The Gronkowski and Tom Brady connection missed on a season-high nine of 11 targets in the 9-0 loss to New Orleans on December 19, leaving Gronkowski’s final stat line at only two catches for 29 yards — the second-lowest catch percentage (18.2%) of his career in any game he’s caught at least one pass.
Tampa Bay’s 38-3 blowout loss to the Saints in Week 9 of 2020, when Gronkowski hauled in only one of Brady’s six looks his way (16.7%).
“Yeah, I’d like to see Gronk catch about four more,” Arians told the media on Monday, December 20. “I’m not used to seeing him drop the ball, and we missed a couple down the sideline.”
Arians anticipates a quick cleanup between Gronkowski and Brady by Week 16 at Carolina. Brady and Gronkowski of course own the second-most career touchdown connections between any quarterback and receiver duo in league history with 90 touchdowns.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt,” Arians said about their motivation on Wednesday, December 22. “Neither one was satisfied, that’s for sure, especially ‘Gronk.’ The 10 guys around Tom have to play a lot better, too, to help him out.”
Brady hardly had an explanation for the lack of connection with Gronkowski against the Saints when he spoke with the media on Thursday. Of course, he wouldn’t want to give away any adjustments to the Carolina Panthers either.
“I don’t know. Just didn’t play our best game obviously. None of us,” Brady said on Thursday, December 23. “Just a bad day, so we’ve got to figure out how to move on and do a better job this week, and so we’ll work harder to get it right.”
Bucs’ Receiver Options Looking Tighter
Tampa Bay’s receiver room looks all the more tight with Antonio Brown and Jaelon Darden in limited participation at practice on Thursday, per Buccaneers.com. Mike Evans didn’t participate due to his hamstring injury, and he remains week-to-week with the injury.
Darden went on the Reserve/COVID-19 list on Thursday due to illness as did defensive lineman Rakeem Nunez-Roches, according to Greg Auman of The Athletic. The Bucs also officially placed running back Leonard Fournette and linebacker Lavonte David on injured reserve, Auman added. Fournette and David are expected to return for the playoffs.
Brown practicing in limited capacity didn’t come as a surprise, according to Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times. The four-time All-Pro had a lighter load on Wednesday, too, as he returns from an ankle injury and three-game suspension.
Wide receiver Breshad Perriman remains on the reserve/COVID-19 list as of Thursday. Arians didn’t confirm on Wednesday if Perriman will play against the Panthers.
“He’s very close from what I’m hearing,” Arians said.
The Bucs learned on Monday that Chris Godwin won’t return this season due to an ACL tear in Sunday’s loss, which leaves Tyler Johnson and Scotty Miller as the lone healthy receivers on the roster besides Brown.
“He’s a focal part of what we do and it’s time for Tyler (Johnson) and some other guys to step up into that role,” Arians said on Wednesday regarding Godwin.
Johnson’s Time to Shine?
Johnson had a few bright moments as a rookie in 2020, a season in which he caught two touchdowns on 12 receptions and averaged 14.1 yards per catch across 14 games. In 2021, he has 27 catches for 288 yards but no touchdowns in as many contests, and his yards per catch average has dipped to 10.7.
Johnson said on Wednesday that he’s picked things up from Godwin and feels more prepared to take on a bigger role.
“Just the way Chris comes off the ball. He can create separation and he attacks the ball,” Johnson said. “Those are the small things in his game that I’ve paid close attention to. Chris is a great player. I’m praying for him (to have) a speedy and healthy recovery.”