The Tampa Bay Buccaneers emerged from their bye week with a fine 6-2 record and an injury report that is…well, not substantially more pleasant than it was before the break given that Chris Godwin has been added to it. Everyone on the roster got some much-needed rest but it wasn't enough to get Antonio Brown, Rob Gronkowski or Jason Pierre-Paul back in practice, at least not as of Thursday. It's all an illustration of the fact that nothing comes easily in the NFL and no outcomes are guaranteed.
And that, in fact, is Tom Brady's mindset about the Buccaneers' offense as a whole in 2021. Despite some significant absences in the last month, Tampa Bay hits the season's midpoint with the league's highest per-game point total (32.5) and it's most productive passing attack (327.5 yards per game, 25 touchdowns). That's good, of course, but it doesn't promise anything for the season's second half and things won't necessarily be getting easier with that injury list.
Fortunately, this offense is led by Tom Brady, and Brady refuses to take anything for granted.
"I've think we've got, obviously, a lot of football ahead of us and we're going to have to work it every day to be the best we can be," said the 22nd-year quarterback. "There's nothing guaranteed in the league here, there's no easy games, there's nothing…you can't roll your helmet out there and think you're going to win. So we've got to come out here and put the work in every day, grind through these days. Very important weeks, these Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays where we've got to improve on a lot of different things we're working on. Everything's ahead of us."
Tampa Bay's offense is better at this point than it was through eight games last year, though the bar was already pretty high. The Bucs averaged 30.9 points per game through the first eight in 2020, which ranked fourth at the time, and was eighth with 265.8 passing yards per game and tied for third with 20 touchdown passes. At the time, though, that was also just eight games into Brady's career as a Buccaneer and the offense – as has emerged as the main storylines of the team's 2020 Super Bowl pursuit – didn't really jell until after the Week 13 bye. Clearly, Brady has a better grasp on the system and a better connection with his teammates than he did a year ago, but he also pointed out on Thursday that the relationship is still pretty young.
"I don't think there's one area where I think that we can't be better," said Brady of the Bucs' 2021 offense. "Everything, I think we can improve. A lot of it's just great communication, us being on the same page. You've just got to continue to talk through things. As much as we think we've been together, we really haven't been together that long. I was with players for seven, eight years, 10 years, where nothing needs to be said. We've only been together a year-and-a-half. The meetings are important, the walk-throughs are important, practices are important – just being in constant communication with everything to try to improve everything that we're doing."
Given his approach, Brady isn't too interested in season-over-season comparisons. The 2020 Buccaneers were also 6-2 after eight games but then lost three of their next four to put them too far behind in the NFC South to climb back to the top of the division. Obviously, the Buccaneers would prefer to avoid that third-quarter slump this time and maintain their current lead in the South, but Brady will continue to counsel that it won't happen without a complete dedication to constant improvement. The Bucs are actually on a one-game losing 'streak' thanks to a tough loss in New Orleans in which they committed 11 costly penalties and three even more costly turnovers. A few of their six wins have also been uncomfortably close at the end.
"You know, every year is a little bit different," said Brady. "We've got to go play great football. The times where we've lost and some close games, it's been way less than our best. We certainly know that we have high expectations because we have a lot of good football players, and we've got to go out there and get the job done."
That job begins with a trip to Washington to play the Football Team on Sunday at FedExField. The last time the Bucs visited that venue, for a Wild Card playoff game in January, they got locked into quite a battle with a Washington team that was considered the underdog after winning the NFC East with a 7-9 record. Reserve quarterback Taylor Heinicke, making just his second NFL start, kept the Football Team in the game late into the fourth quarter before the Bucs escaped with a 31-23 win. Washington comes into this one with a 2-6 record and four straight losses but the Buccaneers are expecting at least as much of a fight as the one they encountered at FedExField last winter.
"It was a tough game," said Brady of the first of the Bucs' four straight playoff victories. "They were down but never out and they made a lot of really clutch plays. A lot of guys really played good football for them. It's a really great defensive front. There's some young players, but it's all like fourth year, fifth year, sixth year. It's a very young defense in that aspect, there's no 12-year guys and they've got some young guys that are really talented players. It's going to be a great football environment. We've got to go on the road, the road's going to be colder than we're used to. We've got to go play great football and see if we can come off the bye and start playing better than the way we've played."