Tom Brady returns to New England with the Buccaneers to face Bill Belichick, Patriots

After two decades, six Super Bowl titles, and 266 combined regular and post-season wins with the Patriots, Tom Brady is in an unfamiliar position of facing his longtime former coach Bill Belichick and doing so as visiting player at New England’s Gillette Stadium. 

That didn’t stop the roughly 66,000 Patriots fans in Foxborough, Massachusetts from chanting ‘Brady’ as he ran onto the field Sunday night. Nor, for that matter, did it prevent Patriots owner Robert Kraft from greeting Brady with a hug shortly after he arrived at Gillette Stadium.  

The warm moments aside, though, Patriots fans were visibly torn over their heroes return, with some wearing his old New England replica jersey and others donning his Tampa Bay apparel.  One man, Josh Nelson of Burrillville, Rhode Island, sewed the two together to make a hybrid Patriots-Buccaneers Brady jersey.  

And then there were the fans’ signs, most of which welcomed Brady back to New England, while a few excoriated Belichick for failing to re-sign his longtime quarterback last year: ‘U blew it Bill.’

But the tone changed sharply after the Patriots punted on the game’s first possession and Brady stepped onto the field with the Bucs offense. Fans didn’t just boo Brady, but they howled in delight as he failed to connect on two of his first four passes and Tampa Bay was forced to punt. 

Tom Brady walks to the visitors locker room before Sunday night's game against the Patriots in New England

Tom Brady walks to the visitors locker room before Sunday night's game against the Patriots in New England

Tom Brady walks to the visitors locker room before Sunday night’s game against the Patriots in New England

Josh Nelson, of Burrillville, Rhode Island, wears a jersey featuring quarterback Tom Brady's number and in the colors of both his old team, the New England Patriots, right side, and of his new team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Josh Nelson, of Burrillville, Rhode Island, wears a jersey featuring quarterback Tom Brady's number and in the colors of both his old team, the New England Patriots, right side, and of his new team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Patriots coach Bill Belichick has struggled without Brady, but is hoping to even his team's record at 2-2 against his old QB on Sunday

Patriots coach Bill Belichick has struggled without Brady, but is hoping to even his team's record at 2-2 against his old QB on Sunday

(Left) Josh Nelson, of Burrillville, Rhode Island, wears a jersey featuring quarterback Tom Brady’s number and in the colors of both his old team, the New England Patriots, right side, and of his new team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (Right) Patriots coach Bill Belichick has struggled without Brady, but is hoping to even his team’s record at 2-2 against his old QB on Sunday

Tom Brady enters Gillette Stadium as a member of the visiting Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tom Brady enters Gillette Stadium as a member of the visiting Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tom Brady enters Gillette Stadium as a member of the visiting Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Laura Marci of Rhode Island talks with a WCVB local news reporter before a game between the New England Patriots and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Gillette Stadium. Belichick was reportedly reluctant to commit to Brady, 44, when he became a free agent in 2020. Brady responded by winning his seventh Super Bowl back in February

Laura Marci of Rhode Island talks with a WCVB local news reporter before a game between the New England Patriots and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Gillette Stadium. Belichick was reportedly reluctant to commit to Brady, 44, when he became a free agent in 2020. Brady responded by winning his seventh Super Bowl back in February

Laura Marci of Rhode Island talks with a WCVB local news reporter before a game between the New England Patriots and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Gillette Stadium. Belichick was reportedly reluctant to commit to Brady, 44, when he became a free agent in 2020. Brady responded by winning his seventh Super Bowl back in February 

New England Patriots fan Stephanie Lamontagne, left, of Merrimack, New Hampshire smiles while chatting with Bill Gately, of Burrillville, Rhode Island, while tailgating near a sign greeting the return of quarterback Tom Brady prior to an NFL football game between the New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers

New England Patriots fan Stephanie Lamontagne, left, of Merrimack, New Hampshire smiles while chatting with Bill Gately, of Burrillville, Rhode Island, while tailgating near a sign greeting the return of quarterback Tom Brady prior to an NFL football game between the New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers

New England Patriots fan Stephanie Lamontagne, left, of Merrimack, New Hampshire smiles while chatting with Bill Gately, of Burrillville, Rhode Island, while tailgating near a sign greeting the return of quarterback Tom Brady prior to an NFL football game between the New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Sisters Devon Poduje, 20, right, and Tiegan Poduje, 13, of West Hartford, Connecticut, sport Tom Brady jerseys, with Devon wearing a Tampa Bay Buccaneers version and Tiegan wearing a New England Patriots version

