The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have 53% of their regular-season schedule left and they are one game out of first place in the NFC South. There's obviously still much to be decided in the 2022 season and all of the team's goals are still within reach. However, the same level of execution that has led to five losses in the last six weeks and a 3-5 record overall will not be sufficient for the Buccaneers to achieve those goals.
As quarterback Tom Brady made clear on Thursday after practice, the Bucs are definitely not satisfied with how the season has gone so far.
"Yeah, I mean we're right in the middle of the year, here in the thick of the fight, and it just has not…we just haven't played well enough to get our record to a point where we can be super-excited about where we're at," said Brady. "We have a lot of football left and we've got to do a better job, and the way you think about it is, what did we work on today? Did we improve it? What are we going to work on tomorrow? How are we going to improve that? Then prepare yourself for a game and then go out and play well. There's a lot of football to play and we've got to play better. That's just the reality of the situation we're in."
With the most recent loss coming on Thursday Night Football, to the Baltimore Ravens, the Buccaneers have had a little extra time for introspection and self-scouting here at the (sort of) midpoint of the campaign. From Brady's point of view, the team's leaders – including himself – need to be the ones who make the difference, both by making plays in key situations and by creating an urgent atmosphere.
"I know we talked last week about us [needing to do] a good job executing, and that's what it comes down to," he said. "Great players need to go out and execute well. Guys that are in there, their first year or two – Rachaad [White] or Nick [Leverett] or [Robert] Hainsey, Cade [Otton], Ko [Kieft] – it's hard to put too much on those guys. That's the reality. They're getting used to playing. They haven't played a lot of football. So the guys that have played a lot of football, we've got to do a better job, and that's part of what leadership is all about. It's pushing people in practice, and it's trying to get a bigger sense of urgency."
The Buccaneers seemed to have that sense of urgency to begin the game on Thursday night, as the defense shook off a muffed punt inside the 10-yard line to hold Baltimore to a field goal and the offense scoring a touchdown on its opening drive for the first time all season. But after taking a 10-3 lead into halftime, the team couldn't maintain the same level of execution and ended up with a 27-22 loss. It marked the first time since Brady's arrival in 2020 that the Buccaneers have lost a game in which they had the lead at halftime, after 19 straight wins in that situation.
"We just haven't put four good quarters together," he said. "Yeah, it's frustrating because in order to win games you have to play well consistently throughout the game. We just haven't done that. It's tough getting up here every week figuring out how to not be overly disappointed in what we're doing, but we're fighting hard and we're going to try to make it better."
Though the Buccaneers won 29 of 39 games in Brady's first two seasons in Tampa and captured both a Super Bowl in 2020 and a division title in 2021, they did face some periods of turmoil. They were able to respond successfully to those situations, in no small part because their quarterback is one of the greatest leaders in the history of team sports. Brady says the Bucs are at a point in the season where "you either back down to the challenge or you step up to the challenge."
"The fact that we're in this situation, hopefully you can look at it at the end of the year when all the games have played out and you realize, 'Alright, we dug really deep and we learned a lot about ourself and we tried to figure these things out and we battled through them,' because it doesn't always go the way that you want. It's the reality of this sport. So just keep fighting as hard you can. You believe in your teammates, you communicate, you try to make it better and that's what you look at every day."