Misery continues for Tom Brady, Bucs with loss to Ravens
It was something rare to see and hard to watch. For about 15 minutes after the Bucs' 27-22 loss to the Ravens on Thursday night, Tom Brady sat facing his locker in full uniform, holding his head in his hands. Brady didn't move or speak for the longest time, frozen in apparent frustration over the Bucs' third straight defeat. Brady never acknowledged what backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert, just inches away at the adjoining locker, was saying to him.

No one could recall when Brady had been like this in his 23-year career, not even after Super Bowl losses. "He's the best to ever do it," said receiver Mike Evans, nodding toward Brady. "I mean, he hates losing. That's all he knows is winning and being 3-5 is not good enough. So we've got to turn it around and soon. Nobody is pointing the finger at Tom Brady. It's the whole team. It's a team game."

Until Thursday, Brady had never started a season by losing five of his first eight games. He is 45, still capable of incredible throws and against Baltimore he passed for 325 yards and a touchdown, staking the Bucs' to a 10-3 lead. But the Bucs' red zone woes continued and drives that stalled at the Ravens' 13-, 12- and 8-yard line ended in Ryan Succop field goals, not touchdowns. A missed throw to tight end Kyle Rudolph, a penalty and a pressure all led to more failures for an offense that is averaging only 18.2 points per game.

The Bucs defense, meanwhile, held the Ravens to only 27 yards rushing in the first half, then allowed 204 in the second half. Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson threw two touchdown passes in the third quarter, and a 15-yard scoring run by receiver Devin Duvernay with 6:55 to play in the fourth essentially put the game out of reach.

After last week's 21-3 loss at Carolina, Bucs coach Todd Bowles said his team was in a dark place. Well, it was nearly midnight when he acknowledged that everything - including coaching changes - will be on the table between now and when the Bucs host the Rams in 10 days.

"We're going to talk about everything this weekend," Bowles said. "When you're not playing well, everything is on the table for us and we'll discuss that as a staff."

Offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich has been under fire for an offense that scored a touchdown in the first quarter Thursday for the first time all season. A week ago, Bowles said the Bucs didn't need a new offensive play-caller. On Thursday, he seemed to allow that's at least something to be discussed.

Defensively, the Bucs continue to wear down in the second half, in part because of too many three-and-outs on offense. The Ravens uncharacteristically threw the football on seven of their first eight plays and finished with only seven runs and 30 pass plays in the first half. In the second half, they got back to their identity, running 26 times and throwing it on eight plays.

"It wasn't very good the second half," Bowles said of the defense. "The first half, I don't think they tried to run as much. The first half we missed some tackles early on. Then in the second half, I thought they had some good runs. We've got to get better all the way around. It's a pride thing. We've got to get better coaching it and they've got to get better playing it."

Where are the Bucs now? "It's still dark," Bowles said. "Until you win ball games consistently and play four quarters consistently, it's going to be dark. That doesn't mean we can't get out of it. We just have a lot of work to do as coaches and as players."

When Brady finally got himself together, he walked to the post-game podium and offered little about his emotions. He didn't have to. You could hear the disappointment and disbelief in his voice.

"We talk a lot. A lot of those conversations are private for us, but we're just trying to encourage one another and be positive ... ultimately it comes down how we execute in critical moments and things we have to do to win," Brady said. "I think we're going to try to figure out everything."

Everyone loves a perfect ending, whether it's a game, a film or the storybook career of the NFL's greatest quarterback. The pages may be filled with sorrow and sacrifice, but the hero is expected to walk off triumphant. But nothing is going according to script for Brady and the Bucs this season.

Rick Stroud, The Tampa Bay Times, published 28 October 2022