Sisters Devon Poduje, 20, right, and Tiegan Poduje, 13, of West Hartford, Connecticut, sport Tom Brady jerseys, with Devon wearing a Tampa Bay Buccaneers version and Tiegan wearing a New England Patriots version

Sisters Devon Poduje, 20, right, and Tiegan Poduje, 13, of West Hartford, Connecticut, sport Tom Brady jerseys, with Devon wearing a Tampa Bay Buccaneers version and Tiegan wearing a New England Patriots version

Melissa Zaske, left, of Vancouver, wears Tom Brady's current Tampa Bay Buccaneers jersey while walking with her husband Derek, who wears Tom Brady's old New England Patriots jersey, prior to Sunday's game in Foxborough, Massachusetts

Melissa Zaske, left, of Vancouver, wears Tom Brady's current Tampa Bay Buccaneers jersey while walking with her husband Derek, who wears Tom Brady's old New England Patriots jersey, prior to Sunday's game in Foxborough, Massachusetts

Melissa Zaske, left, of Vancouver, wears Tom Brady’s current Tampa Bay Buccaneers jersey while walking with her husband Derek, who wears Tom Brady’s old New England Patriots jersey, prior to Sunday’s game in Foxborough, Massachusetts 

The battle between the 2-1 Bucs and 1-2 Patriots isn’t insignificant. Tampa Bay, a Super Bowl contender, is coming off a loss to the Los Angeles Rams, while New England is looking to gain momentum behind rookie quarterback Mac Jones.

But naturally, the eyes of the football-loving world are fixated on Belichick and Brady, arguably the most successful coach-player relationship in NFL history, but one that came to an abrupt end in March of 2020, when the quarterback signed a two-year, $50 million deal with the Bucs.

Brady and Belichick’s relationship has intrigued football fans since the unassuming backup quarterback took over for an injured Drew Bledsoe in 2001 and guided the Patriots to their first Super Bowl title. 

Despite reports of turmoil in recent seasons, the two have been complimentary towards each other in public, with Belichick saying in 2018 that there’s no quarterback he’d rather have, and Brady telling Boston radio station WEEI in 2019 that he gets along well with his ‘great mentor.’ Brady called Belichick an ‘incredible coach and mentor’ this week, and in 2018 said he was ‘the best coach in the history of the NFL.’  

That same year, however, reports surfaced of infighting between the two over disagreements between Brady’s trainer and business partner, Alex Guerrero, and the Patriots medical staff. Guerrero was ultimately banned from the sideline, but he and Brady jointly own a training center that sits near the Patriots stadium and practice facility in Foxborough, Massachusetts.

One ESPN report claimed Brady bristled as Belichick developed his presumed successor, Jimmy Garoppolo, only to have Kraft pressure the decorated coach into trading the young quarterback to San Francisco in October of 2017.

According to Seth Wickersham’s new book, It’s Better To Be Feared, Brady left the Patriots, in part, because he was upset that the team and Belichick refused to commit to him through the 2022 season. He previously stated he wanted to play in the NFL until he’s 45.

Also, Brady reportedly had grown tired of having his input rejected in New England, and thought Tampa Bay would be more agreeable to hearing his ideas.

Ultimately, Brady decided he stood a better chance with the Bucs and head coach Bruce Arians, who has a more player-friendly reputation than Belichick. The two sides eventually agreed on a two-year, $50 million deal. 

‘Tom Brady had been curious if there was another way of winning, and while nobody was arguing that Bruce Arians was a better coach than Bill Belichick, or even close, the seamlessness of Brady’s proficiency and performance was making his former coach’s methodologies look antiquated, even silly,’ reads one passage, quoted by ESPN.

‘It was better to be feared — but was it necessary?’

Brady had sought a face-to-face meeting with Belichick before his departure, but his longtime coach opted for a phone call because he wasn’t available and simply spoke to the quarterback by phone, according to the book.

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick celebrated Super Bowl victories together six times. Brady has added one more title since then

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick celebrated Super Bowl victories together six times. Brady has added one more title since then

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick celebrated Super Bowl victories together six times. Brady has added one more title since then 

Tom Brady celebrates with the Vince Lombardi Trophy after beating the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV

Tom Brady celebrates with the Vince Lombardi Trophy after beating the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV

Tom Brady celebrates with the Vince Lombardi Trophy after beating the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV

On Wednesday, Belichick was nothing but complimentary when talking to reporters about Brady.

