The Tampa Bay Buccaneers may have parted ways with former first overall draft pick Jameis Winston after five seasons because of turnovers. Yet with Winston in a New Orleans Saints uniform Sunday, it was new quarterback Tom Brady who struggled and turned the ball over in his Buccaneers debut.
The six-time Super Bowl winner threw two interceptions, including a pick-six, in a 34-23 loss to the host Saints.
“I’ve lost plenty of games in my career,” Brady said. “I know I don’t like it. But it happens. We just gotta do a better job.”
Brady completed 23 of 36 passes for 239 yards and two touchdowns, and he had a third touchdown on the ground. His first score of the day — a 2-yard QB keeper up the middle to make it 7-0 in the first quarter — was set up by a beautiful play-action pass to Chris Godwin for 29 yards.
But his two picks were costly. The first was the result of a miscommunication with wide receiver Mike Evans, who was bracketed heavily throughout the game and rendered catchless until the fourth quarter. The second interception came on a pass thrown too far behind Justin Watson on the outside that was returned for a touchdown by Janoris Jenkins.
But 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 — for a 2-yard touchdown in the corner of the end zone.
“It felt like a scrimmage out there,” Brady said. “But obviously it counts. And I think we’re all disappointed it didn’t go our way. … We gotta look at each other in the eye. Work harder, put more urgency on the things we have to do. Get back to work and do a better job.”
Brady tried to temper expectations this week, acknowledging that he still had work to do in learning coach Bruce Arians’ offense and that the unit 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, he really was being realistic.
“We didn’t do anything that great on offense today,” Brady said. “We made a few plays but, in the end, we’re all going to wish we had a lot of plays back. Certainly I do.”
Brady wasn’t alone in his struggles Sunday. He was sacked three times. Left tackle Donovan Smith, who has been plagued by inconsistencies throughout his career, struggled in pass protection, as did rookie right tackle Tristan Wirfs. And they weren’t able to maintain a consistent ground game, with Ronald Jones II finishing with 66 rushing yards on 17 carries and Leonard Fournette getting 5 yards on five carries.
Special teams were equally disastrous. A 54-yard field goal attempt by Succup 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, and the Saints’ Bennie Fowler recovered the ball at the Tampa Bay 18.
The Bucs also were plagued by penalties — something they led the league in last season — with nine for 103 yards.