In fact, he doesn’t think it has come close to affecting the 43-year-old signal caller, who tossed three first-half touchdowns in the Bucs’ 28-10 win over the Broncos on Sunday in Denver. Gronkowski also believes Tampa Bay’s offense is just starting to scratch the surface of what it can do.
“There are people that have talked garbage about him since I started playing with him 10 years ago, saying he didn’t have anything left in the tank — that is simply not true,” Gronkowski said. “Just the way that he can air the ball out and put a dime where he needs to … I just feel like he can do it. It is like he isn’t even 43 years old.”
Brady completed passes to eight different receiving targets Sunday, going 25-of-38 for 297 passing yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions — his first Bucs game without a pick. When asked if this was Brady’s best performance so far as a Buccaneer, coach Bruce Arians said, “I think so far for sure. We put a lot on him today, and he delivered.”
Two particular passes stood out as evidence against Brady critics who believe he has lost his touch and can’t throw the deep ball. One was a 33-yard pass (26.6 air yards) to tight end O.J. Howard, and the other was a 47-yarder (42 air yards) to receiver Scotty Miller.
On the dime to Howard, there were just 0.53 yards of separation between him and the nearest defender, Josey Jewell, when the pass arrived, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. Since the NFL began tracking separation in 2017, Brady has had only one other completion of 25-plus air yards with 0.5 yards or less of separation, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
On the pass to Miller, there were just 0.83 yards of separation between him and the nearest defender, Justin Simmons. That was the first time in Next Gen tracking that Brady completed a pass of 40-plus air yards with less than 1 yard of separation. The last time Brady completed a pass of 40 or more air yards was in Week 1 of last season, and he was 0-for-5 on such passes entering Sunday.
“Just the way he prepares, week in and week out, the way he takes care of himself, the way he goes out to the practice field to make sure that he’s on-point — seeing what I see, from day in and day out, coming to practice, coming to games prepared, mentally and physically, and just doing everything he needs to do so he can make those [tight-window] passes,” Gronkowski said. “And those passes are incredible. Just the way that he puts them in there, there’s not even any separation … he just lays it there so only the receiver can make a play — it’s just unbelievable. I think he has a lot left, even more, in the tank.”
Brady acknowledged that some of that risk-taking is due to his increasing level of confidence running Arians’ offense and improving chemistry and trust with teammates. They didn’t have an offseason together and spent training camp trying to play catch-up, although members of the coaching staff think the private workouts Brady hosted with teammates at Tampa’s Berkeley Prep helped enormously.
“We’re getting there. It’s a long process,” Brady said. “This would have been our third preseason game. Still a lot to learn, there’s a lot to grow, there’s a lot of room for improvement. I know everyone feels that way. We’ve gotta get to know each other. We’ve gotta understand kinda what we’re trying to do and what we’re trying to accomplish, and then make it happen. We’re only gonna, I think, make improvements as we keep going.”
Brady wasn’t the only one who managed to defy some critics.
After managing just two catches for 11 receiving yards in Weeks 1 and 2 combined, Gronkowski went 6-of-7 on his targets from Brady for 48 receiving yards against the Broncos.
“Not every week you’re gonna get targets your way because you never know how the game’s gonna go, but today, it went that way, where I had a lot of targets, and it just felt good to get involved,” said Gronkowski, who called himself a “blocking tight entering” in the days leading up to Sunday’s game. “I just knew that if I kept week in, week out just practicing hard, doing what we need to do, it was going to click. I’ve been in the league for a while, and there are some games where you just don’t get any looks, and then there are some games where you get a lot of looks. There’s some games where I’m just not clicking and everything’s just not clicking.
“I’m here just getting better week in, week out and fix the problems when there [are] problems and things aren’t going right. That’s the grind of the football season. I did definitely have the faith that I was going to get involved in the passing game, and it happened today. I truly believe that we can keep getting better.”