When you have won exactly three-quarters of your regular-season starts before the month of December over the course of 22 seasons, it's pretty hard to improve your winning percentage after Thanksgiving. But Tom Brady has managed to do exactly that.
Brady's regular-season winning percentage in December and January in his career is 79.1%, a stunning mark made even more impressive by his 34-11 record in the playoffs. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers got a taste of that kind of success in Brady's first season as their quarterback, as the team came out of bye in the first week of December and proceeded to win eight straight, culminating in the Super Bowl LV championship.
The Buccaneers will play one more November game this Sunday in Indianapolis and then, given the elongated 17-game season introduced in 2021, will have six more contests before the postseason, stretching all the way to January 9. If the team, and in particular the offense, is able to take things to another level like they did in December last year, it will be the culmination of months of hard work and self-scouting, according to Brady.
"I just think at this point this is when a lot of the work you've done really starts to pay off," he said. "It's not necessarily Week Two where you notice, 'Hey, these are all the things we've done over the course of the year the right way.' You've got to build an inventory of things you're doing right consistently. It may not show up through four weeks or eight weeks, but over the course of 16 games it all plays itself out."
It's not December yet, but a prime example of what Brady means was on display at the very beginning of the Buccaneers' 30-10 win over the Giants on Monday night. The Buccaneers took the opening possession methodically down the field on an eight-play, 73-yard touchdown drive, with every single play producing at least seven yards or a first down, and often both. Four different players caught passes on the drive and three different men ran the ball, including wideouts Chris Godwin and Mike Evans. By the end of the game the Bucs had 402 yards of offense, 10 different players had caught a pass and eight different men had run the ball.
The Buccaneers did a wide variety of things on offense against the Giants, and just about all of it worked. Brady and company have had three months to see what works best and to perfect those things, and it's not a short list.
"We've got to get guys the ball in different ways," said Brady. "It's nice that everyone was able to feel part of it early, and those are important plays. The best part is the execution was good. We've just got to keep executing well – run game, pass game. It really doesn't matter what we do. When we don't move the ball it's usually our execution that we need to fix."
The Bucs' recent two-game losing streak and some of their closer wins have been marked by a rise in penalties and turnovers and a dip in third-down success rate. The Bucs converted 46.2% of their third downs on Monday night, committed six penalties for just 39 yards and had only one fluky turnover on a ball that bounced off Evans' hands. With that kind of clean play, the Bucs can continue to unlock more of what works in their playbook and put together more clock-eating extended drives. Against the Giants, the Bucs ran 76 plays to 54 for New York and possessed the ball for nearly 36 minutes.
Last December, the Buccaneers' offense took off, beginning a run of seven straight games in which it produced 30 or more points. They had built an inventory and had perfected how to access it. That's obviously something that Brady's teams have done throughout his career, and the Buccaneers hope that it happens again in 2021.
"It's the time of year where you've really got to start playing your best football," said Brady. "A lot of teams lose hope at this time of the year. A lot of teams work less hard. This isn't the time of year, in my view, to do less. If anything, you've got to do more. You've got to put yourself in a position to succeed and you've got to put yourself in a position to play well every week."
View some of the top photos from Buccaneers practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.