If you believe Tom Brady can no longer play like the quarterback who piloted the Bucs to a victory in Super Bowl 55, well, it’s true.
The Bucs’ 23-16 win Saturday at Houston in the final preseason game proved that.
At 44, he may be better.
After a shaky first series, Brady connected on his next 10 pass attempts and led the Bucs on touchdown drives of 91 and 93 yards before taking a seat early in the second quarter.
Brady finished 11 of 14 passing for 154 yards, including a 24-yard touchdown to receiver Chris Godwin.
“I thought it was a great run-pass,” Bucs coach Bruce Arians said. “The first (drive) was a no-huddle and something we’ve been wanting to get into and get going. Tom did a great job, and great protection and guys were where they were supposed to be. Then, ‘Ro’ (Ronald Jones) started running really well, and it was another really good drive of mixing it up.
“I was very, very pleased.”
Godwin caught three passes for 84 yards. The second-team defense got interceptions from cornerbacks Dee Delaney (two) and Herb Miller, and rookie Joe Tryon-Shoyinka forced a fumble that was recovered by Khalil Davis.
Brady and the starters had only played six snaps this preseason, so Saturday’s game was their time to get game-ready prior to the NFL regular-season opener against the Dallas Cowboys Sept. 9 at Raymond James Stadium.
The game couldn’t have started much worse for the Bucs.
Antonio Brown jumped offsides on the first play, Ronald Jones was dropped for a 3-yard loss, Brady fired incomplete to Brown and Giovani Bernard dropped a pass.
“I think any time you play you learn something,” Brady said. “I’ve been doing this a long time, but I don’t think you take anything for granted. You have to get the real reps. You have to get the real crowd noise. You have to get the real game clock. You’ve got to get the real situations, and the more you do that a a team, the better you′re going to be as the pressure mounts.”
Perhaps sensing they were running out of time to get into rhythm, Brady went to the hurry-up.
Utilizing the no-huddle offense to perfection, he completed all seven of his passing attempts on the second drive, capping a 91-yard drive with the TD to Godwin.
Brady was nearly as impressive on the Bucs’ next try on offense.
The Bucs took over on downs at their own 7-yard line, and Brady fired 32 yards to Godwin. That ignited a 93-yard march, with Ronald Jones high-stepping into the end zone after a 13-yard run.
Brady has had an outstanding training camp and has demonstrated a complete mastery of the Bucs’ offense.
This time a year ago, he was still learning the terminology and getting acquainted with new teammates.
But on Saturday, he was decisive and extremely accurate, spreading the football around to Godwin, Mike Evans, O.J. Howard and Brown.
General manager Jason Licht said the defending champions are ready for the Dallas Cowboys.
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“Yeah, we feel good about it,” Licht said on the WFLA Channel 8 broadcast. “You know, this is a great group here. Not only great players, but just a great, close-knit group. A lot of fun to coach and a lot of fun to be around. These guys are just very motivated to repeat. I’m not making any predictions here, but they’re all very motivated here.”
Defensively, their tackling needs to improve, but that can be expected this time of year. But they forced five more turnovers Saturday.
Tryon-Shoyinka may be the steal of the draft, and he had another big game Saturday.
“I was very, very pleased,” Arians said. “Obviously, getting five turnovers, but stopping them on all those fourth downs. That was obviously a totally different game when their kicker was injured. I thought our defense, again, we got Joe some more work. He needed some more work, and Anthony (Nelson) and got them out of there.”
There was some sloppy play, too. Rookie Jaelon Darden ran a bad route and Blaine Gabbert threw an interception. A bad snap by rookie center Robert Hainsey led to Gabbert being tackled in the end zone for a safety.
Kyle Trask threw his first TD pass of the preseason to tight end Codey McElroy and finished 12 of 14 for 146 yards with no interceptions.
It will be quite a scene when the Bucs begin defense of their Super Bowl title in less than two weeks. Of course, Raymond James will be packed. It’s time to go for two.