Lombardi: Wild Card Weekend Review

January 17, 2023 10:55 AM
Brady

Where will you go Tom Brady?  Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.  Inserting Tom Brady into the famous Simon and Garfunkel song Mrs. Robinson seems to be the right thing to do now that the off-season has begun.  Prepare yourself for the onslaught, as the Brady question will dominate the airwaves for the next 60 days.  And it’s a fair question because after this horrible season, the worst in his career, Brady isn’t going to stop playing.  He will say all the right things about taking time away, analyzing his options before making any decisions.  Yet that fire that burns inside, which has been so strong for the last 20-plus years, isn’t easy to extinguish.   

Watching Brady play last night wasn’t easy.  His skills are still good. His arm is alive, stronger than ever, and when the offense is choreographed, he looks like a 30-year-old.  In 2022, the offense was never in sync—no run game, no rhythm with his receivers.  There was no choreographer with the Bucs' offense as offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, playing the role of the maestro, seemed overwhelmed.   Each time during the 2022 season when an incompletion occurred, Brady looked perplexed throwing his arms into the air longing for the days of Josh McDaniels or Billy O’Brien.  No one on the Bucs' offense seemed on the same page, and as a result, the details went unattended.  When a team must throw the ball to gain four yards because they don’t have a running game, it places a huge burden on the quarterback—and no matter how talented the player is, the game can overwhelm him.  With no running game, and no balance in the offense, each play relied on Brady to be perfect, and with a leaky offensive line, perfection was hard to attain. 

The 2022 season was hard for him, and many will claim his skills are gone. After all, he is 45 years old and playing long past many (including me) thought any player could play.  Although, I am not sure he is done.  This season further proves the theory, that no matter how talented or smart the quarterback is, he needs the right supporting cast and a team buy-in.  Which wasn’t the case in Tampa.  Brady won’t be back to Tampa next season; that’s a given.  I am not suggesting Brady will only walk away from the game if he has his Billy Chapel moment.  (The Billy Chapel reference is from the movie, For the Love of the Game, when Chapel throws a perfect game in his last start and retires.) Rather, he can’t walk away with this awful taste from last night and the season.   The last memory we all want of Brady isn’t what we witnessed last night. 

Brady will just be one of the quarterback questions that will dominate the off-season.  Lamar Jackson of the Ravens will get his fair share of airtime, as his future in Baltimore seems tenuous.  The Ravens need to either sign Lamar for the long term or trade him because staying on the one-year Franchise tag deal will create another repeat of what occurred this season.  If Jackson gets injured late next season, will he play with an unsure and unguaranteed future?  Highly doubtful.  The Franchise tag will only protect the Ravens' rights in terms of trade value for Jackson.  It won’t solve the playing issue.  Jackson just turned 26 years old, on the seventh of this month, just a few months older than Stetson Bennett of Georgia, who enters the draft this year.  Jackson has at least 10 good seasons left, assuming he can stay healthy, which translates into two more contracts.   The Ravens are not going to budge on the fully guaranteed deal, nor will Jackson, so even though his rights are protected by the tag, his availability, once he gets nicked during the season, will always be in doubt. 

If you asked me to wager, simply on a guess, I would say Jackson isn’t playing in Baltimore next season.  This year was tough on both parties and unless one side moves, neither will want a repeat.  Stay tuned. 

Wild Card Thoughts

- Unless Buffalo returns to their 6-back offense featuring Josh Allen as the main runner, I am not sure they can be consistently good enough to win two more games against the level of competition.  Their offense looks out of sync and too mistake-prone. Allen is a superstar playmaker, not a superstar player all game. 

- The Bills miss Von Miller.  They are not able to generate a pass rush with their four down rushers, and Miami had some easy throws that were either dropped or poorly thrown. The Bills need to find a way to get control of the game with their front. 

- Cincinnati isn’t the same team as last year—on both sides of the ball.  Joe Burrow is still amazing with his playmaking skills, but their offensive line and lack of running game are going to cost them.  And on defense, their lack of being able to pressure the passer isn’t the same. Plus, their corners are not as good.  They miss Chidobe Awuzie badly. 

- How can Dallas go to San Francisco with Brett Maher as their kicker?  How can they trust him to make a tough kick?  How can you take the Boys plus the points with Maher being so yippy?

- The 49ers dominated the last Cowboy game because of their front against the Boys' offensive line.  The Cowboys are better this season, and if they can find a way to run the ball a little, they will be in the game into the fourth

- How are three teams from the NFC Least still in the playoffs?  The AFC seeding stayed true to form, but the NFC lost the 3 and 4 seeds, making the Divisional Round an NFC East party. 

- The Giants are a better team than when they lost to Philadelphia in Week 14, 48-22.  They are healthier and have a full defense.  Will this keep the game closer?  Not sure.  The challenge for the Giants matching the Eagles' offense centers on whether they get faster and still play the run.  The lack of speed at linebacker hurts them against the Eagles. 

- Forget last week’s game when handicapping this week.  The NFL is all about the matchups, not the prior week.  Everyone who took Tampa last night placed too much value on the Cowboys last game and not enough on the Bucs' season. 

- The more I study the games, Kansas City looks like the best team in either conference. 

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