TAMPA ― Seventeen points per game. That’s how many the Bucs are producing so far this season.
Tom Brady’s offense has reached the end zone only three times in 35 possessions ― excluding a kneel-down at New Orleans ― or one TD per game.
They have not scored a touchdown in the first half of any game this season.
For a franchise that averaged 29.9 points in 2021 and 30.8 in the Super Bowl 55 championship season of 2020, this would have been unthinkable a few months ago.
But as the Bucs prepare to play Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday at Raymond James Stadium, everyone seems to be wondering what has gone so wrong for the Bucs’ offense.
“I think we’re all disappointed by the fact that we haven’t scored as many points as I think we’re all capable of scoring,” Brady said. “... It comes down to a lot of different things — penalties, turnovers — and it’s making the right play, executing the play. If we do that, I believe we’ll score points.”
On the other hand, maybe everyone should just take a chill pill.
If you’re looking for answers to the Bucs’ offensive drought, consider injuries and inexperience, too. Maybe add a different head-coaching philosophy and perhaps a dash of hubris.
“The big thing for me is take a breath,” said former Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett, a studio analyst for NBC. “Let the whole thing play out a little bit, let (Brady) get some of his guys back, both up front and the skill guys around him. Help him get more acclimated with some of the new guys he’s had, and there’s no doubt in my mind that thing will be humming in no time.”
Certainly, the Bucs aren’t playing off the same sheet of music.
Last Sunday’s 14-12 loss to the Packers was the result of turnovers and Brady not having enough of his frontline guys.
Wide receiver Mike Evans was suspended. Receivers Chris Godwin (hamstring) and Julio Jones (knee), and left tackle Donovan Smith (hyperextended elbow) didn’t play and will be game-time decisions Sunday.
Only Brady, running back Leonard Fournette and right tackle Tristan Wirfs were among the full-time starters that had the same role in 2021.
“Doing it with skill players not at 100 percent or out of the game completely,” said former Bucs quarterback Chris Simms, a co-host on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football.” “Teammates you haven’t head of on the offensive line. It hasn’t been pretty, but I wouldn’t say I’m worried.”
The offensive line has been rebuilt, and it’s clear the Bucs do not yet trust the pass protection.
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Center Robert Hainsey, rookie guard Luke Goedeke and even veteran guard Shaq Mason are new this season.
With Smith injured, Seminole High’s Brandon Walton made his first NFL start against the Packers and contributed false-start and holding penalties while giving up a sack.
“It’s different, because when you’re not healthy and you’re playing some new guys, some youthful guys — you looked in the huddle and eight of our 11 (players) were different,” offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich said. “That always takes time as a group.”
Leftwich took the blame for the delay-of-game penalty on a two-point conversion try that could have tied the game and sent it to overtime. The whole operation was slow once the Bucs broke the huddle, but it was Hainsey who snapped the ball late.
“Either way, whatever the problem was,” Leftwich said, “it’s all my responsibility.”
Then again, the low point total may also be the byproduct of a deliberative change in philosophy.
Whereas Bruce Arians preferred a pass-heavy offense with Brady leading the NFL with 719 attempts and 5,316 yards and 43 TDs, new head coach Todd Bowles is striving for more balance to protect his offensive line and — more importantly ― protect Brady.
“No one understands how to win more than he does,” Garrett said of Brady. “If you reflect on his 20 years in New England, they won different ways in all those years. Early on, it was more defense. They ran the ball. Then, all of a sudden Randy Moss shows up and (Brady) is throwing for 50 touchdowns. Then they have a different cast, they figure it out.
“One thing people have a misconception about: I’ve always believed that he loves a strong running game. ... If you can spread the burden around within your offense between run and pass, between your offense and defense and kicking game, that’s how the best teams function and that’s why they win, and he’s been part of that more than anybody in the history of the game.”
Simms agrees: “I’m not sure this new style in the long run might not be best for the football team when it’s all said and done.”
As for Brady, it’s unusual to see him ranked so low with 673 passing yards (22nd), three TDs (tied for 19th), and an 89.2 quarterback rating (tied for 18th).
Why aren’t the Bucs more worried? They have a chance to go to 3-1 Sunday.
“That’s why I love football,” Brady said. “It’s a team sport. There’s nobody that ever points fingers. You show up every day, you put the work in, you do the best you can do, and you win as a team and you lose as a team. That’s what I love about this team, and it’s been that way since the day I got here.”
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