Tom Brady was a lot more frustrated and concerned than most quarterbacks are after a 14-point win.
He should have had every reason to smile. The Buccaneers' 31-17 win over the Panthers Sunday was never in doubt. Brady threw a beautiful touchdown pass to Mike Evans, and coach Bruce Arians was nothing but positive about Brady’s performance, calling it “outstanding.”
Yet Brady didn’t seem overly pleased, even as his new team avenged last week’s loss to the Saints and improved to 1-1. The Bucs' win just wasn’t as crisp as Brady would have preferred.
“Execution was a little bit better,” he said. “I think we still are a long ways from where we need to be. I think consistency and dependability are going to be things that we really need. We’ve got to get back to work, and the clock’s ticking on next week.”
Brady had a modest day against one of the NFL’s worst teams, completing 23-of-35 passes for 217 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. He and the Bucs jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the first half, with Brady throwing for 198 yards. On the first play following a Panthers interception, Brady hit Evans on a 23-yard touchdown down the left sideline on a beautiful back-shoulder throw. After connecting for just one catch in the season-opening loss, Brady hit Evans seven times for 104 yards, including the touchdown and a 50-yard catch-and-run.
“It wasn’t a lot of double teams this week, a lot of zone, and Tom was just picking it apart,” Evans said.
But not in the second half, as Brady only completed 6-of-12 passes for 19 yards. His first throw of the third quarter sailed over Rob Gronkowski’s head and was intercepted, letting the Panthers get back in the game. A 21-0 lead turned into 24-17 late in the fourth quarter before running back Leonard Fournette put the game away with a 46-yard touchdown run.
And the Bucs generally were sloppy all day. In addition to the interception, Brady lost a fumble on a handoff. And the comment about consistency and dependability may have been a nod to the two sure touchdowns that were dropped by Scotty Miller and LeSean McCoy.
“We’ve had a lot of self-inflicted errors the first two games and we’ve got to clean those up,” Brady said. “Defense played great the first two games, and we’ve got to match them. We’ve got a lot of improvement to make in a short period of time.”
But Arians, who caught heat last week for publicly criticizing Brady’s decision-making on a couple of interceptions, had nothing but glowing comments about Brady on Sunday.
“I thought he played outstanding. His leadership on the sideline was great,” Arians said.
What did Brady say on the sideline?
“Without censorship, you can’t talk about it,” Arians said.
Gronkowski, who had two catches for 11 yards in the opener, was a non-factor against the Panthers. He had no catches on one official target, and his only contributions were drawing a questionable pass interference penalty, and pouncing on an onside kick at the end of the game.
The 1-1 Bucs play next week in Denver, where Brady is 4-7 in his career. Brady sounded like a quarterback who knows he has a lot of work to do this week.
“Our communication’s got to continue to improve,” Brady said. “We’ve got a big challenge this week. We’ve got to learn from this one and move on and put things to bed and get ready for next week.”