Numbers don’t always tell the tale, and this applies even to universally acknowledged Greatest of All Time Tom Brady. The 22-year veteran owns just about every significant offensive record in the National Football League (NFL), and the seven Super Bowl titles to his name shows that he has made the most of his singular accomplishments. And, even at 45, he continues to rewrite the books; the other day, he became the only player in the sport to reach 100,000 passing yards, a feat made all the more remarkable by the fact that second-running Drew Brees is close to 15,000 yards behind. That said, there’s a reason the Buccaneers don’t have a winning record after Week Nine, and he’d be the first to admit he isn’t pulling his weight as much these days.
For the season, Brady has a pacesetting touchdown-to-interception ratio of 10:1, which is good. He also happens to preside over an attack that cannot produce enough points to win with consistency, which is bad. The Buccaneers’ total yardage is closer to the bottom of the NFL than the top, and their 18 points-per-game norm is eighth worst in the league. True, it’s hard to pin all the blame on him when he isn’t being given every chance to succeed. For one thing, he’s under center of a quick-passing style that doesn’t play to their strengths. For another, he has to toil through poor playcalling from the get-go, and especially down the stretch.
It’s fair to argue that the Buccaneers did extremely well to engineer a 60-yard game-winning drive with 44 seconds left on the clock and no timeouts at their disposal. Unfortunately, it’s the exception to the rule this season, and executed against the equally underperforming Rams. Which was probably why Brady could not help but celebrate in the aftermath. “That was awesome,” he exclaimed in his post-mortem at the podium. “That was f—ing awesome!” And it was, in large measure because he avoided having his first four-contest losing streak in two decades.
The Buccaneers should thank their lucky stars they’re in the NFL’s weakest division. They could conceivably end up with a losing slate and yet make the playoffs. If they want another deep run, however, they need to get their acts together — from head coach Todd Bowles to offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich to, yes, Brady himself. From design to execution, they simply have to be better. And whether they can improve to the point of exceeding themselves will determine their fate.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.