Bearing the Brunt
Last weekend, the Buccaneers lost their second straight game to New Orleans, giving the Saints a 2-0 advantage over Tampa Bay in the NFC South.
Now, when the Bucs take the field on Sunday in Carolina, they're looking to avoid back-to-back losses for the first time with Tom Brady in a Tampa Bay jersey.
And all the pressure will be on the shoulders of the 21-year veteran.
Sunday seems to line up fortuitously for Brady and Tampa Bay. The Bucs already faced Carolina this season, back in Week 2, and it resulted in Brady's first win as a non-Patriots starting QB.
The Bucs held the Panthers scoreless in the first half and emerged with a 31-17 win at home, led by Brady's 215 passing yards and a touchdown, Leonard Fournette's 103 rushing yards and two touchdowns, and Mike Evans' 104 receiving yards and a touchdown.
Carolina is allowing 244.0 passing yards per game (20th in the NFL) and 25.1 points per game (15th in the NFL), both numbers that figure to bode well for Brady.
However, the Panthers – despite sitting at 3-6 – might be better than their record indicates.
Their six losses have come by a combined 38 points, an average of 6.3 points per game. In Week 9, they suffered their best loss of the season, a 33-31 defeat at Kansas City.
Carolina also lost by four to Las Vegas in Week 1, by seven against Chicago in Week 6, and by three at New Orleans in Week 7.
The Panthers' only double-digit defeat of the season came at the hands of Tampa Bay in Week 2, and they are currently on a four-game losing streak, desperate for a win on Sunday.
Does Sunday represent a trap game for Brady and the Bucs? And is the pressure on Brady now more than ever to earn a win, after his rough outing against the Saints on Sunday?
On Friday morning, Shannon Sharpe said that Tampa Bay's matchup with Carolina is just what the doctor ordered for Brady, mainly due to the fact that the Panthers' defense seldom gets to the opposing quarterback.
Carolina's 10 sacks are the third fewest in the NFL. Furthermore, their five interceptions are tied for fourth fewest in the league.
Brady has been sacked 13 times this season. The Bucs are 4-0 in games where Brady hasn't been sacked and 2-3 in games he's been sacked.
In games where Brady has been sacked at least three times, Tampa Bay is 0-3.
Keeping Brady upright is indeed paramount when it comes to Tampa Bay's success, but another point of focus this week has been his cohesion – or lack thereof – with coach Bruce Arians, especially after the Bucs laid an egg on Sunday against New Orleans.
Arians' gameplan was panned far and wide, as was Brady's play, after he finished the night 22-for-38 for 209 yards and three interceptions.
There figures to be some pressure on Arians to take the stacked Tampa offense – now including Antonio Brown – to the next level. But on Friday morning's version of First Take on ESPN, Max Kellerman said that there is no blaming the coach now.
It's up to Brady to guide the Bucs to victory.
"When the Bucs were flying high, Brady got enormous credit. I don't remember anyone talking about, 'Bruce Arians has really coached this team up.'"
While Tampa Bay is only a game behind New Orleans in the loss column, the Saints are 3-0 in the division with two wins over the Bucs, who are 1-2 in the division.
In order for Tampa to catch and surpass the Saints, it would need to win all three of its remaining AFC South contests, and New Orleans would need to lose all three of its remaining division tilts.
The comeback trail – as unlikely as it might be – starts Sunday in Carolina.
It's on you, TB12.