The Tampa Bay Buccaneers figured to be among the most realistic Super Bowl contenders as soon as Tom Brady decided to come back for the 2022 campaign, but they are fighting to stay around .500 after four losses in their last five games.
Yet the future Hall of Famer hasn't lost his passion for the game despite Tampa Bay's 3-4 start.
"Absolutely," he said on his Let's Go! podcast when co-host Jim Gray asked if he still loves the sport at 45 years old in the face of the recent struggles (15:45 mark). " … It's a hard sport we've chosen, and it's tough. It challenges you in every area, physically, mentally and emotionally. Certainly, at this stage we're in, this is where you've gotta dig deep and see what you're all about. See what kind of character you have."
This surely isn't what Brady had in mind when he decided to return after temporarily retiring this past offseason.
Tampa Bay scored just three points in Sunday's loss to a Carolina Panthers team that already fired head coach Matt Rhule and traded running back Christian McCaffrey and wide receiver Robbie Anderson.
It has scored more than 21 points just once all season, and that was during a 41-31 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
The frustration is clearly there, as Brady has been seen yelling at his offensive linemen and throwing a tablet on the sidelines, but he put a stop to any speculation he might retire again during the season.
"I made a commitment to this team," he said (18:00 mark). "And I love this team. … I've never quit on anything in my life."
Brady spent much of the podcast discussing how important it is to overcome adversity and how he still believes this Buccaneers team is capable of making a run. It surely helps that they are tied with the Atlanta Falcons atop the NFC South and could seize control of the division with just a couple of better efforts.
"Everyone can be there during the parades," he said. "Everyone can be there when everyone's telling you how great you are. Who are you when things aren't great? Who are you when things don't go your way?"
Next up for the Buccaneers is a Thursday night showdown with the Baltimore Ravens, who are also looking for a bit more consistency after alternating wins and losses on their way to a 4-3 record through the first seven games.
It might take just one impressive offensive performance from Brady and Tampa Bay to turn things around, and fans at least don't have to worry about whether he still loves the game while his team is struggling.