Tom Brady-led Bucs offense has been anything but a 'fantasy land,' and it's why the team is struggling

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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are shaky right now. This team was supposed to be a bonafide Super Bowl contender, but they just look like a regular NFL team that’s trying to balance out the highs and lows of a long season.

The offensive line is banged up, they're too reliant on their defense and Tom Brady is actually starting to look like an aging quarterback at age 45 (to say nothing of the rumors swirling about his personal life). The Buccaneers just lost to the Kenny Pickett- and Mitch Trubisky-led Steelers 20-18 on Sunday — the same Steelers that didn't even belong on the same field as the Buffalo Bills a week ago.

Looking at the entirety of the Buccaneers' season makes the loss to the Steelers a little more understandable, and also a little more jarring. They almost allowed an Atlanta Falcons offense with no Kyle Pitts to come back from a 21-point, fourth-quarter deficit in Week 5. They only scored 12 points in their home loss to the Green Bay Packers in Week 3, and when the offense finally showed up against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 4, their defense was eviscerated by Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce. Putting together a complete performance has been difficult for the Buccaneers this season and they don't look nearly as formidable as they were the past two years.

"I think guys who are living off the Super Bowl are living in a fantasy land," head coach Todd Bowles said after the loss to the Steelers. It's not clear exactly who he was talking to with that line, but there's one side of the Buccaneers team that's struggled to consistently hold up their end up the bargain this year, and it's not the defense. Brady might not be that guy that can just carry an offense on his shoulders anymore, and the running game certainly isn't helping. According to Ben Baldwin of The Athletic, the Buccaneers are dead last in expected points added per rushing play (-0.269). What used to be an effective part of their offense has become a complete anchor.

Bowles has the defense still performing at a high level, but the offense under coordinator Byron Leftwich has just come to a standstill. There's no juice and explosive plays have been hard to find lately. Of course, injuries to Julio Jones and Chris Godwin haven't helped — and neither did the one-game suspension for Mike Evans for his role in a brawl with the New Orleans Saints. Even with those caveats, the Buccaneers just feel bogged down on offense. Godwin and Evans both played over the past two weeks, when Tampa Bay struggled to consistently score against two of the worst defenses in the league in Atlanta and Pittsburgh. A Brady-led offense, of all things, is really struggling to generate points and consistent yards.

Center Ryan Jensen being out for the season certainly isn’t helping matters, while rookie left guard Luke Goedeke is getting used to the NFL (to put it lightly) and running back Leonard Fournette hasn’t been able to create plays by himself. Over the past five games, Fournette is averaging just 2.9 yards per carry and has scored one rushing touchdown in that timespan. The Bucs are just running into brick walls and hoping they can find a crevice to squeeze through at the end.

Luckily for them, the NFC South isn’t exactly the strongest division in the league, so they still own the inside track towards hosting a playoff game in January. The Falcons have been scrappy, but they’re dealing with a roster that’s been handicapped with almost $80 million in dead cap money. The Saints are extremely injured. The Carolina Panthers belong in the SEC.

The division still belongs to the Buccaneers as far as this season goes, but their performance to this point makes it seem like changes are coming to this team after the season. Their current mode of operation isn’t a sustainable path toward winning.