TAMPA — You don’t think Tom Brady can be any better than he was in his first season with the Bucs? Hold my avocado tequila.
Not only did he win Super Bowl 55 during a pandemic, learning a new offense and teammates, but now we know Brady added to his legend by playing with a torn medial collateral ligament.
It was a knee injury he sustained in his final season with the Patriots. Brady decided to gut it out and passed for 4,633 yards with 40 touchdowns and 12 interceptions during the regular season, then added 1,061 yards with 10 touchdowns and three interceptions in the playoffs.
Imagine if he had two healthy legs. Now you can. Brady is expected to make a full recovery and won’t have to spend as much time getting his knee in shape to play on Sundays.
The last thing opponents want to hear is that Brady, who turns 44 on Aug. 3, is getting better with age. But there’s little evidence to the contrary.
Brady has never made plays outside the pocket or used his legs to pick up yards. But toward the end of the 2020 season, he had to miss some practice time to rest his barking knee.
For a guy who is such a gym rat, more time on task means Brady can spend more time in the film room or working with teammates.
Here are four more reasons to feel great about the GOAT:
Giovani Bernard provides Brady with a receiving running back
No matter what you say about the two-headed monster of Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette at running back, neither does a very good job as a pass catcher. In fact, they had seven drops apiece last season (more than Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, Rob Gronkowski and Scotty Miller combined), many on third down.
Few quarterbacks have utilized running backs in the passing game as much as Brady.
In New England, he always leaned heavily on the guy who could take a check down on third down and move the chains. Give Brady three more plays and he will get you in the end zone. Take his last three years with the Patriots as an example. Brady completed 111 passes to running backs in 2019, 108 in 2018 and 118 in 2017.
The Bucs didn’t ignore that fact. They knew Brady needed a pass-catching running back and they got one: Bengals free agent Giovani Bernard.
A former high school teammate of Patriots running back James White, Bernard is exactly what the Bucs’ offense lacked. He has 342 career catches for 2,867 yards and 11 touchdowns. We’re not talking about simple screens or swing passes. Bernard can split out wide and run the entire route tree.
Brady is going to feel a lot more comfortable knowing he has an explosive safety valve if teams try to take away the deep ball.
Antonio Brown will be available for 17 games
Brown didn’t join the Bucs until he was finished serving an eight-game suspension for violating the NFL’s player conduct policy. It took him some time to not only become integrated into the offense, but also to work himself into football shape.
Brown got better each week. He caught 45 passes for 483 yards and four touchdowns in eight games during the regular season. In the playoffs, Brown added eight catches for 81 yards and two touchdowns, including one in Super Bowl 55.
At 33, Brown keeps himself in remarkable shape and gives Brady a quick-twitch receiver who can make yards after the catch. Give him 17 games and he’s likely to produce a 1,000-yard season.
The Juice is back
O.J. Howard was off to arguably his best season as a pro. The tight end spent a lot of time gaining Brady’s trust before an Achilles tendon rupture in a comeback win over the Chargers ended his season.
Howard has recommitted himself in terms of his passion and precision. He will play under the club’s fifth-year option, meaning it’s a contract year. No one will be more motivated.
An understanding with Byron Leftwich
The Bucs’ young coordinator knows Arians’ offense inside and out. The problem is, he doesn’t know what Brady knows. Brady has 21 years of experience under center and has all the answers to the test.
After one season together, Leftwich is smart enough to turn the game-planning over to his quarterback. Regardless, they have a much better understanding of what the collaboration looks like and a base line to build it back even better.
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