Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers face a tough midseason test from a dominant Baltimore Ravens pass rush on Thursday night.
The seven-time Super Bowl champion's scriptwriters appear to have gone on strike as the 45-year-old's last season with Bucs is heading into a tailspin.
Back-to-back defeats to the unfancied Pittsburgh Steelers and Carolina Panthers have dropped Tampa to 3-4 and a share of the NFC South lead with the Atlanta Falcons.
With plenty of football still to play Brady won't yet be panicking, but the Bucs are trending in the wrong direction in what could make for an implausible last chapter to his glittering career.
|What:||Baltimore Ravens @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
|Where:||Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida|
|When:||01:15, Friday 28th October 2022|
|How to watch:||Sky Sports NFL, NFL Game Pass & Sports Live Streaming|
|Odds:||BAL Ravens 1/1 TB Buccaneers|
Brady's frustrations have already been taken out on team tablets and offensive linemen this season, but the quarterback's issues during last Sunday's shock loss to the Panthers were mainly with his receiving corps.
Given as much time in the pocket as he wanted, Brady threw for 290 yards on 49 dropbacks and put precisely zero points on the board.
The Bucs' only score came from a field goal after the Panthers stopped their best drive close to the goal line in the fourth quarter.
The usually-reliable Mike Evans dropped a perfectly-thrown ball for what would have been a certain touchdown on the opening series and the Bucs' coaching staff called a bad game too.
Tampa, who have covered the spread in five of their last seven games as an underdog, deserted the ground game after falling behind to a team many thought would be uncompetitive.
They generated just 46 rushing yards with Leonard Fournette bottled up at the line of scrimmage all too often.
The veteran running back is now looking like a shadow of the 'Playoff Lenny' that became a star of the Bucs' Super Bowl-winning season of just two years ago.
Maintaining a balanced approach will be key to getting the better of a Ravens defence that has all the constituent parts of an elite unit, although they currently rank only 23rd overall and 26th against the pass.
Stout against the run, Baltimore will attempt to force the Bucs into third-and-long situations that should enable their playmaking defensive backs to shine.
Cornerbacks Creed Humphrey and Marcus Peters will do battle with Brady's favourite receivers Evans and Chris Godwin - who were targeted 26 times last week.
Ball-hawk Humphrey has two interceptions to his name already this season, but Peters has been over-aggressive at times and burned for too many big plays.
But it is the Ravens' pass rush that could do the most damage to the Bucs fragile offensive line.
Left tackle Donovan Smith, who has been nursing an elbow injury, was overmatched last Sunday and called for multiple false starts while rookie guard Luke Goedeke was benched after a horrible performance at Bank of America Stadium.
The Ravens defensive front feasted on the Browns' banged-up line last week taking Jacoby Brissett down for five sacks, which gives them a tally of 20 through the first seven games.
If they are on song again, then it could be tough for Brady to sustain drives - as happened last week when the Bucs only converted two of 12 third downs.
The Ravens held Cleveland to two of 11 on third down last week and winning on that down could be the key to the game again.
On offense, Baltimore's Lamar Jackson continues to rack up the yardage - albeit his impact has been mainly on the ground in the last few weeks.
The franchise QB, whose contract situation will be resolved at the end of the season, has rushed for over 500 yards and passed for nearly 1,400 through seven weeks and will need to be carefully watched by the Bucs' linebackers.
The Ravens had 44 rush attempts to just 16 pass plays last week and will need to be more rounded in their approach while also trying to work leading receiver Mark Andrews back into the game plan. He was targeted just twice and finished with no catches last week.
All things considered this could be a game where points are on the low side.
There's been an average of just 35.4 points per game when the Buccaneers have played this season - that is more than a full ten points below the Total of 46.0 for this matchup, with the Under available to back at . The under has also landed in the Ravens' last four games.