When Buccaneers Need him Most, Tom Brady Can’t Measure Up to his Old Self

Rams defensive end Aaron Donald sends Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady flying after a pass attempt during Monday’s game in Tampa, Fla. Brady was 26 of 48 for 216 yards with two TDs and two interceptions as Los Angeles beat Tampa Bay, 27-24. Mark LoMoglio/Associated Press

For so many years, Tom Brady was money with the ball in his hand in crunchtime.

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 to 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.

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.

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SOURCE: USA Today, Jarrett Bell

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