At this point, we've all heard this story a hundred times, and NFL on CBS analyst Tony Romo still isn't buying it. Tom Brady has a less-than-pleasant outing, and suddenly the wheels are coming off and he's washed up. But more often than not, the future Hall of Famer eventually proves his doubters wrong, using their lack of belief as fuel to blast off. It's a key reason he has six Super Bowl rings -- the most of any player in NFL history -- and a slew of awards in his illustrious 20-year career, but this season marks the first time he's being asked to carry a team without the assistance of the equally powerful Bill Belichick.
Now having lost his debut with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, to the tune of 34-23 at the hands of Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints, the ever-present questions regarding his ability to bounce back have now resurfaced. Brady went 23 for 36 on pass attempts en route to 239 yards, and while he did throw for two touchdowns, he also had two interceptions, one being a pick-six. Still, when I asked Romo about Brady's state of mind in going from the big fish in the AFC East pond to the more competitive shark tank of the NFC South, the former Dallas Cowboys signal-caller didn't mince words.
He's still very much a believer in Brady, and says everyone else should be as well.
"I'd be very careful [and not] base everything on Week 1 -- just every year in the NFL," Romo said in an exclusive Zoom conference call prompted by his celebration of another year as operator for The Corona Hotline. "Everybody before the season starts is going to be amazing. Everyone has it all figured out, and everyone has their plan and everything is great. Every new team has their new coach and their new players, and they've done the new scheme -- everyone's going to be great.
"Everybody sees Week 1 and here's what they say -- from a fan's perspective or a writer -- we all go, 'They're not going to be any good. You see that? Ah, terrible. Blah blah blah.' This year is a very unique year. These guys have not been together all offseason, adjusting to the players. Right now, you're trying to adjust to your own system."
It's a valid point, considering the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic deleted minicamp and the entire preseason, and also forced a more non-traditional training camp. It's the same issues Romo's former team is facing in Dallas -- having undergone a slew of changes this offseason and with only four weeks to go from formal introductions to attempting to win regular season games. And with it being such a unique year, Romo notes he'd be remiss to shrug all of those variables to the side, along with the fact it's an overhauled offensive unit he's never played with before (sans Rob Gronkowski) and under coaches he just recently met face-to-face.
"When you go to a new team like Tom Brady -- anybody's who new and going to a new system they don't know, there's no chance that they're not mistakes," explained Romo. "Tom Brady's coming into a system with Bruce Arians and other people who have done this for a long time, and so they need to get to know Brady and he needs to get to know them. Now we pretend they should have this down because they've been together for a month, but that's not realistic. When the ball starts flying and you start going through a real game, that's when you learn what's really going to hold up and what's really not.
"And what happens is -- in the offseason you start to learn about your players. So when you're the quarterback, you start to see this kid can run this route and this kid can't. In training camp, you're really already assessed all that and so now you're like, 'OK, let's put him in these situations and see if it works, in key situations in training camp and in preseason where we scrimmage against other teams.' There's been none of that."
So from Romo's standpoint, September is essentially the preseason, but much more so for teams like the Bucs.
"Basically, to me, the Bucs are playing four games to learn who they are," he said. "Tom is playing four games to start the year to learn how Bruce and this team calls games situationally, and the rules that the players know. So you can tell Tom and you can tell the players what they're supposed to do, but until they have to do it with people actually coming at them when it counts, you really won't know. And they don't have a ton of reps on them.
"I'd be very careful to assume this isn't going to work out. I'll tell you right now I think this is going to be -- Tom Brady is going to play great football this year. I don't go by a throw here or a throw there. I go by the eye test for me and I know a little bit more about schematically what's going on, but I'll just say I think Tom Brady is going to be just fine in Tampa Bay.
"They just need to learn who they are. And Tom needs to learn the players but also the system, because when he got there -- he's really just trying to call the plays like a rookie QB. It's a brand new system, no matter how long you've [been in the league]. When you have to start calling it a different way, your job is thinking about your own players."
In Romo's opinion, at a certain point this year, Brady is going to return to the point where he knows who can do what, what the plays look like in various situations, and can then stop overprocessing as he familiarizes himself with the Buccaneeers.
"When you're older and you know the system so cold, you don't think about your own plays, you think about the defense," said the four-time Pro Bowler. "You think about the matchups. That'll develop as the season goes on, and when it does that's when you'll see the best version of Tom and the Buccaneers. I think he'll be fine. He's not average.
"This guy's rare and special. He's not going to go away on a whimper. He's going to come back very strong and this season's going to be just fine for the Buccaneers."
Brady and Co. will face another NFC South rival who pummeled the refresh button this offseason in the Carolina Panthers, giving them an early chance to break even in their first two games. It's also his debut at Raymond James Stadium, as if he needed more motivation coming off of a disappointing Week 1 showing in Louisiana. But even if the Bucs don't claim victory and fall to 0-2 to start the Brady era, Romo is still not selling his seat to the Tom Brady show. Instead, he'll be even more glued to his seat, because he's seen this movie a few times before.
As we all have, albeit in a different theater.