Bucs' Tom Brady defying Father Time, expectations in Bruce Arians' offense

TAMPA, Fla. -- With 0:25 seconds to go in the first half against the Las Vegas Raiders, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady dropped back and launched a missile to wide receiver Scotty Miller, who was one-on-one on the outside, for an impeccably thrown 33-yard touchdown.

The completion probability on the throw was just 16.1% -- the third-lowest of any touchdown throw this season -- yet he put it in a spot that only Miller could grab it in the end zone, and do so with very little effort to secure the catch.

So much for Father Time finally catching up to the 43-year-old signal-caller, who is not only thriving in Bruce Arians' "No Risk it, No Biscuit" offense despite concerns that he lacked the arm strength, but putting up numbers that are nearly identical and even slightly better than in 2007, when at the age of 30 he led the Patriots to an undefeated regular season and captured his first MVP title.

“He’s fantastic,” Arians said Wednesday. “When we watched him last year, he could still make every single throw. He hasn’t disappointed anybody in that regard. We have no concern about calling any kind of play from 5 yards to 60 yards. Just a matter of getting more comfortable each and every week and seeing his guys.”

Brady has thrown 18 touchdowns this season, second-most in the NFL behind Russell Wilson, and tied for third-most in his career through the first seven games of the season. Brady was just awarded NFC Offensive Player of the Month -- something no Bucs player has done before. And since his Week 1 loss at the New Orleans Saints, he’s compiled an 8-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio, second-best in the league behind only Patrick Mahomes during that period (his 4.50 ratio for Weeks 1-7 is still a not-too-shabby sixth-best). He now has six completions of 30-plus air yards this season after having five all of last season.

He's making fantasy owners very happy, too. His 151.1 points in standard scoring so far this season are sixth-most in the NFL. His 122 fantasy points since Week 3 are also third-most in that span. To top that off, he's closing in on the most fantasy points of any player at any position. Brady currently has 5,111.14, second only to Jerry Rice's 5,141.84. The Bucs' opponent this week on Monday Night Football, the New York Giants, have also given up 59 fantasy points (standard scoring) to opposing QBs over the last three weeks -- ninth-most in the NFL.

What’s even more impressive is that Brady has not had his full cast of supporting characters.

Tight end O.J. Howard is lost for the season with a ruptured Achilles tendon. Pro Bowler Mike Evans has been fighting ankle and hamstring injuries. Chris Godwin, their other Pro Bowl receiver, has missed three games with a concussion and hamstring injury, and will miss a fourth this week due to a broken finger that required surgery.

Miller is still fighting a groin/hip injury. Rob Gronkowski has been fighting a shoulder injury. And the two running backs Brady relies on most in the passing game, Leonard Fournette and LeSean McCoy, have both missed games with ankle injuries. Yet Brady has connected with six different receiving targets for at least two receiving touchdowns. No other quarterback has done that.

“I think the lack of continuity also hurt him a bunch. Hopefully we can have some continuity going forward and he can continue to work with timing and all those things,” Arians said. “I think Byron [Leftwich] has done a great job of having him ready to play, him seeing the coverages and where we want to place the ball. [Byron] obviously listens to him on things he likes, also, and incorporates them in the offense.”

Brady’s had to evolve his game in Tampa, not just by throwing the deep ball more. He’s altered his stance to more of a squared gun versus a staggered stance this year.

“I feel like it was something I thought about in the offseason, getting my body in a better position to throw, even before I received the ball from the center," Brady said. "We’re in the shotgun a lot."

He’s lining up in the shotgun more than he did with the Patriots. The Bucs also do less pre-snap shifts and motions than the Patriots and more with trips and bunch formations, although they still incorporate all of Brady’s favorite routes at a similar rate -- the out-route, the hitch, the flat and crossing routes -- it’s just dressed up differently.

“It’s not a surprise,” said Gronkowski, his teammate of 11 seasons. “I’ve been seeing firsthand with my eyes, his work ethic and how he takes care of himself."

Brady’s tight window completion percentage is another area that has improved significantly in 2020, where he is completing 45.9% of his throws. A testament to a better receiving corps? Perhaps. He completed 37.4% of those throws in 2019 and 29.9% in 2018. His tight-window completion percentage in the red zone has also shot up in 2020: 66.7%, tied for third-most in the league. It was 33.3% in 2019 and 16.7% in 2018.

He's also elevated the Bucs to 78.6% in red zone touchdowns -- fourth-best in the league -- after being 64.8% in that category a year ago, prior to his arrival.

“Football is the ultimate team sport,” Brady said. “From a quarterback’s standpoint, so much is trust and confidence in the receiver position, the tight end position, the line is doing an incredible job of blocking. My job is to throw it to the guys that are open and they’ve got to make the plays, and I think when you see great production, it’s really a reflection of the entire offensive unit.”

Brady has led the Bucs to a 5-2 record as they prepare for prime time this week. The Bucs were robbed of a chance to play in a prime-time game last week. The NFL couldn’t promise the Bucs and Raiders would be able to play due to positive COVID-19 tests within the Raiders, so the game was bumped from Sunday Night Football.

Now Brady can take center stage, which, if he performs the way he has in recent weeks, should only fuel the MVP buzz -- which Arians thinks is warranted, but only if the team continues to support him.

“I think our team will have to continue to win, for sure,” Arians said. “Those type of things only come to winning teams.”