In Strange New Clothes, Tom Brady Is Still The Same Star

This image is a derivative of 0 New England Patriots Tom Brady by Jack Kurzenknabe (Public Domain Mark 1.0)

Even in a year where little is jarring anymore, there was something unmistakably incorrect about seeing Tom Brady in a Tampa Bay jersey spiking the ball in the endzone of an empty Superdome.

The weirdness of seeing Brady looking like this - looking more like someone in a Tom Brady Halloween costume than Tom Brady - will probably never entirely go away. How effective this strange sight will be is the most interesting question of the NFL season.

The early returns are predictably mixed.

In Tampa Bay's loss to New Orleans, Brady looked, outside of the clothes, more or less like himself. He stood tall with the same iconic upright stance, bouncing on his feet, deftly navigating the pocket as though he’s feeling in his shoulders where the pass rush is coming from. He delivered a handful of pristine, exquisite passes, most memorably his first completed pass as a Buc, deep down the right sideline to Chris Godwin.

There were also dreadful mistakes. A miscommunication with Mike Evans led to a pick over the middle, though the pass was sailed to the point where Evans continuing the route Brady thought he was running may not have mattered. A pick-six to Janoris Jenkins was Brady's low-light, a horribly conceived out-pass across the field that was begging for catastrophe and set the game on an irretrievable path.

He also took a sack unaware at the edge of field goal range in the second quarter, and at the death bizarrely skied a two-point conversion attempt. 

But physically Brady looked capable of still making all the throws. The more worrying performance came from the winning quarterback. Outside of one classical deep left dime to Jared Cook in the fourth quarter to ensure the result, Drew Breeslooked almost hopeless at times, unable to complete the most basic of passes.

RELATED: The Stats Insider Futures Model has Tampa as a 4.9% Super Bowl chance. Check out all 32 teams prospects.  

2007 Brady is gone, but 2020 skull and crossbones helmet Brady looked the same player he's been the past two years - diminished but still excellent. 

His deep ball isn't what it once was, but it's still perfectly respectable, and better than seems reasonable for a 43-year old fading legend. The deep sideline pass to Mike Evans, the first play after the pick-six, that drew a pass interference call was marvellously thrown and placed. The three-play touchdown drive sequence that the pass to Evans started showed how dangerous and explosive the Bucs offence can be.

A third quarter drive that brought the Bucs back to within a score also showed what Brady can still do. He completed a third and short, back-pedalling in the face of a pass rush, and falling backwards delivered a perfect pass to Godwin in traffic for a 23-yard gain. Two plays later Brady lofted a high-arching deep ball down the right sideline right into the hands of Scotty Miller, drawing a pass interference call.

The ability to throw the ball down-field is key to Bruce Arians's vertical system, and Brady seems like he'll be able to - though whether the Bucs should have the commitment to deep passing that Arians teams have long had is questionable. In sticking with the Arians offence, the Bucs might be limiting Brady to being a better, much more accomplished version of Jameis Winston

Striking the balance between Arians's aggressive deep-ball philosophy and the surgical short-medium passing game that Brady has thrived on for years will likely shape Tampa Bay's ceiling on offence. 

The supporting cast should be good enough, on both sides of the ball. The defence is stacked, albeit dependent on a lot of youth growing up quickly in the secondary. Godwin and Mike Evans - when both are healthy - are the best duo of wide-receiver weapons that Brady has had since Randy Moss and Wes Welker. Rob Gronkowski looked lost on Sunday - running routes like he was navigating a crowded supermarket - but he, and this team, will benefit from the weeks going by, as preseason preparation unfolds in the first few weeks of the regular season.

Early injuries to Godwin and Evans will disrupt the gelling process. But with rebuilding Carolina, a wounded Denver, the middling Chargers and Mitchell Trubisky on the schedule in the next four weeks, Tampa should be able to keep pace through their growing pains.  

RELATED: See all of Stats Insider's Week 2 Projections, including Tampa's 68% win probability against the Panthers 

Often the results of games seem only like hazy and arbitrary end points. Brady’s debut was one of these games, with the experience of watching Tom Brady play football existing almost completely outside of the experience of watching the New Orleans Saints beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 34-23. 

Brady’s presence brought a sense of familiarity and almost reassurance to Sunday. Even in a strange outfit, there was something comforting and enlivening about seeing the definitive NFL player of the past 20 years still out on the field, still looking defiant, still looking regretful, still looking at times magnificent.

If you're looking for some fresh and fun football analysis for NFL Week 2, the boys from Sportscaster Media have you covered. Listen on the player below or subscribe to The Punt Return Podcast on your favourite podcast platform.

Jay Croucher

Based in Denver, Colorado, Jay splits time between worshiping Nikola Jokic and waking up at 3am to hazily watch AFL games. He has been writing about AFL, NBA and other US sports since 2014, and has suckered himself into thinking Port Adelaide was the real deal each year since.

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