The Tampa Bay Buccaneers might have parted ways with former No. 1 overall draft pick Jameis Winston after five seasons because of turnovers. Yet with Winston now in a Saints uniform, it was new quarterback Tom Brady who struggled and turned over the ball in his Buccaneers debut Sunday.
The six-time Super Bowl winner threw two interceptions, including a pick-six, in a 34-23 loss to the host New Orleans Saints. It was just his fourth loss in a season opener. And it was the third consecutive game in which he threw a pick-six (last season’s AFC wild-card game vs. the Tennessee Titans and a Week 17 loss to the Miami Dolphins, both while with the Patriots).
It marked Brady’s first multi-interception game in an opener since 2003 (he threw four interceptions against the Bills in Week 1) and his first pick-six in an opener since 2009.
« It’s a game of execution. Obviously they made more plays than we did, and I made just some bad, terrible turnovers, » said Brady, who, at age 43, made his 325th career start, the most regular-season and postseason combined starts in NFL history. « It’s hard to win, turning the ball over like that. So I’ve obviously gotta do a lot better job. »
Brady completed 23 of 36 passes for 239 yards and two touchdowns, while scoring a third on the ground. The rush — a 2-yard QB keeper up the middle — was set up by a play-action, 29-yard pass to Chris Godwin to make it 7-0.
« He came out, lighting it up, went down the field and scored a touchdown, so I wouldn’t say he was out of sync at all ’til we started screwing it up, » coach Bruce Arians said.
But his two picks were costly. The first was the result of miscommunication with wide receiver Mike Evans, who was bracketed heavily throughout the game and rendered catchless until the fourth quarter. The second came on a pass thrown too far behind Justin Watson on the outside that was returned for a touchdown by Janoris Jenkins.
« One was a miscommunication between him and Mike, » Arians said. « He thought Mike was going down the middle. It’s a different coverage, Mike read it right and should have been across his face, but Tom just overthrew it. And the other was a screen pass with an outlet called, and he threw the outlet and it was a pick-six. Bad decision. »
Including the playoffs, Tom Brady became the 4th quarterback (5th instance) to throw a pick-six in 3 straight games over the last 20 seasons:
Immediately after the pick-six, Brady found tight end O.J. Howard in the corner of the end zone for a 9-yard touchdown to make it 24-14, before a 38-yard field goal by Ryan Succop brought the Bucs within one score. Brady also connected with Evans — who played despite a hamstring injury — on a late touchdown throw to the corner of the end zone.
Brady tried to temper expectations last week, acknowledging he still had work to do in learning Arians’ offense, and the offense still had a ways to go when it came to communication and getting on the same page. When it seemed like he was being modest — especially after strong outings in the Bucs’ two team scrimmages — perhaps he was really being honest that he still has a ways to go in terms of acclimating to a new team and system, especially in the absence of an offseason and a preseason.
« There’s no excuses — we’re the only ones that can do something about it, » Brady said. « The Saints kinda played how they always play, they did a good job on offense. We hung our defense out to dry on some short fields, with not moving the ball, not doing very well on third down at certain times. The turnovers really hurt us. We’ve gotta clean that up for next week. We’ve gotta do a lot better job. »
Brady, who was sacked three times, wasn’t alone in his struggles. Left tackle Donovan Smith, who has been plagued by inconsistencies throughout his career, struggled in pass protection, and rookie right tackle Tristan Wirfs had an up-and-down game battling Cam Jordan. And the Bucs weren’t able to maintain a consistent ground game, with Ronald Jones II finishing with 66 rushing yards on 17 carries and Leonard Fournette rushing for 5 yards on five carries.
The Bucs’ special teams also struggled. A 54-yard field goal attempt by Succop was blocked by Margus Hunt in the second quarter and recovered at the New Orleans 45. And in the fourth quarter, Jaydon Mickens and Mike Edwards collided on a kick return, recovered by Bennie Fowler at the Tampa Bay 18. The Bucs also were plagued by penalties — something they led the league with last season — with nine for 103 yards.
« After the way we practiced the last two weeks, I would never thought I’d see us have that many penalties, turnovers, just basic, mental errors that really cost us when we got back in the game, in the coverage, » Arians said. « It’s round one. We’ve lost round one and we’ll get ready for round two. »
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