How the 2-0 Bucs are winning without Tom Brady

TAMPA, Fla. -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Dave Canales could feel it on the sideline in Week 1 against the Minnesota Vikings.

The Bucs spent nearly the whole first half spinning their wheels, as they were unable to convert on third down in a new system and with a new quarterback.

But there was a steadfast belief they'd get it figured out. And they did. Even without future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady running the show for the first time since 2020.

"This feels like a winning team," Canales said.

He was right, at least for the first two weeks for the Bucs (2-0).

It's now quarterback Baker Mayfield's show, and despite the slow start in Week 1, the Bucs were able to pull out the win on the road.

"There was no panic early on, even with the slow start," Canales said. "The guys were just calm. They were like, 'Yeah, OK, let's just fix some stuff. Let's sit down, keep working.'"

Canales pointed to the "championship in the rearview mirror," the fresh sets of banners hanging in the indoor practice facility that include a Super Bowl win and back-to-back NFC South titles that highlighted the past three seasons.

But how much does that carry over without Brady -- and with a roster that very quickly went from being one of the oldest and most experienced in the NFL to one of the youngest? That was the prevailing question all offseason and throughout training camp.

"We turned the page a while ago," Bucs coach Todd Bowles said at the time. "We're a different team, we know we're a different team. We move forward that way. We don't worry about ghosts from the past or anything else. We worry about what we have now and what we have to do to win."

General manager Jason Licht also shared optimism about the roster he had assembled.

"I can't make any predictions -- I just feel like our team has the DNA to want to compete against anybody," Licht said right before the season.

Now, heading into "Monday Night Football" (7:15 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN+) as the defending NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles (2-0) come to town, we're about to see if his premonition holds true.

"We have belief in this building, we have confidence in this building," Bowles said. "We've had winners in this building the past few years -- that has not changed. The people have changed, but that has not changed. We're continuing to do that."

Prior to Brady's arrival in the spring of 2020, the Bucs had a reputation for falling short in one-score games and blowing leads.

After Brady led a comeback in his first season with the Bucs in Week 15 in the second win of eight straight en route to a Super Bowl, perception seemed to have shifted in Tampa. The Bucs were down 17-0 at the Atlanta Falcons before pulling out the 31-27 win. They were also able to come back from a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit against the New Orleans Saints on the road in the divisional round of the playoffs.

Before Brady, who retired in the offseason with seven Super Bowls titles, the Bucs hadn't been to the playoffs since the 2007 season, and they hadn't won a playoff game since the 2002 season.

But as fruitful as the Brady era was, it has become a distant memory around AdventHealth Training Center.

The air around the facility feels lighter and less tense, almost as if there's been a giant, collective exhale, and with it, a release. Players, coaches and the front office have welcomed a reprieve from the spotlight, a chance to quietly go about their business free of the constant barrage of television cameras.

Some voiced their displeasure over prognosticators' preseason rankings, but for the most part, they are eager to prove there was more to the past three years' successes than Brady -- that the same marquee pillars who helped lure him to Tampa in Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Lavonte David, Devin White and Carlton Davis could help support a crop of younger players.

"Even when we had [Brady], it was a team full of winners, so it's no different for us," Bowles said. "I think the minute you start performing to other people's expectations, you start letting yourself down and letting everybody else down."

Bowles added that a perk of having a younger roster is having "young legs" and the ability to practice every day versus giving older players rest days.

Licht joked they've had to "go find gems at the Dollar Store," while paying the price for borrowing $100 million from the future to fuel a three-year Brady run. Mayfield, whom the Bucs signed this offseason to a one-year deal worth a base of $4 million and up to $8.5 million with incentives, might be the shiniest gem of all.

"What they tell you is what you're getting. There's no behind-the-scenes drama -- it's all about winning here," Mayfield said. "How can we put our guys in the best position to win? It's rare, unfortunately, in the NFL to have an organization like that -- that's why I'm so happy to be here."

Under Canales, the high-flying offensive attack from last season has been replaced by a scheme that doesn't rely so heavily on the quarterback making risky throws or players needing to win one-on-one matchups, and it highlights Mayfield's ability to extend plays with this legs.

The players have fed off of Mayfield's moxie and swagger.

"A play will look like it's dead, it'll look like he's sacked, and he somehow shakes out of it and gets about 4 or 5 yards and goes from a negative to a positive play, and we're ahead of the chains," Godwin said. "Throughout the game, he's even-keeled. He's never too high, never too low. I think those are things you kind of look for in a quarterback."

Consider how the past two games have gone, and you can see why the Bucs are in the position they're in.

Against the Vikings, with 2 minutes, 39 seconds to go before halftime, Mayfield led a seven-play touchdown drive from the Tampa Bay 39-yard line, hitting Evans on a post route for a 28-yard touchdown to make it a 10-10 game. Then, with 54 seconds left and the Vikings threatening to score, nickelback Christian Izien intercepted quarterback Kirk Cousins at the 2-yard line.

Against the Chicago Bears in Week 2, holding a 20-17 lead with 2:12 to go, outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett returned an interception for a touchdown to make it a 27-17 game -- and the team rushed an emotional Barrett in jubilation, as he's been dealing with the death of his daughter Arrayah.

Then after an 11-yard sack from Vita Vea, Izien intercepted Fields on third-and-19 to seal the victory -- one of five turnovers forced by the defense, tied for fourth most in the league. They also have eight sacks (tied for fourth).

"We're tenacious," said Izien, who's one of several undrafted free agent rookies the front office and coaching staff are excited about. "We're going to hunt."

The Bucs see Monday night as a litmus test, but they know there's room to grow, particularly in the red zone -- where they went 1-for-4 against the Bears.

"They're a really good team," Godwin said of the Eagles. "They had a really good year last year, and they started off hot. But it's only a measuring stick if we allow it to be. Whatever we do when we go out there, if we allow this one game to define our season, I think we're going to be wrong whether we win or lose.

"If we're continuing to improve on our communication and our execution, I think we'll like where we're at as we get further into the season."

Bowles cautioned things could "go south quick," but the Bucs know they must stay the course to be able to fully emerge from the shadows of Brady.

"We've known the whole time what we have in this locker room," Mayfield said. "... The important part now is not letting the outside noise affect us in the building, as well. We didn't let it affect us before, why let it do it now?"