Bucs offense ain't always pretty, but dang it can be entertaining
We should all acknowledge this: The NFL has seen better offenses. The Broncos of 2013 scored a lot more points and the Saints of 2011 threw for more yards. Washington ran the ball a heck of a lot better in 1983 and the Chiefs of 2018 were more efficient.

But every so often, a game comes along when it sure seems like the Bucs of 2021 can outmaneuver, outwit and outguess opposing defenses alongside of history's best. It certainly felt that way during the first half of Sunday's 30-17 victory against the Falcons in Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

On their first four possessions, the Bucs had three touchdown drives of 75 yards each. But it wasn't so much the scoreboard or the accumulation of yards, but rather the deftness involved in pulling it all off. Who begins a game with 13 consecutive passes? Or throws on 26 of the first 31 offensive plays?

It was like watching a 7-on-7 flag football game on the quad, except the quarterback was 44 years old with all the mobility of a palm tree. And the remarkable thing about it was each drive was a little different than the one before it.

The opening drive, for instance, was like teaching a master class in annoyance. Of the 13 passes Tom Brady threw, only one traveled more than 8 yards downfield and that one was incomplete. Instead, Brady threw a half-dozen passes to Leonard Fournette, Chris Godwin and Mike Evans that were all clumped between 3 to 8 yards on the left side of the hash marks. There were a few swing passes in the backfield and three passes to Godwin over the middle in the 5- to 6-yard range.

Then, after those first dozen passes to the left, the middle and behind the line, Brady threw his first forward pass to the right side. It went for a touchdown to Fournette. "He's got the years under his belt," Falcons linebacker Deion Jones said. "He's making great decisions throughout the game."

When the Falcons decided they needed to play a little tighter with man-to-man defense, Brady began picking them apart with downfield throws. On the second play of the next drive, he hit Godwin for 25 yards on the left side of the field. Two plays later, he went deep to Evans on the right side for 36 yards. Two plays later, he threw his only pass of the game to tight end Cameron Brate. It went for another touchdown. "They did load the box some to give us some one-on-ones," coach Bruce Arians said.

After getting stopped on their third drive, Brady went to a more intermediate passing game. Evans and Godwin were both targeted 14 yards down the field on the left side, with Evans gaining 15 and Godwin 17. And for the coup de pass, he hit Gronkowski across the middle about 9 yards downfield, and the tight end went the rest of the way for a 27-yard touchdown. The Falcons were beaten and they didn't even know it yet.

This is what Brady can do when everything is working right. You watch him approach the line of scrimmage like a gunfighter assessing his opponent. He points to a linebacker or defensive back, shouts a few instructions or route changes, then goes to work.

His ego is as large as it should be for a man of his accomplishments, but Brady has never made the game about himself. He's not obsessed with SportsCenter highlights as much as he is fixated on doing whatever it takes to win the game. And if the defense is giving him short passes, he's not ashamed to throw 13 in a row.

Of course, it's not Brady alone doing this. Offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich deserves credit, and Arians specifically mentioned him on his postgame radio interview. The offensive line has also played a huge role. Brady threw 51 times, and the only time he was hit was on one of those intermediate throws to Evans on the third scoring drive.

"The protection was incredible. The offensive line has had a great season," Brady said. "We've probably thrown the ball more than anybody, and have given up the least amount of sacks. Everyone has a lot of trust in our protection."

It doesn't always work this way. The Saints and Rams got pressure on Brady, and the offense faltered. Even the Washington game was adversely affected when Brady was hit early. The offense may not feel as explosive as the past two years, but the Bucs are still heading toward a franchise record for scoring. For heaven's sake, they've already outscored the 2002 Super Bowl champion Bucs by a total of 31 points, and they have played four fewer games.

No, this is not a perfect offense. And unless they have success in the postseason, it may not even go down as a great offense. But on days like this, you should probably stop and appreciate what could be the best offense Tampa Bay has ever known.

John Romano, The Tampa Times, published 6 December 2021