacy, apparently the Bucs will oblige the way they did Sunday.
Brady finished 23 of 36 passing for 239 yards with two interceptions and touchdown passes to O.J. Howard and Mike Evans, his only catch of the game which came with 2:41 remaining in the game.
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It was noble of Brady, and very Patriot-like, to take the blame for the interceptions, the loss, the poor offensive showing, the empty stadium and Tropical Storm Sally. Seriously, accountability will never be one of his problems.
In truth, he had plenty of help taking a wrecking ball to the monumental buildup of the Bucs this offseason.
All the while, the Saints were likely wondering: didn’t we win the NFC South three years in a row?
Sure, the picks hurt, none worse than Jenkins', which made the score 24-7 Saints. But Brady had lots of help in this one.
He was sacked three times and hit on six other occasions, thanks to more matador blocking by left tackle Donovan Smith.
The Bucs had a field goal blocked. They committed egregious penalties, like Vita Vea jumping offsides on fourth down to sustain a drive.
The defense blew an assignment in the secondary after the Bucs had crawled back in the game.
But take away the pick-six and the blocked field goal, which led to three points the other direction, or the pooch kickoff that was fumbled when Mike Edwards ran into returner Jaydon Mickens, and the defense played well enough to win Sunday.
The Bucs outgained the Saints 310-271 in total yards. They outrushed them 86-82.
But if anyone said coming into the game that Drew Brees would pass for only 160 yards, or that Alvin Kamara would rush for 16 yards on 12 carries, or that receiver Michael Thomas would catch only three passes for 17 yards with a long of 5, you would think Tampa Bay had a big win.
“I wouldn’t say (Brady) was out of synch until we started screwing it up,” coach Bruce Arians said.
This was always going to be a hard ask of Brady, to try and begin to turn around a franchise that hasn’t reached the playoffs in a dozen years. Moreover, do it in a pandemic with no offseason workouts or preseason games or fans.
Aside from a couple laser throws, one to Howard and another to Chris Godwin, Brady looked unsure of himself in Arians' offense. He didn’t check the ball down as much as he had in New England. He didn’t throw it deep as often as Arians' offense calls for. Evans drew a couple pass interference penalties, one for 45 yards, but he wasn’t a primary target.
Yet, that first drive of the game was 85 yards, punctuated by Brady’s emphatic spike in the end zone after a 2-yard run.
“Anytime you turn the ball over like we did, you don’t get an opportunity out there to make plays, and we just came up short,” Brady said. "There’s no excuses. We’re the only ones that can do something about it. The Saints kind of played how they always play. They did a good job on offense. We hung our defense out to dry with some short fields (and turnovers). ...
“You know, we didn’t do anything that great on offense today. We made a few plays, but in the end, I think we’re all going to wish we had a few plays back. Certainly, I do.”