‘Nothing Tom does surprises me,’ Belichick said. ‘He’s a great player, works hard, takes care of himself. He’s talked about playing until 50. If anybody can do it, he probably can.

‘Tom’s had an unbelievable career. There’s not enough superlatives and adjectives to compliment him on everything that he’s achieved and continues to achieve. It’s unbelievably impressive.’

And those public statements are nothing new.

Belichick previously called Brady ‘the best player the league had ever seen,’ but the book also claims that the quarterback had complained to friends about their deteriorating relationship.

Sunday’s reunion takes place with Brady needing only 68 yards to tie retired New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees’s all-time passing record of 80,358 yards. It would add to his long list of NFL records that already includes most TD passes (591), most wins as a starting quarterback (232), most Super Bowl titles (seven), and most conference championships (10).

Unfortunately for the Bucs, Brady was the only former Patriots legend suiting up for Tampa on Sunday. Brady’s longtime teammate, tight end Rob Gronkowski, suffered multiple broken ribs and punctured lungs during the Bucs’ Week 3 loss to the LA Rams.

BRADY’S MOST MEMORABLE GAMES IN FOXBOROUGH

Though Tom Brady left the Patriots he’ll always belong to New England.

After 20 seasons, six Super Bowl titles and countless other accomplishments for the Patriots, Brady goes down as the region’s biggest football star. No contest.

While Brady never got to win one of his Super Bowl titles on his home field in New England, with those games played at neutral site, Brady still authored some iconic moments at the Patriots’ home stadium.

The Patriots played at old Foxboro Stadium in Brady’s first two seasons in the NFL before moving into the newer Gillette Stadium. Since first appearing there when it opened in 2002, Brady has made 157 starts in the regular season and playoffs there, winning 134 of them while throwing for 41,285 yards and 304 TDs. Those are all records for any QB in any stadium in NFL history.

Here’s a look at some of Brady’s most memorable games in New England:

In this January 19, 2002, file photo, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) loses the ball after being brought down by Oakland Raiders' Charles Woodson, right, while Raiders' Greg Biekert (54) moves to recover the ball in the fourth quarter of their AFC Division Playoff game in Foxborough, Massachusetts. With the Patriots trailing the Raiders 13-10 in the final two minutes, Brady went back to pass and had the ball knocked out by former Michigan teammate Woodson. The Raiders recovered the apparent and celebrated only to have the call reversed on replay by referee Walt Coleman because of the little-known Tuck Rule that was later eliminated

In this January 19, 2002, file photo, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) loses the ball after being brought down by Oakland Raiders' Charles Woodson, right, while Raiders' Greg Biekert (54) moves to recover the ball in the fourth quarter of their AFC Division Playoff game in Foxborough, Massachusetts. With the Patriots trailing the Raiders 13-10 in the final two minutes, Brady went back to pass and had the ball knocked out by former Michigan teammate Woodson. The Raiders recovered the apparent and celebrated only to have the call reversed on replay by referee Walt Coleman because of the little-known Tuck Rule that was later eliminated

In this January 19, 2002, file photo, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) loses the ball after being brought down by Oakland Raiders’ Charles Woodson, right, while Raiders’ Greg Biekert (54) moves to recover the ball in the fourth quarter of their AFC Division Playoff game in Foxborough, Massachusetts. With the Patriots trailing the Raiders 13-10 in the final two minutes, Brady went back to pass and had the ball knocked out by former Michigan teammate Woodson. The Raiders recovered the apparent and celebrated only to have the call reversed on replay by referee Walt Coleman because of the little-known Tuck Rule that was later eliminated

TUCK RULE

Brady’s first playoff game was his only one at old Foxboro Stadium and one that still gets talked about. On a snowy New England night on January 19, 2002, long before Brady was considered the greatest QB ever, he almost was a goat of a different kind.

With the Patriots trailing the Raiders 13-10 in the final two minutes, Brady went back to pass and had the ball knocked out by former Michigan teammate Charles Woodson. The Raiders recovered the apparent fumble and celebrated, only to have the call reversed on replay by referee Walt Coleman because of the little-known Tuck Rule that was later eliminated.

Given a second chance, Brady got the Patriots in field goal position for Adam Vinatieri to tie the game, then drove New England to the winning kick in OT to launch the first Super Bowl run.

‘You just do whatever you got to do to win,’ Brady said at the time.

