A few years back, SBNation funnyman and “innovation editor” Jon Bois had a running Twitter gag reminding people to “never count out Touchdown Tom (Brady).”
Regardless of the sincerity, it’s sage advice and something that Brady proves (give or take) every three years or so.
Brady had some doubters again this offseason when he left the New England Patriots and set off for a new challenge with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. One season after posting an 88 passer rating while completing 60.8 percent of his passes for 4,057 yards with 24 touchdowns and eight interceptions, Brady went off in 2020 for a 102.2 passer rating while completing 65.7 percent of his passes for 40 touchdowns with 12 interceptions.
Weapons matter. And Brady went from throwing to Julian Edelman, James White, Phillip Dorsett, Jakobi Meyers and Ben Watson to targeting Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown and Rob Gronkowski. Brady’s stats improved as a result.
The ebbs and flows of Brady’s efficiency have occurred throughout his career and are altered by the quality of his targets.
Brady still managed to win when he was throwing to subpar pass-catchers, whether that was Reche Caldwell, Doug Gabriel, Sam Aiken, Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson or Dorsett, but his stats would always and predictably suffer as a result.
One constant throughout Brady’s career is pundits tended to “count out Touchdown Tom” after these dips in his efficiency metrics. It happened from 2013 into 2014 and again last season. But Brady always bounces back. He has yet to fall off that proverbial “cliff.” Put his passer rating on a line graph, and it looks like a tide chart.
Brady certainly was not perfect in 2020. He had some “cliff” moments from Weeks 9 to 12 when the Bucs went 1-3 and Brady threw for eight touchdowns and seven interceptions. Then he finished out the season on fire, leading Tampa Bay to four wins down the stretch, including a first-half performance Week 16 against the Detroit Lions when he had a perfect passer rating while going 22-of-27 for 348 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions.
All of this is a long way of saying Brady was really no different in Tampa Bay than he was in New England. He might not have always jelled with Bucs head coach Bruce Arians, and he had a bizarre brain fart in Week 5 when he seemingly thought he had an extra down after a fourth-down incompletion, but Brady lived up to his usual standards with some of the best weapons of his NFL career.
When Brady is seemingly struggling, it’s smartest to look at the pass-catchers he’s working with. If they’re good, Brady will probably have an MVP-caliber season. If they’re lacking, that’s probably why it looks like that cliff is looming.
In retrospect, it was easy to predict that Brady would have a vintage performance in 2020.
“Never count out Touchdown Tom.”