NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Tom Brady’s 20 previous NFL seasons, six of which ended with him holding the Lombardi Trophy, have taught him not to read too much into a single setback.
Not that he wanted to gloss over his mistakes — namely, a pair of interceptions — after a Tampa Bay debut that began with a triumphant spike but petered out into a double-digit loss on Sunday.
“I’ve lost plenty of games in my career,” Brady said following the 34-23 setback, which included an anticlimactic Tampa Bay TD in the final minutes. “I know I don’t like it. But it happens.
“We’ve got to learn from it,” Brady continued. “When you play good teams, you can’t make mistakes. Obviously, I made too many mistakes today. … I’m going to focus on what I have to do, and I have to do a lot better job.”
Brady’s arrival created big expectations in Tampa Bay, particularly given his stockpile of weapons on offense — including elite receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin and newcomers Rob Gronkowski and Leonard Fournette.
But even a QB as accomplished as Brady, it seems, can struggle to learn a new offense and build chemistry with his receivers. Bucs coach Bruce Arians said Brady’s first interception resulted from a miscommunication with Evans.
“He thought Mike was going down the middle — it was a different coverage — Mike read it right,” Arians said. “He should have been across his face, but Tom overthrew it.”
Saints safety Marcus Williams came down with the ball near midfield and returned it inside the Tampa Bay 40. A few plays later, Alvin Kamara was carrying the ball into the end zone for New Orleans.
Early in the second half, Brady’s pass intended for receiver Justin Watson along the right sideline was undercut by cornerback Janoris Jenkins, who met no resistance as he sprinted 36 yards for a touchdown.
“We hung our defense out to dry on some short fields, not moving the ball, not doing very well on third down at certain times,” Brady said. “The turnovers really hurt us. We’ve got to clean that up for next week.”
Brady finished 23 of 36 passing for 239 yards and two touchdowns, but eight of his completions and one of his touchdowns came in the final six minutes, when the game was virtually out of reach.
“It’s Week 1 of the NFL season. A lot of things are going to be corrected. Every team’s going to wish they did things better,” Brady said. “We’re going to feel that way as we move through the season. It’s going to be about our mental toughness, our urgency, how hard we work in practice to get things done. Not turning the ball over is a good place to start.”
There were some highlights, starting with the Bucs’ opening possession.
Brady lofted a 26-yard completion to Godwin along the right sideline, drew a pass interference penalty with a 22-yard attempt to Evans and capped the drive with a 2-yard keeper, after which he emphatically spiked the ball off the turf.
Less than a minute after his second interception had put the Saints up 24-7, Brady threw his first TD pass for Tampa Bay — and the 542nd of his career — to tight end O.J. Howard in the back of the end zone.
The Bucs lamented their mistakes but took solace in how much season is left to fix what failed and build on what went right.
“It’s good that this happened early,” Howard said. “We get to eat a piece of humble pie and get back at it next week. That’s the good thing about football.”
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL