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Buccaneers have struggled with stronger teams — and now face the Chiefs

The Chiefs’ next opponent has put up a lot of points but has struggled against the best teams on their schedule.

NFL: NOV 08 Saints at Buccaneers Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers come into Sunday’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs with an offense ranked among the league’s most prolific — second only to the Chiefs themselves — but three of their four losses have come against the best teams they’ve faced. The New Orleans Saints have already swept their division series with Tampa Bay, and the Los Angeles Rams pushed their record to 7-3 with a victory over the Buccaneers on Monday night.

Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady was intercepted twice in the Rams game — and seven of Brady’s nine interceptions occurred against the Saints and Rams. Yet Brady has played brilliantly in other games. He threw for 369 yards and five touchdowns against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 4, another 369 yards and four touchdowns against the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 7 and 341 yards and three touchdowns against the Carolina Panthers in Week 10.

“I’m still trying to figure that out,” said Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians, per the Associated Press. “At times we look really, really good — and then there are times where we obviously don’t.”

On Monday night, the Rams put strong pressure on Brady — another common factor in the Buccaneers’ 2020 losses — and rookie safety Jordan Fuller took advantage, coming up with both of the Rams’ interceptions. Los Angeles turned the first into a touchdown drive. The second — taken away from Buccaneers right end Cameron Bates during a two-minute drill in the fourth quarter — secured the Rams’ 27-24 victory.

“Just a bad read,” Brady told ESPN. “Cam was running up a seam — and at the last second, I saw the safety coming over and just popped it over Cam’s head. Just a bad read, a bad throw, decision — everything. Can’t happen.”

After having solid success with deep passes to his stable of receiving targets — which include Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Scott Miller — the 43-year-old Brady has struggled with them in recent weeks, completing just 5.3% of his passes more than 20 yards downfield in Weeks 8-11.

But Buccaneers head coach Brice Arians said that the team not only needs to better-utilize these passes in their game plans, but also to execute them better.

“When they’re there, we need to hit ‘em. We can’t have ‘em going off our fingertips and we can’t overthrow ‘em.

“Other than the deep ball, I think [Tom] is getting confused a few times with coverage that might be causing some inaccurate balls — but I don’t see it at all in practice. We’re not missing the deep ball in practice — that’s for sure — so it’s just a matter of, on Sundays, hitting ‘em.”

Even so, Arians said he is giving Brady a lot of latitude on the field.

“We have Tom calling a lot of his own [plays] — or picking his own on the sidelines from the game plan,” he said on Tuesday. “I don’t think it’s a confidence problem whatsoever. It’s not lack of trust — it’s lack of continuity within the offense, of the whole picture.”

The head coach speculated that even this late in the season, the coronavirus-truncated offseason may be still be playing a role.

“You don’t have a spring at all or a real training camp, it’s hard on the quarterback — especially when you’ve done something for 20 years and then throw all these guys at him. I think the lack of practice time and everything — and [the] learning of everything — from spring through camp is still showing up.”

For his part, Brady acknowledged there is a lot that his team still needs to do — and knows that the Chiefs will be a tough out.

“Nothing has been great to this point,” he said. “We’ve had some good wins, had some tough losses. Everything is about one week here in the NFL. We’re going to have to go play really, really well against a great football team next week.”