The Tampa Bay Buccaneers may be exactly who we thought they were.
As the Buccaneers entered their Week 12 matchup on a two-game win streak versus the 3-7 Cleveland Browns, most people had Tampa Bay pegged for an easy win.
Except here’s the problem — nothing has been easy for the 2022 Buccaneers.
Despite appearing to be in control throughout the fourth quarter with a 17-10 lead, Tampa Bay somehow managed to allow the Jacoby Brissett-led Browns to a late score in regulation and an eventual victory in overtime.
The Buccaneers fell by a score of 23-17, the seventh time the team has scored 19 points or less in a game this season. Entering the game, Tampa Bay was averaging 18.3 points per game — 27th in the NFL — so the Buccaneers actually scored less than their average.
The loss also just so happened to mark the first time Tom Brady has lost a game after his team led by at least seven points in the final two minutes of regulation.
“Seventeen points isn’t going to do it,” Brady said after the loss. “It’s been the same thing all year. We’re not scoring enough points. Every play is an individual win or loss, and we’re losing too many. There were too many plays where we were not on the right page, and we’ve got to correct that.”
The Buccaneers are simply a team that’s lacking that extra gear. At 5-6, they’re leading a weak NFC South division. Despite Tampa Bay’s mediocrity, they’ll likely win the division and host a playoff game at the very least.
And that looks to be their ceiling.
The Buccaneers may pull off a playoff win, but this doesn’t appear to be a team of destiny.
As Skip Bayless of Fox Sports noted, this year’s version of the Buccaneers simply lacks energy and urgency.
Greg Auman of Fox Sports pointed out how inept the offense was again following their first drive on third downs. It’s worth noting that Tampa Bay had six three-and-outs outside of their two touchdown drives.
Brady is still playing at a high level. The 45-year-old threw two touchdown passes — with no turnovers — and posted a solid 97.6 passer rating. The running game actually posted a second straight game of efficiency, averaging 4.8 yards per carry on the day.
And it still wasn’t enough against one of the worst teams in the AFC.
The Buccaneers still have the same key parts from the championship squad of just two years prior. They have Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, Leonard Fournette — he missed the loss versus the Browns due to injury — and Brady. But they’re also missing playmakers such as Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Brown, and it’s had a drastic effect on their offensive unit all season long.
Complicating matters even further has been the injury to starting center Ryan Jensen and the offensive line returning just two starters from last season. Things didn’t get any better when starting right tackle Tristan Wirfs suffered an ankle injury and was carted off the field in overtime.
Brady was promptly sacked on the team’s next play — the final offensive play of the game for Tampa Bay.
“It’s awful,” Brady said of Wirfs’ injury. “It’s awful for us, it’s awful for him. He’s a great player for us. The other guys in are going to have to do a good job, but it’s hard to replace him.”
While Wirfs may have avoided a serious injury — tests came back negative on a broken ankle — it still doesn’t soften the Buccaneers’ flaws as a team with just one month left in the regular season.
Outside of Brady’s game-winning drive versus the Los Angeles Rams in Week 9 — a Rams squad that will miss the playoffs this season — this is a Tampa Bay squad that has looked lifeless all season long.
There are major questions surrounding Brady’s future after this season, with the quarterback maintaining that retirement is not in his immediate future.
But as each week piles up and with each game as much of a struggle as the last, can anyone really see Brady returning for another season of this? If Brady does indeed return at the age of 46, he’ll be a free agent. It’s hard to envision the seven-time Super Bowl champion putting himself through another season of frustration in Tampa Bay, when he can go elsewhere for a better shot at winning another ring.
The Buccaneers may sneak into the playoffs, but their ceiling looks to be very low. Simply put, there is no quick fix — or turnaround — for this team.
Most importantly, maybe there isn’t a happy ending for Brady in Tampa Bay after all.