Ageless Tom Brady may have to babysit Bucs’ offense until the rookies grow up

Injuries have forced youngsters such as guard Luke Goedeke and tight ends Cade Otton and Ko Kieft to grow up fast as big contributors on offense.
Bucs tight end Cade Otton (88) runs after a catch as Atlanta Falcons linebacker Mykal Walker (3) closes in during last Sunday's game at Raymond James Stadium.
Bucs tight end Cade Otton (88) runs after a catch as Atlanta Falcons linebacker Mykal Walker (3) closes in during last Sunday's game at Raymond James Stadium. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
Published Oct. 13, 2022|Updated Oct. 15, 2022

TAMPA ― The points are down. The patience is almost up.

That’s what happens when a 45-year-old quarterback such as Tom Brady is playing with two rookies at tight end, another at running back, a fourth at left guard and a center in his first year as a starter snapping the football.

“We lose patience,” Bucs offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich said. “I lose patience at 42. So (Brady) loses patience sometimes, but that’s part of it. That’s what we got. He understands that, though. That’s the amazing thing about Tom.

“... When you really see him upset, most of the time it’s at himself. That’s the thing people don’t understand. He’s a football junkie. He knows all the nuances of football. He knows how every situation is going to be. He’s been in these situations before where people playing around him are younger.”

What Brady has had to understand is the veteran-laden offense he tried to surround himself with has been put on ice, nursing injuries from hips to hamstrings.

Center Ryan Jensen could miss the season with a significant knee injury he suffered the second day of training camp. Tight end Cameron Brate is in concussion protocol. Receiver Chris Godwin missed two games with a hamstring injury. Receiver Mike Evans was suspended for one. Tight end Rob Gronkowski and guard Ali Marpet retired.

On and on it goes. The past two years, Brady and the Bucs averaged 30 points per game. This season, they have won by scoring 19, 20 and 21.

Yet somehow, Brady has not let his play be affected. He is first in pass completions (141), third in passing yards (1,409), third in touchdown-interception ratio (7/1), fourth in completion percentage (68.1) and fourth in passing first downs (72).

Brady makes no illusions that he would prefer to be surrounded by experienced players. The only goal is winning the Super Bowl, and the Bucs don’t have any time this season to wait for players to develop.

By the same token, as his passing numbers would suggest, Brady is making the best of playing with the kids.

“I think it’s always tough to put too much on the rookies,” Brady said. “It’s a lot. I just remember when I was a rookie, it was a very challenging time. You just don’t have the experience to kind of make all the right decisions.

“So when you put out veteran players, there’s a degree of confidence you have that even if you may have not have talked about something, they’ll still do it basically the way that you want it. It may not be exactly right, but pretty close. Rookies, it’s hard. There’s a huge learning curve.”

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Even so, the Bucs rookies ― and second-year pro Robert Hainsey at center ― have done a good job of preparing for the roles they’ve been given.

In last Sunday’s 21-15 win over the Falcons, rookie tight end Cade Otton started the game and caught a career-high six passes for 43 yards. Rookie tight end Ko Kieft had no catches but blocked well during the 14 offensive snaps he was called upon.

Rookie running back Rachaad White carried the ball only five times for 14 yards and caught three passes for 28 yards, but he went three-for-three on third-and-1. Even rookie guard Luke Goedeke, who gave up a pressure to the Falcons’ Grady Jarrett on the first play and was beaten for a sack that drew a controversial roughing-the-passer penalty, has cut down on mistakes each week.

“I think they’re all getting better, because they’re getting live game reps,” Leftwich said. “Ko and Cade, man, I mean right? That’s a tough position. Tight end rookies, they don’t come in, I don’t care where they were drafted or what round, they normally don’t come in and play as much as these two are playing. You can trust them.

“I think the more reps Rachaad gets, you’ll see his skill set show more and more. But these guys earned it. ... We didn’t give them anything, We gave them an opportunity to prove themselves, and they’ve done that.”

To their credit, the Bucs rookies haven’t looked overwhelmed with darting eyes waiting to see where the next ambush is coming from.

“He’s been very patient, and hat’s off to him,” Otton said of Brady. “He’s seen a lot of football, a lot of great players, and coming in as a rookie you think you have to be that perfect right away. He’s made it very clear, you don’t have to be perfect. Things are going to happen, you’ve just got to keep moving on and keep trying to get better. ”

Meanwhile, Brady knows he has to find a way to win games playing with the kids while hoping they grow up fast.

“Byron does a great job of making sure when they’re in there, they’re doing things that we’re all confident in them doing and not putting people in positions to not do well,” Brady said. “You got to do the best you can do. Every team has young players, every team has veteran players, every team has guys who haven’t played much. ... You wish you had a veteran group that could play every play for 16 weeks, 17 weeks, but that’s not the reality.

“The guys we have in there are doing a good job, and we’re going to keep pushing and keep trying to keep the pressure on everybody to try to make us a better football team.”

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