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Bruce Arians: Dropped passes cost Tom Brady 400-yard game

The Bucs coach says players need to hang on to the football or they might not see it thrown their way.
Running back LeSean McCoy (25) misses a catch in the end zone while in the fourth quarter at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday.
Running back LeSean McCoy (25) misses a catch in the end zone while in the fourth quarter at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Sep. 21, 2020
Updated Sep. 24, 2020

TAMPA — Pass it on: If you continue to drop footballs, Tom Brady won’t be throwing your way much longer.

That’s the message coach Bruce Arians had after watching what he says were seven dropped passes that would have added about 125 passing yards and three touchdowns to Brady’s performance in Sunday’s 31-17 win over the Panthers.

Brady finished 23-of-35 for 217 yards with one touchdown and one interception in the home opener at Raymond James Stadium. But he was only 6-of-12 for 19 yards in the second half.

Arians noted that receiver Scotty Miller and running back LeSean McCoy dropped passes in the end zone, and receiver Cyril Grayson misjudged another sure touchdown pass that struck him in the helmet.

“We dropped about 125 yards worth, about seven drops,” Arians said Monday. “Two touchdowns. Three touchdowns, really. If you put the ball right there and we don’t catch it, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Scotty drop that ball. I know LeSean is going to catch it nine out of 10. The wind did get Cyril a little bit. That ball moved a little bit and it hit him in the head. But the guy has got great hands, and that’s an easy touchdown. That should’ve been three touchdowns. Tom should’ve had a 400-yard game just catching them.”

Entering Monday, Brady ranked 22nd in the league in passing yards (456), 29th in passer rating (79.3) among starters, was tied for 12th in touchdown passes (three) and tied for the third-most interceptions (three).

Of course, those numbers don’t reflect the number of yards gained by pass interference penalties, and they certainly don’t factor in drops.

Related: Tom Brady: ‘We’re going to be building all season'

Arians said that while the wind was partially responsible for the incompletion on the long pass to Grayson, there are no excuses.

“They’re never expected, and they’re never accepted,” Arians said of the dropped balls. “If you’re a professional football player and you play receiver, you’re supposed to catch the damn ball.”

While it’s true Brady was headed for a bigger passing day, it’s debatable exactly how many of his incompletions this season should be classified as drops.

Pro Football Focus says no quarterback has had more passes dropped than Brady but documented eight such bobbles in two games. Miller failed to catch a 21-yarder in the end zone in the first quarter Sunday, but he made a diving effort and saw the ball fall off his outstretched hands before he hit the ground.

Despite the drops, the Bucs scored 31 points, thanks in part to four turnovers forced by their defense.

There is some more good news, however. Receiver Chris Godwin, who missed the game with a concussion, has been cleared to play Sunday at Denver.

Brady also hasn’t helped his own cause. He overthrew tight end Rob Gronkowski on an over-route that resulted in an interception. Since ending his retirement and being traded to the Bucs, Gronkowski has only been targeted four times this season and has two catches for 11 yards.

“We’re not throwing the ball 50 times to the tight ends,” Arians said. “That’s (what) we’ve got receivers for. That’s the way this offense is built.”

Related: Bucs struggling to incorporate tight ends into offense

Brady also had an opportunity to connect with receiver Justin Watson for a touchdown on a flea-flicker pass. Watson got behind the defense by about 12 yards, but Brady badly underthrew him, resulting in a 36-yard gain instead of a touchdown reception.

"Their safeties were very, very aggressive, and it was one of those situations (where) you would have liked to have been able to grab a hold of that ball a little better because that was an easy touchdown,'' Arians said. “Tom got it down there (and) Justin made a nice play on it. It was a good, big chunk for us. We hope to get one or two of those a ballgame.”

Should their receivers continue to drop passes, the Bucs have options. Rookie Tyler Johnson, a fifth-round pick out of Minnesota who missed much of training camp battling a hamstring injury, is playing well on the scout squad.

“He’s getting better and better,” Arians said. “He’s been on the scout team for a while now, and he’s healthy, getting in shape. Took him a while to get him in shape. It will depend strictly on how these other guys play. Justin Watson had such a great camp. Scotty (Miller) has had a great camp. Missing that much time, it’s going to be hard for (Johnson) to break in there. We have a lot of confidence (in him). We know what we have in him, that’s for sure.”

What is Arians' overall message to Bucs pass catchers?

“Don’t drop the damn ball or you won’t get another one,” he said. “He ain’t going to throw it to you.”