Like a father, screaming at the disappointing behavior of his children – which, age-difference wise, is actually technically possible – Tom Brady stood over his offensive line and, to put it in the most polite terms, demanded better play.
Brady, 45, had a point. He was in the process of getting sacked twice in a game where Tampa Bay gained just 75 yards rushing (on 26 attempts) and lost to a previously struggling Pittsburgh team. The Bucs fell to 3-3. They looked worse than that.
“It’s a bad day when there’s more f-bombs than touchdowns,” Brady joked on his “Let’s Go” podcast Monday. “So that was not one of my better days.”
And it may be his worst season.
“There’s no way he’s enjoying this, no way,” Ben Roethlisberger, the former Steelers quarterback and Brady rival who, despite being five years Brady’s junior, is retired, said on his own podcast.
It hasn’t looked like Brady has had much fun this entire year. He retired last winter only to unretire in an effort to make a final run at an eighth Super Bowl title.
Brady is still playing at a high level. He’s completing 67.2 percent of his passes for a respectable 6.7 yards per attempt. He’s thrown just one interception, against eight touchdowns.
It’s particularly good when you consider this Tampa Bay team bears little resemblance to the one that took the Lombardi Trophy two seasons ago or led the Los Angeles Rams until the final seconds of the divisional round a season ago.
But for Brady, who is in the midst of high-profile personal life issues, this can’t sit well. He isn’t playing for fame or fortune at this point. This is about only winning and no one knows if the Bucs can win.
In training camp he took 11 days off for personal issues and declared, “I’m 45 years old, man. There’s a lot of [expletive] going on. “
Pretty much every 45-year-old, let alone father of three, nodded. It’s just no one else is trying to quarterback an NFL team.
Brady’s competitiveness and dedication has always set him apart. When he played for the New England Patriots, he was famously the first player at Gillette Stadium almost every morning. He was relentless with film study, extra throwing and anything he could see as an advantage. His regimented diet di lui would extend throughout the offseason.
It’s clear that personal life and personal relationships were secondary.
“I almost look at like a football season like you’re going away on deployment in the military, and it’s like, ‘Man, here I go again,” Brady said. “Whatever you may say, ‘Ah, man, I want to make sure I spend a little more time doing this during the season,’ the reality is when it comes down to it, your competitiveness takes over.
“And as much as you want to have this playful balance with the work balance – you’re going to end up doing exactly what you’ve always done, which is why you are who you are,” he continued. “You’re going to go: ‘How the [expletive] do I get it done? What do I have to do for my teammates to get it done? ‘ “
That sounds fun only if it works, and Brady has made it work more than any football player ever.
If it isn’t working? That has to be a new one for Brady. His only losing season of him was his rookie year, when he was a backup on the 5-11 Pats. Since then, 19 of the 20 seasons he was healthy, he led his team to at least 10 wins (the other went 9-7).
This team is missing Brady’s favorite safety blanket, the retired Rob Gronkowski. The wide receiver depth is a problem. Injuries are everywhere.
There are five new starters and the offensive line is a mess. There is no run game to speak of – of Tampa’s 1,992 yards gained this season, just 405 have come on the ground. That’s just 20 percent, lowest in the league. So they are reliant on the passing game, yet Brady’s time in the pocket before feeling pressure – 2.1 seconds – is also a league worst.
Brady can cuss his line out all day, every day, but that may not solve the core issue. This just may be the middling team that a .500 record in a lousy division suggests.
If neither your work nor home life is going well, if even in the best of times the commitment to football is described as a military deployment, if you’re older than everyone, your old buddies are retired, and you are not sure how to get the new guys to improve, yeah, this can’t be all that enjoyable.
“It just didn’t look fun for him,” Roethlisberger said.
Changing that may require Brady’s greatest magic act yet.