Brady, Bucs running out of explanations for team’s struggles

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are running out of explanations for the team’s disappointing start.

Players and coaches continue to harp on the need to execute better on offense and defense, emphasizing breakdowns have been widespread and there’s no single reason or segment of the team that’s undermining its chances for success.

“It’s all inclusive,” coach Todd Bowles repeated Monday.

“We’ve got to get solutions, and we’ve got to get them fast,” Bowles added. “There’s nobody coming in here to help us and save the day. We’ve built this, and we own it, and we have to get us out of it.”

Sunday’s 21-3 loss to the Carolina Panthers, a struggling team starting its third-string quarterback that has already fired its coach and traded two of its best players, dropped Tampa Bay to 3-4.

That’s Brady’s worst start this deep into a season since 2002, the seven-time Super Bowl champion’s first year as a full-time starter.

The Bucs hurt themselves with uncharacteristic mistakes on offense and defense, unable to recover after one of the NFL’s top receivers, Mike Evans, dropped what would have been a long touchdown pass on the third play from scrimmage.

Once again, the running game (46 yards, 2.9 per carry) was virtually nonexistent. The offense was 2 of 12 on third down, 0 for 6 in the second half.

“We just have not played well,” Brady said, reflecting on back-to-back losses to the Steelers and Panthers, who were both heavy underdogs according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

“It doesn’t matter. If you don’t execute your job well, then it doesn’t matter who’s on the other side,” Brady added. “It just still comes down to the fundamentals of the sport. Throwing and catching. Blocking. Tackling. It’s all the fundamentals.”

Bowles said the team’s mental fortitude will be tested in coming weeks.

“The older guys have to prove they can still play. The younger guys got to prove they belong, and the coaches got to get better every day,” Bowles said. “That’s really it. Toughness. Mental toughness.”

WHAT’S WORKING

Despite Evans dropping a potential 64-yard touchdown pass on the third play from scrimmage, Brady finished with 290 yards passing and extended his streak of consecutive games without an interception to six. Nevertheless, the 45-year-old quarterback didn’t throw for any TDs and has just eight through seven games. Brady threw 49 times against Carolina. But with the Bucs ranking last in the league in rushing, it’s difficult to fault them for not running the ball more.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

The defense continues to keep the Bucs in games by not yielding a lot of points. But the unit gave up 181 yards and a TD on the ground to a team starting a third-string quarterback. The Panthers were also without two of their top playmakers — running back Christian McCaffrey and receiver Robbie Anderson — who were traded earlier in the week.

STOCK UP

Backup offensive lineman Nick Leverett got some playing time at left guard against the Panthers. He apparently fared well enough that he could see additional action as the team continues to solve its woes on the offensive line.

STOCK DOWN

The defense, among the best in the NFL at forcing turnovers the past three seasons, hasn’t had a takeaway the past three games.

INJURIES

LG Luke Goedeke was walking with a boot on his right foot after Sunday’s loss; however, Bowles said Monday that expects the rookie to start Thursday night against Baltimore. Leverett filled in during two stretches in which Goedeke was not in the game against the Panthers.

KEY NUMBER

Brady has thrown 271 consecutive passes without an interception, the longest streak in franchise history. He also owns the second- and third-longest streaks at 228 and 199.

UP NEXT

Not a lot of time address shortcomings this week with Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens visiting Raymond James Stadium on Thursday night.

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