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 now in a Saints uniform Sunday, it was new quarterback Tom Brady who struggled and turned the ball over in his Buccaneers debut.
Brady completed 23 of 36 passes for 239 yards, two touchdowns and a third touchdown on the ground. His first — a 2-yard QB keeper up the middle — was set up by a beautiful play-action 29-yard pass to Chris Godwin to make it 7-0.
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 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. He also connected with Evans — who played despite a hamstring injury — on a touchdown throw to the corner of the end zone.
Brady tried to temper expectations this week, acknowledging that he still had work to do in learning Bruce 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, he was really being realistic.
But he wasn’t alone in his struggles. 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 finishing with 66 rushing yards on 17 carries and Leonard Fournette 5 rushing yards on five carries.
Special teams was equally disastrous. A 54-yard field goal attempt by Succup was blocked by Margus Hunt in the second quarter, 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 were also plagued by penalties — something they led the league with last season — with nine for 103 yards.