Even after falling 27-24 to the Los Angeles Rams on Monday night, Tom Brady and the 7-4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers remain a contender in the untrustworthy NFC. But inconsistent play by Brady and his supporting cast—particularly in important spots—is becoming a significant concern.
Brady and the Bucs have played four games against teams with seven or more wins. They're 1-3, with Brady throwing seven interceptions in the three losses.
They've also played four prime-time games. They're 1-3, with the lone victory coming by just two points over the 3-7 New York Giants. Brady has five interceptions in those losses.
"Still trying to figure that out," Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said of Brady's struggles in big games.
The good news is after the Buccaneers play the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs next week, they have their Week 13 bye and finish the season against four opponents with four or fewer wins.
The bad news is if they don't perform well against the Chiefs on short rest, they'll enter the playoffs (if they make it) with that monkey still firmly on their back.
Barring an unlikely flex, they won't play in prime time again this year and will thus finish with an 0-4 record against the spread on national television.
And a blowout victory over the Green Bay Packers and a road win over the Las Vegas Raiders provide optimism, but the Green Bay win came on extra rest (which will go out the window in January unless they somehow come back to earn the No. 1 seed in the conference), and it might not be ideal that their two best performances of the year came in back-to-back weeks.
Maybe that suggests they can get hot in the playoffs and string more games together like the two in which they outscored Green Bay and Las Vegas 83-30 last month, but Brady has posted a weak 82.5 passer rating in the four games since, and the fluctuations by the offense are now alarming.
Tampa Bay hasn't scored more than 25 or less than 38 points in a game since Week 3. It's encouraging that it put up 38 against the Chargers and Packers, 45 against the Raiders and 46 just last week at Carolina, but that last one came after they were nearly shut out by the New Orleans Saints in Tampa.
There have been far too many duds. And though they managed 24 points Monday, all you had to do was watch the game or look beyond the box score to see it was a far-from-crisp offensive performance.
Brady didn't get much help from a short-handed line or a supporting cast that dropped several passes (particularly the running backs), but the future Hall of Famer threw two atrocious interceptions on poorly thrown balls against manageable pressure from four-man rushes, and he arguably got away with a strip-sack in his own end zone when the play was ruled an incomplete pass.
Now, only Carson Wentz of the Philadelphia Eagles and Nick Foles of the Chicago Bears have thrown more picks on deep passes this season than Brady, who was 0-of-7 with two interceptions on deep passing attempts. He now has a deep passer rating of 9.3 (not 93 but nine-point-three) in Tampa Bay's four losses, which is the worst mark in the NFL among quarterbacks who have attempted more than 10 passes of 15-plus yards in defeat.
For comparison's sake, in wins, his rating on deep balls is 112.5. And yes, there's little doubt quarterbacks are generally going to have better rate-based passing numbers in victories than losses, but that's a hell of a chasm.
It's also worth noting that Monday's game, two efforts against New Orleans and a soft Week 5 showing against Chicago are Brady's only games against defenses that ranked in the top 10 in defense-adjusted value over average at Football Outsiders through 10 weeks.
In those outings, Brady has five touchdown passes to seven interceptions, a completion percentage of just 58.9, a yards-per-attempt average of just 5.6 and a 66.9 rating.
That won't do, and it's apparent he and his cohorts won't always be bailed out by a talented and aggressive defense that is also boom-or-bust. Rams head coach Sean McVay drew up a smart game plan this week that neutralized that oft-disruptive defensive front with an array of short, quick passes, frequent pre-snap movement and a pace that was hard to counter.
Not everyone has the brains and personnel to accomplish that against the Bucs, but playoff teams are more likely to possess those requisites than the rest of the NFL.
Put it all together, and the Bucs might be in trouble entering the home stretch.
Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012. Follow him on Twitter, @Brad_Gagnon.