Remember how hopeless everything felt for the Bucs? No, not three years ago when the team hadn’t reached the playoffs for more than a decade. Rather, just a few months ago, Tampa Bay’s 2022 outlook was murky — at best.
Tom Brady’s retirement had the Bucs searching for answers. Would they roll with Blaine Gabbert or Kyle Trask under center in 2022 and see where that got them? The roster was still in solid shape, and given the uncertainty with the rest of the NFC, they could still feel confident about contending for a playoff spot in their first year without Brady.
But as good as everyone might’ve felt, there was still an uneasy feeling in Tampa Bay. After getting used to having so much success over the last two years, would the team be able to carry the winning culture forward? Could they get the job done without their future Hall of Fame quarterback? Not to mention, there were some major free agents who needed to be re-signed, and it didn’t seem like all of them would realistically return.
“For a few weeks, it looked like the G.O.A.T. was gone. Then fate intervened, and Tom Brady returned,” Rank wrote. “Then coach Bruce Arians stepped down and took a front office job. Arians and Brady denied this was the result of some sort of mutiny on this ship, and everything seems copacetic now. Are the Bucs the best team in the NFC?”
The Bucs very well might be favorites to win the NFC and play for their second Lombardi Trophy in three years. It’s a wildly different outlook than the one they had in February. A lot changed in three short months.
Bucs’ 2022 Success Largely Hinges On Brady
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Bucs QB Tom Brady – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Reading through Rank’s season preview for the Bucs, Brady is — understandably — a theme. He’s really the theme. Rank picked him as one of his “VIPs” for a reason, of course.
“Honestly, he keeps getting better. Brady has more passing yards and passing touchdowns in his 40s than he did in his 20s,” Rank wrote. “And I’m sure you’ve all seen the memes where Brady, who is turning 45 in August, somehow looks younger now than he did in his 20s.
“Hell, if he throws 39 touchdown passes this season, he’ll be the Bucs’ all-time leader in passing TDs, despite only joining them two seasons ago. It’s absolutely wild that he’s still this good at this stage of his career. He’s unbelievable. No wonder he decided against retiring.”
He’s right. Brady doesn’t seem to age. And that’s why it’s no surprise to see him projected as the team’s MVP in 2022.
“Look, I pride myself on choosing players other than the starting quarterback for this spot. But how did your feelings about the Buccaneers change once Brady came out of retirement?,” Rank wrote. “The Bucs were just another mid-card team without him, but now they’re back in main event status.
“And honestly, they should now be considered the Super Bowl favorites. The Bucs are 24-9 in two seasons with Brady. They are 5-1 in the playoffs. Those five playoff wins are huge, considering Tampa Bay had not won a single playoff game since Super Bowl XXXVII.”
It Can’t Be All About Brady If Tampa Bay Is Going To Reach The Mountaintop Again
The Bucs don’t win Super Bowl LV two seasons ago without Brady. But they also don’t win it without key contributors all over the roster. That title-winning team had plenty of stars on it, and many of them are still in Tampa looking to go for another one. However, Rank picks out two players who will be majorly important to the team in 2022. First, he picks Russell Gage as his “new face to know.” He likes his fantasy football prospects, especially considering Brady’s tendency to trust his slot receivers.
“Brady was talking Gage – a free-agent signee from the Falcons – up recently, saying he’s going to need to have a huge season. And it’s easy to see how well Tom has done over the years with receivers who can do damage in the slot,” Rank wrote. “There’s Wes Welker and Julian Edelman, to name a couple. One wouldn’t have to connect random dots to suggest Gage has the potential for a big year.”
Bucs OLB Joe Tryon-Shoyinka – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Rank’s “projected 2022 breakout star” is currently a popular pick among many around the NFL world. He touts second-year pass rusher Joe Tryon-Shoyinka as someone “on the cusp of a major leap.”
“It seemed like everyone made such a huge deal about all of the starters that returned to the Bucs last year, but they did add some young talent along the way for the future of the organization. Tryon-Shoyinka, a first-round pick in 2021, is expected to take over for Jason Pierre-Paul at outside linebacker, and he could be on the cusp of a major leap,” he wrote. “He posted four sacks last year, despite playing just half of the defensive snaps. This is mostly me forecasting here, but I could see him getting double-digit sacks playing in this system, given his talent.”
Super Bowl Or Bust For The Bucs In 2022?
The 2022 schedule is a tough one for Tampa Bay. The team will have to navigate through a slate of playoff teams and top quarterbacks. Games against the Saints and Rams stick out because of the Bucs’ recent history against them. But Todd Bowles’ team has the talent to make another big run this season. Rank’s big questions for the team revolve around replacements in the trenches. General manager Jason Licht has done plenty of work to answer those questions. Trading for Shaq Mason, re-signing Aaron Stinnie and drafting Luke Goedeke covered the offensive line. Drafting Logan Hall, re-signing Will Gholston and signing Akiem Hicks took care of the defensive line.
Bucs QB Tom Brady – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Then, after pointing out Leonard Fournette’s weight problems as a storyline that people shouldn’t overthink and picking out Tampa Bay’s issues with dropped passes in 2021 as a storyline to pay more attention to, Rank lays out the goal for the Bucs in 2022. For the upcoming season to be measured as a success, Rank writes that Tampa Bay must win the Super Bowl.
“Divisional titles are cool and all, but Tom Brady does not unretire just to compete for the top spot in the NFC South. This is all-in for what could be Brady’s final season in the NFL. OK, so it’s probably not that – maybe he’ll be throwing passes to Tyreek Hill in Miami next year,” Rank wrote. “Still, I wonder if Brady thinks about how, say, Peyton Manning walked off a champion (or, more precisely, was carried off by that Broncos defense) and feels like he needs to go out with an eighth ring.”
Tiresome Miami speculation aside, Rank is right. Brady returned for his 23rd NFL season to win his eighth Super Bowl ring. Lately, the soon-to-be 45-year-old quarterback has sounded like someone who knows he’s reaching the end of his career — as hard as it is to believe. So, he’ll want to go out on top.
And the Bucs, knowing they’ll soon have to answer the questions they were able to push aside when Brady returned from retirement in March, have to capitalize on what will likely be their final year with the greatest quarterback of all time.
You can give Adam Rank’s full “State of the 2022 Bucs” preview right here.The NFL.com analyst takes a fun — and not so fun — look back at 2021 and covers plenty about Brady, Bowles and all that the Bucs will need to do to return to the top of the NFL world this season.