Tom Brady's mistake-prone Buccaneers debut shows competent football isn't as easy as Patriots make it look

Tom Brady’s first interception was intended for Tampa Bay teammate Mike Evans. When Brady let it rip, he threw it to Marshon Lattimore, who plays for New Orleans. Brady thought Evans should keep going deep. Evans, correctly it turned out, thought the Saints’ coverage called for him to stop. So he did.

“Mike read it right,” Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians said.

The second one was an outlet that Brady telegraphed so hard that the Saints’ Janoris Jenkins jumped the route, intercepted the ball and took it 36 yards the other way for a touchdown.

“Bad decision,” Arians said.

Tom Brady looks up and pouts while holding his helmet.

It was mostly bad all around for Brady and the Buccaneers on Sunday. Tampa didn’t just lose its highly anticipated season opener 34-23, but the Bucs did it by repeatedly making silly mistakes.

On paper, the Brady-led Tampa Bay offense looked potent. In practice, well, it needs practice.

“It doesn’t matter how much talent you have if you throw interceptions returned for touchdowns,” said Brady, who finished 23 of 36 for 239 yards, two passing touchdowns and quarterback-sneak TD, with three sacks and those two picks.

No one should write off the Brady Era Bucs quite yet. Please be reasonable. There are still a lot of weapons there. It was their first game together. The lack of a preseason didn’t help. New Orleans is the bully of the NFC South for a reason.

Besides, this is Brady. He always makes a comeback.

Turnovers, mistakes doom Buccaneers

To do so, however, requires improvement, and not just by the quarterback. This was a team loss if there ever was one. Bad execution. Turnovers. Dumb penalties. A blocked field goal. Terrible field position.

At one point, two Bucs collided trying to receive a kickoff, causing a critical fumble that the Saints used to bust the game open. Another time, on fourth-and-2, Saints QB Drew Brees easily baited them into jumping offsides to extend the series which led to a field goal.

“You never go backward for a football,” Arians said of the kickoff fumble. “You learn that [expletive] in high school …”

As for the offsides, “we practice fourth-and-short, and we haven’t jumped offside a million times,” Arians said. “Guys are telling each other not to jump offsides. And we jump offsides. That’s unexplainable to me.”

“Three turnovers,” Brady said, summing it up. “They didn’t have any. We had penalties, they didn’t have many.”

Any hot take that deems Brady as too old and ineffective or the Buccaneers’ experiment doomed for failure is nothing but ridiculous. However, there is an unanswered question when it comes to Brady.

Does Tom Brady need Bill Belichick’s bubble to be successful?

For two decades, he has been brilliant. He also benefited from playing inside Bill Belichick’s bubble of fundamentals and smart football.

It’s not that New England never experienced a self-inflicted loss over the past two decades. It did. Plenty.

But it’s fair to say no one in the NFL minimized mistakes over that period like the Patriots. More notably, when they did, they often quickly corrected the errors and won the next week. New England seemed to always find a way (“all three phases,” Belichick often said). They rarely caused their own defeat.

“The Saints didn’t do some of the things we did to ourselves,” Arians said.

So what now? In New England, there were plenty of nights when Brady didn’t have to “win” the game as much as be part of winning the game. Sometimes it was the defense. Sometimes it was the run game. Sometimes it was special teams. Sometimes it was Belichick. A lot of times, actually.

In Foxborough on Sunday, the Patriots won 21-11 thanks, in part, to committing just three penalties and zero turnovers (while forcing three from the Miami Dolphins).

Cam Newton needed to throw for 155 yards (on an efficient 15 of 19 attempts) and rush for 75 more and two touchdowns to lead the Patriots to the relatively easy win. It was far from perfect, but it was a pretty efficient, workmanlike New England win. And, yes, Miami stinks and New Orleans is great, but still …

Brady may be surrounded by a lot more skill in Tampa. He may need every bit of it. Neither he nor this bevy of weapons is enough to overcome self-inflicted mistakes.

This will work only if Tampa plays better. It’s not as easy as New England makes it look.

“We’re just going to have to get back to work,” Brady said. “Today wasn’t good enough. I just have to think about what I need to do [because] what I did do wasn’t good enough. … It’s going to be about our mental toughness, our urgency, how hard we work in practice.”

There’s a long season to go. But the challenge for Tampa is clear; the Bucs can be really, really good, but they won’t get there if they don’t get a lot smarter and a lot sounder.

“Not turning the ball over is a good place to start,” Brady said.

Tampa hosts Carolina next week. That one may tell us a lot.

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