The Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Minnesota Vikings by a double-digit margin last Sunday and quarterback Tom Brady threw two touchdown passes and finished with a 120.9 passer rating, his third-highest mark in a game this year. By just about every measure it was a successful afternoon for both the quarterback and his team.
However, neither Brady nor the Buccaneers were particularly successful in the game's early going, and since that has been a recent issue for the team it remains a topic of examination even after a big win. And it's something that has Brady methodically looking at every aspect of his play to correct it.
On offense, the Bucs' 'slow start' against Minnesota essentially came down to one play. On their first drive, the Buccaneers got one quick first down and then got seven yards on two Ronald Jones II runs to set up a high-percentage third-and-three. On the next play, Brady's progression through his reads eventually brought him to tight end Rob Gronkowski, who had a good amount of separation between two Vikings defenders on a post-corner route well downfield. It could have been a very big play and a fast start for the Bucs' attack, but the throw sailed long and the Bucs had to punt. Those would be the only five plays they would run in the first quarter.
The Bucs eventually did get into an offensive rhythm and scored on four straight drives in the second and third quarters. But they could have had an even more prolific first half with just a few more accurate early throws. Tampa Bay's second drive ended on third-and-seven when a scrambling Brady threw one over the head of Chris Godwin, who was past the first-down marker.
"It's tough, you know, because those are important plays early in the game because if you hit them then you are on the field and it's not only five plays and then you get in a rhythm earlier," said Brady. "I kind of said after the game, you've got to be sharp from the moment you take the field. For me, it always comes back to technique and I'm always analyzing why something worked or why something didn't work, whether that's a play or throw or a thought in my head."
Brady gave the Buccaneers the lead for good in the second quarter with an incredibly precise deep pass down the middle for a 48-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Scotty Miller, who had a step on his defender but not a huge amount of separation. Another perfect deep sideline pass to Mike Evans set up a two-yard touchdown pass to Gronkowski in the third quarter. Since Brady knows he can make the throws that he missed, he wants to make sure he understands why he didn't on his first couple tries in Sunday's game.
"Sometimes it's mental, sometimes it's physical, and then you've just got to try to make the correction," he said. "If you feel like it was a very decisive play and you missed the throw, it might be something with your technique, your mechanics, your timing. If it's kind of in-between it could be a little mental issue where you wanted to pull the trigger a little bit quicker but you just didn't get to it. And then you've just got to try to just play quicker in your head. It can really be a number of things and regardless you have to clean it all up. An unproductive play's an unproductive play, whether it's a physical error or a mental error, and it could be either-or."
Brady explained most of this process in one long, unbroken bit of analysis, and as he got to the end he summarized it with what appears to be the main takeaway from his self-evaluation.
"From my standpoint, I want to be decisive," he said. "I want to eliminate gray area and go out and play really technically and fundamentally sound so I can throw the ball as accurately as possible."
View some of the top photos from Buccaneers Week 15 practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.