Even as the Bucs awaited a diagnosis of Antonio Brown’s knee injury Monday, they found consolation on film.
Such as Tom Brady’s critical 15-yard toss to outstretched rookie Tyler Johnson on third and 11 Sunday inside the Superdome. Or Scotty Miller’s catch of a deep Brady spiral between two defenders on another third-down play.
No sign of a partial tear — or even a strain — in the trust factor between Brady and his young targets, who might be summoned more frequently this weekend in Green Bay if Brown is unavailable.
“He sees those guys work so hard on the practice field,” coach Bruce Arians said Monday. “And he’s got a great rapport with all of them.”
Denied a conventional offseason and nary a preseason game, Brady still clearly has managed to build enough confidence — and clairvoyance — with all of his targets to trust them in the most critical junctures. Entering this weekend’s conference title games, 11 different Bucs have at least 10 receptions, most of any of the four teams still alive.
“The more we’re together, the more we’re talking about football, the more we’re trying to be on the same page, the better it is,” Brady said.
Sunday’s 30-20 division playoff win in New Orleans offered further proof of Brady’s sprawling trust. Against the Saints, he completed passes to nine players, with none targeted more than seven times (Chris Godwin).
Even tailback Leonard Fournette, widely panned for his pass-catching deficiencies in the past, caught five of the six throws tossed his way. The most critical: a short pass near the goal line that he bobbled before securing and crossing the plane for a 6-yard touchdown.
But the catches by the 22-year-old Johnson (12 regular-season receptions) and 23-year-old Miller (four receptions in the past four games) were equally critical, extending an 11-play drive early in the fourth that led to the go-ahead field goal.
Johnson contorted his body and stretched his arms for his third-and-long catch near the sideline. Two plays later, he found Miller deep down the right side on third and 5.
“That’s what it’s all about. You get your opportunities, man, you’ve got to make the best of them,” Arians said.
“You don’t know when they’re coming. This time, Scotty jumped out there. It was really a play designed for Antonio, but Scotty ran a great route and beat them. Tyler makes a great catch. … It’s everybody just doing their job.”
An ensemble, to be sure. At this stage, the focal character trusts his entire cast.
“The more that I’ve been around Mike (Evans), Chris (Godwin), Antonio (Brown), Scooter (Miller), Tyler, Mick (Jaydon Mickens), the better it gets,” Brady said.
“The tight end position, I’ve been around (Rob Gronkowski) for a long time; I know exactly what he’s thinking (and) how he looks. Cam (Brate) is a pretty easy guy to get up to speed with, too. We’re just going to keep trying to make improvements.”