Arians surprised by Brady’s Week 1 struggles

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TAMPA, Fla. — Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians said Monday that he was a bit surprised by quarterback Tom Brady’s struggles in his Bucs debut Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, a game in which Brady threw two interceptions in a 34-23 loss.

“He looked like Tom Brady in practice all the time, so it’s kind of unusual to see that in a ballgame because they didn’t do things that we didn’t get ready for. Everything they did, we thought we were ready for,” Arians said. “Some wide receivers have to do a better job of winning one-on-one when he decides to go their way. He put us in the right run checks a couple times. It was a learning experience that way.

“You can’t say that we weren’t in sync because we started out as good as you can start out, going right down the field,” he added. “Then we don’t get any more chunk plays other than pass-interference penalties. I think it’s a great learning experience. It’s just Round 1 of a 16-round fight. And we’ll learn from it.”

The Bucs marched 85 yards in nine plays on the opening drive, with Brady scoring on a 2-yard QB keeper to grab a 7-0 lead. But they couldn’t hang on to that momentum. Pro Bowl wide receiver Mike Evans was shadowed by Marshon Lattimore and had a safety over the top of him through much of the game. He was targeted just four times on 37 routes — including one play that resulted in an interception.

Arians said after the game that the pick was the result of an overthrown pass against Cover 2, but Monday, after watching the film, he clarified that Evans should have “no doubt” kept the route going, as it was against quarters coverage, which opened up the middle of the field.

Brady’s second pick came when he attempted to hit Justin Watson as he and Rob Gronkowski each ran speed outs from the right side of the formation while Chris Godwin ran a slant route toward the middle of the field. Janoris Jenkins jumped in front and returned it 36 yards for a touchdown.

“It speaks for itself. If you’re throwing an out route and you throw it low and inside — that hasn’t been the case up until that one,” Arians said of the pick-six. “He was a little bit late on it. And probably a better decision to go somewhere else with the ball.”

Evans, one of only two receivers with six consecutive 1,000-yard seasons in his first six years, managed just one catch — a fourth-quarter touchdown. Gronkowski, Brady’s go-to target with the New England Patriots, caught just two passes on three targets for 11 receiving yards. Instead, Brady relied heavily on Godwin, who caught 6 of 7 targets for 79 receiving yards, and Scotty Miller, who went 5 of 6 for 73 yards.

Brady acknowledged this week that he was still thinking too much in Arians’ offense but said he was eager to test himself against a real opponent in the absence of preseason games.

“It’s a situation where all that verbiage, when you’re under the gun, is different, and now you’re getting hit for the first time too. It’s all different,” Arians said, adding that he believes Brady will regroup against the Carolina Panthers at home this week.

“He’s had it before. He knows how to bounce back,” Arians said. “He knew he didn’t play very well. It’s not what he expects from himself, nor do we expect. I would anticipate him to have a little more grit, a little more determination this week.”

Arians also expressed disappointment in starting left tackle Donovan Smith, who surrendered two sacks and posted a 73.9% pass block win rate — 129th in the league among offensive linemen in Week 1 and 54th among 58 offensive tackles.

“I was very disappointed in his play,” Arians said. “I think every now and then, he reverts back to some techniques that aren’t very good. And he got beat. He had probably the easiest guy to block up there. And he did a poor job. It was one of his worst games, and I expect for him to bounce back this week, yes.”

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