Opinion: Tom Brady can’t measure up to his old self when Buccaneers need him most

TAMPA, Fla. – For so many years, Tom Brady was money with the ball in his hand in crunch time. 

Not so much now. 

The latest example came with the game on the line on Monday night and Brady, the legend with six Super Bowl rings, overthrew Cameron Brate for, well, a “perfect” interception that landed in the arms of rookie safety Jordan Fuller. 

Game over. Bucs lose again. The ghost of Jameis Winston haunts them again. 

“Bad read,” Brady grumbled after the 27-24 setback to the Los Angeles Rams. “Bad throw. Bad decision. Everything.” 

There was Brady, trying to explain what went wrong again. In this case, he saw the safety at the last second and, in trying account for the sighting, sailed the ball. But even before that last fateful throw, nothing seemed automatic about Brady leading the Bucs to a last-minute victory (or even a game-tying score to set up overtime) given how rocky things were all night. Turns out that it was another prime-time deflation for Brady, which has become part of the deal since he joined the Bucs last spring and fueled all sorts of hope that a downtrodden franchise was poised to join the ranks of the contenders.  

Hey, maybe they will make a playoff dash this season after all. The Bucs (7-4) will be hard-pressed to catch the New Orleans Saints (8-2) for the NFC South crown, but they are at least holding an NFC wild-card slot at the moment. That’s still significant progress for a franchise that hasn’t been in the playoffs for 13 years. 

Yet with Brady in tow, merely reaching the postseason is not the objective. 

Brady was brought to town to win the big games like the one on Monday night – and the big games like the upcoming showdown on Sunday against the defending Super Bowl-champion Kansas City Chiefs. 

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) reacts after throwing an interception to Los Angeles Rams strong safety Jordan Fuller during the second half of an NFL football game Monday, Nov. 23, 2020, in Tampa, Fla. (Photo: Jason Behnken, AP)

Sure, the Bucs put a number on the Green Bay Packers a few weeks ago, and they went to Las Vegas and ran the tables on the Raiders. But they had that loss at Chicago when Brady apparently lost track of the downs at the finish. And they were swept by the Saints, including an embarrassing showing in prime time that also marked the worst-rated passing performance of Brady’s career. 

No, it’s not all on Brady. Leonard Fournette kept dropping passes on Monday night. The protection was spotty. The Bucs' secondary missed an abundance of tackles as receivers Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp combined for 23 catches and 275 yards, while Jared Goff repeatedly burned the blitzes on a 376-yard night. 

But Brady didn’t have his A-game, either. 

Too bad, Tampa Bay. The TB12 hype has turned into a super-sized tease. 

“We had plenty of chances,” said Brady, whose 62.5 passer rating was his second-lowest of the season. He threw 48 passes, completing 26 for 216 yards. Not very efficient. 

“We’ve got to get it fixed,” Brady said. 

That’s not the first time it’s been said this season. The Bucs have assembled an array of new pieces, including Antonio Brown, Rob Gronkowski and Fournette. But 11 games into the season, you’d think the growing pains might have morphed into better consistency. 

“It’s super frustrating, especially with the talent we have,” Brate said. 

The Bucs drilled the Carolina Panthers in Week 10. Earlier this season, they had a big comeback to douse the Los Angeles Chargers. They squeaked past the New York Giants, too, for their only prime-time W this season. Yet except for the smashing of the Packers, they have not measured up at all against the better competition. 

And Kansas City’s next. 

No, panic is not the word. But the typically blunt coach, Bruce Arians, knows what Monday night’s loss has done to the margin of error for his team. 

“Very slim,” Arians said. “This was a big one. The next one’s even bigger.” 

One team’s misery, though, is another’s joy. 

The Rams (7-3) just pulled into a first-place tie with the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West and hold a tiebreaker edge thanks to a victory over Pete Carroll's crew. Coming on the road to beat Brady and a team fortified with the NFL’s third-ranked defense marked a signature win. 

And who knew it would be Goff and not Brady winning with a clutch drive at the end? 

Sure, we’ve seen Goff produce big numbers in Sean McVay’s creative offense, which was on full display in keeping the Bucs off-balance with an array of misdirection plays, pre-snap motion, jet sweeps and other features. 

Yet McVay left Raymond James Stadium bursting with pride in Goff’s poise with the game on the line. The quarterback started the game-winning drive by connecting with Woods on a slant for 23 yards, then moved the Rams into field goal range with a 19-yard completion to Kupp. 

“Jared kept demonstrating resilience,” McVay said, alluding to the stress of the night. 

Still, McVay didn’t put it on Goff to make one more big throw on a third-and-8 from the Bucs' 22. He called a run to Malcolm Brown, essentially setting up a 40-yard field goal that turned out to be the game-winner. He put it on Matt Gay — a kicker signed late last week and who missed a 44-yard try in the third quarter — and on the Rams defense. 

Think about that. There was a time, during Brady’s best years with the New England Patriots (and there were many) when a coach would feel there was no choice but to try to score a touchdown rather than settling for three, with TB12 on the other side. 

Maybe McVay played a hunch that this isn’t that Tom Brady. At least not yet in a Bucs uni. 

Brady, the 199th player selected as a sixth-round pick in the 2000 NFL draft, has had so many fairytale ends.  

But on Monday night, it turns out that he was intercepted for the second time in the game by Fuller, a rookie who was the 199th player chosen in the most recent draft. 

Money, it turns out, can come with a cruel twist of irony. 

Follow Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.

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