Revenge is a dish best served in a stadium in Foxborough, Mass.
Sunday night’s game isn’t exactly a big-picture matchup in the grand scheme of the 2021 NFL season, but sometimes the league’s organic drama is too good to not pay attention to. Week 4’s Patriots vs. Buccaneers “Sunday Night Football” tilt is the purest example of that: Conquering hero Tom Brady returns to Gillette Stadium in a Buccaneers uniform, facing off against Bill Belichick, the man under whom he won six Lombardi Trophies.
While this game doesn’t exactly have playoff implications or is even a preview of a potential Super Bowl 56 matchup, both Brady and Belichick are playing for something personal (and sweet): Payback.
With news of the schism between Brady, Belichick and the rest of the organization trickling out since Brady’s departure from New England, the game is going to mean a lot for two guys who are likely dying to prove something to the other party. So, who needs Sunday’s game more? The case for both guys is pretty strong.
IYER: Why Patriots have zero chance to beat Tom Brady, Buccaneers in revenge game
The case for Tom Brady
At age 44, with seven Super Bowl rings, the NFL’s winningest player and one of the most prolific passers in league history has a chance to … make history once again.
Tom Brady has made a point of proving everyone wrong his entire career, even off of manufactured bulletin board material that maybe doesn’t make a lot of sense. Just look back on this from 2019, weeks before Brady and Belichick won their sixth Super Bowl:
(Everyone thinks the Patriots suck? Who said that, Tom?)
Well, in any case, with a win on Sunday, Brady has an opportunity to join Brett Favre, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning as the only quarterbacks in NFL history to beat all 32 NFL teams. The last remaining victory, though, might be the sweetest.
Brady already proved he can win away from Foxborough and his former head coach with his Super Bowl-winning season in 2020, but the Buccaneers didn’t have to go through New England to do it. It also says something that Brady walked into a readymade situation loaded with talent, helping accentuate his skillset in his twilight years. (There’s nothing wrong with saying that, by the way.)
There is no doubt that, spoken, speculation, reported or fact, Brady would adore a win over Belichick in his return to Foxborough and once add another bulletpoint to his GOAT resume while shoving it in Belichick’s face.
The win wouldn’t mean more than a Super Bowl, obviously, but Brady’s “Prove Them Wrong” demeanor has been on display for 20 years.
Given that Brady’s opportunities to face Belichick and the Patriots again in the future are slimmer and slimmer, Brady, who reportedly dealt with the relationship with his head coach deteriorating through the end stages of tenure with the Patriots, absolutely wants to hang one more pelt on the wall.
A win wouldn’t only give him history, it would give him satisfaction — and who knows when this opportunity would present itself again as Brady nears the end of his career. Whenever that happens.
The case for Bill Belichick
Belichick does deserve credit for helping develop Brady into the player he is today, but how much? That’s a major question that remains, and it’s one that’s not going to be answered in the immediate.
There’s no denying that Belichick getting a win on Sunday would quell post-Brady anxieties in New England, which is why the Patriots need this win more than Brady and the Bucs do.
As odd as it is to say, Belichick, coming of a 7-9 season, has something left to prove without Brady at the helm. The Brady effect has already been felt in Tampa Bay with the Buccaneers’ win in Super Bowl 55, leaving Belichick with some catching up to do. The Patriots put together a fairly uninspiring 2020 season without Brady.
Belichick has long been known to do things his way as a coach and a GM, and there’s a good chance this is one of the last times that Belichick and Brady will meet in the regular season — unless the 69-year-old Belichick discovers the fountain of youth and coaches into his mid-to-late 70s. That’s a possibility, if Belichick is hellbent on wanting to catch Don Shula in career victories (Belichick has 281 wins, the late-great Shula has 328).
The Hoodie has routinely drafted mid-round quarterbacks, and most of those mid-round quarterbacks have flunked out in the league. That’s kind of expected. After all, it’s a list that includes Ryan Mallett, Matt Cassel, Kevin O’Connell, Jarrett Stidham. That’s not the most glowing and NFL-ready group, and they’re not guys who were expected to evolve into franchise passers.
With Mac Jones, though, Belichick has an opportunity to take a passer and prove he can develop him into a franchise signal caller. Very few NFL coaches are afforded the opportunity to nurture two franchise QBs: Belichick’s success has put him in the position to do so. Now he has to make good on it.
With the drama in Gillette unfolding and blooming for years and eventually leading to Brady’s departure from New England, Belichick is going to have to build a championship contender once again while also molding a young QB. The Patriots aren’t far off from being contenders, but no one will confuse them for being the elite AFC shoe-in they had been for years.
Brady showing up to Foxborough with Gronk is like an old high school friend coming back to town with his new college buddies. Just look at how much fun he’s having; Winning championships without you, drinking tequila by the gallon, starring in commercials. The work is just beginning for Belichick to reach that 10th Super Bowl.
Brady vs. Belichick: Who needs it more?
It’s easy to say that both parties benefited from the breakup — one side much more than the other — but the truth is, people will always wonder what Belichick is without the greatest quarterback of all time. The clock is running out on an answer to that question.
Belichick, at 69, likely doesn’t have a long, long career ahead of him to figure out the quarterback position and build a proven, sustainable winner. Brady has already proven he can win without Belichick. While Belichick has a lone 11-5 season without Brady (the Matt Cassel year) there’s not much else to prove that the Patriots Dynasty was more a result of Belichick than Brady, even if it was a 51-49 share in either way.
This isn’t to say that Belichick is a bad or unsuccessful coach, but getting the W over his greatest pupil would go a long, long way.
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