Tom Brady rifled spirals Saturday night during a sharp performance commensurate with his ownership of seven Super Bowl rings, exposing the Texans’ seemingly overwhelmed first-team defense.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ practically ageless 44-year-old quarterback showed why he was able to lead the NFC South franchise to a Super Bowl victory last season.
And Brady also showed that the Texans’ overhauled defense, while dramatically improved and much more aggressive under veteran defensive coordinator Lovie Smith, still has work to do as they try to upgrade their porous unit from a year ago against elite quarterbacks.
The Texans, who finished 2-1 in the preseason with this 23-16 defeat at NRG Stadium, had delivered encouraging performances during wins over the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys. This didn’t resemble those kind of games, though.
While Brady and the Buccaneers went three-and-out on their first offensive series, the former NFL and Super Bowl Most Valuable Player ultimately flexed his skill from that point on before hapless backup Blaine Gabbert entered the game.
Engineering consecutive touchdown drives, Brady shredded the Texans secondary, which was operating without top cornerback Bradley Roby since he’s suspended for the season opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars due to a six-game suspension he served five games of last season for violating the NFL’s performance enhancing drug policy.
Brady wound up completing 11 of 14 passes for 154 yards and a sterling 136.3 passer rating.
“Tom Brady went out there and did Tom Brady things,” Texans safety Justin Reid said. “He's the greatest quarterback of all time. We started out fast on the first series and the next two series he came in and tempo-ed us and made some plays. So, I couldn't ask for a better competitor to go against for the last preseason game, to give us film on what we can tighten up and get ready for Week 1 with, and you couldn't ask for a better quarterback to do that.”
Brady, a six-time Super Bowl victor with the New England Patriots before joining the Buccaneers, led the Buccaneers on 91-yard and 93-yard touchdown drives.
Brady connected with wide receiver Chris Godwin for a 24-yard touchdown pass.
“You're going against the best of the best,” Texans linebacker Christian Kirksey said. “We all know when it's all said and done, he arguably might be the best quarterback to ever play. When you can go up against a challenge and see the things that you need to fine tune, it's really great for us.
“It's not too many quarterbacks like Tom Brady that's been where he's been and made the plays he's made. So when you are going against somebody at that high level, you can just tell like where you need to be as a defense. It was a good test for us.”
The Texans dominated backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who got sacked by defensive end Charles Omenihu for his third sack of the preseason. Then, Gabbert was intercepted by safety Terrence Brooks.
Texans defensive tackle DeMarcus Walker recorded a safety against Gabbert when a bad snap led to him falling on the football in the end zone
Gabbert isn’t Brady, though.
“Yeah, I got to play in Tom with New England for a couple years so I got to practice against him,” Brooks said. “He's an awesome guy, very down-to-earth and we talk a lot about our families and stuff like that. Tom is a great player and everybody sees that he can pick you apart at any time and he's been around the game forever. It's great to go against him. I wish I could go against him all the time because you want to go against the best and you want to prove yourself and Tom is a great guy to do that against.”
The defense finished with four sacks and three turnovers against the Buccaneers, finishing the preseason with 11 sacks and 10 turnovers.
“We got a lot of fight in us,” Kirksey said. “Obviously, we’re not where we want to be exactly. We’ve still got some stuff to clean up. We got hit on some plays we wish we could have back, but it’s preseason. It’s meant to clean up everything and see where we’re at. We're moving forward, we've got some great players and we're getting ready for Week 1.
“Tom Brady, when he's in his groove, we've got to keep trusting the play-calling and keep playing and find a way. When you go against a quarterback like Tom who has seen it all, we have to disguise a little bit better. Make sure we're not showing him the coverage pre-snap. He’s seen just about everything so he know the holes, where guys are going to be open so we have to do a better job of doing that and making it hard on a quarterback of that caliber and making plays on the ball.”
Aaron Wilson has covered the NFL for 20 seasons, including the Texans, Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars. He has previously written for The Houston Chronicle and The Baltimore Sun. He’s on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL and Instagram: @aaronwilson7128.