PEYTON VS. TOM

The rivalry that defined much of Brady’s career was the one he had with Peyton Manning. Brady won 11 of the 17 meetings, including the first time they met in the playoffs.

In the AFC title game at New England on January 18, 2004, Brady set the tone with an opening drive TD pass to David Givens. Brady drove the Patriots to field goals on the next two drives following interceptions by Manning and New England went on to win 24-14.

While Manning threw four interceptions, Brady made few major blunders in a pattern that was repeated often early in the rivalry. Manning lost again in New England in the playoffs the following season before winning the final three postseason meetings.

In this January 18, 2004, file photo, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, right, talks with Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning after the Patriots 24-14 win during their AFC Championship game in Foxborough, Massachusetts. The rivalry that defined much of Brady's career was the one he had with Manning. Brady won 11 of the 17 meetings, including the first time they met in the playoffs

In this January 18, 2004, file photo, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, right, talks with Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning after the Patriots 24-14 win during their AFC Championship game in Foxborough, Massachusetts. The rivalry that defined much of Brady's career was the one he had with Manning. Brady won 11 of the 17 meetings, including the first time they met in the playoffs

In this January 18, 2004, file photo, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, right, talks with Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning after the Patriots 24-14 win during their AFC Championship game in Foxborough, Massachusetts. The rivalry that defined much of Brady’s career was the one he had with Manning. Brady won 11 of the 17 meetings, including the first time they met in the playoffs

RECORD DAY

Brady had one of his most prolific playoff games at home on January 14, 2012, when he and the Patriots ended Tebow Mania.

Tim Tebow had led the Broncos on an improbable run with an OT win over Pittsburgh in the wild-card round, but Denver had no answer for Brady.

Brady threw six TD passes on the first nine drives of the game, tying a playoff record held by Daryle Lamonica and Steve Young, as the Patriots won 45-10.

In this January 14, 2012, file photo, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady celebrates his 19-yard touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski during the first half of an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Denver Broncos in Foxborough, Massachusetts Brady had one of his most prolific playoff games at home on January 14, 2012, when he and the Patriots ended Tebow Mania

In this January 14, 2012, file photo, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady celebrates his 19-yard touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski during the first half of an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Denver Broncos in Foxborough, Massachusetts Brady had one of his most prolific playoff games at home on January 14, 2012, when he and the Patriots ended Tebow Mania

In this January 14, 2012, file photo, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady celebrates his 19-yard touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski during the first half of an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Denver Broncos in Foxborough, Massachusetts Brady had one of his most prolific playoff games at home on January 14, 2012, when he and the Patriots ended Tebow Mania

COMEBACK KID

Brady has engineered nine fourth-quarter comebacks in the playoffs, just four of those at home. Perhaps the most memorable of those New England comebacks outside of the Tuck Rule game came on January 10, 2015, against Baltimore.

The Ravens had knocked Brady out of the playoffs two of the previous five years and he hadn’t won a Super Bowl in nine straight seasons.

That streak looked like it could extend when Baltimore went up 28-14 early in the third quarter in the divisional round. But Brady threw a TD pass to Rob Gronkowski to start the comeback and capped it with a 23-yard TD to Brandon LaFell with 5:13 to play to launch the run that delivered the Patriots their fourth title.

DEFLATEGATE

The win over the Ravens set up an AFC title game the following week that was rather ordinary on the field. Brady threw for 226 yards and three TDs in a 45-7 win over Indianapolis on January 8, 2015, that sent the Patriots to their sixth Super Bowl of the Brady era.

Soon after the game, reports emerged that several of the balls the Patriots used in the first half of the game were underinflated. That set off a long league investigation followed by a lengthy legal fight that eventually led to Brady being suspended for the first four games of the 2016 season for his role in the ‘Deflategate’ scandal.

GOODBYE GAME

Brady’s final home game with the Patriots was memorable for the unusual way it ended – with a Brady blunder.

The 20-13 loss to the Titans on January 4, 2020, showcased how the supporting cast around Brady had deteriorated over the years and likely led to his decision to find a new home in Tampa last year.

New England could barely move the ball and was held to one TD as Brady threw for 209 yards on 37 attempts and failed to score a TD running or passing for just the second time in 24 home playoff starts.

The game ended when Brady threw a pick-six to Logan Ryan on his final pass attempt, sending him on a slow walk off the field – and eventually to Tampa Bay.

Associated Press 

In this January 4, 2020, file photo, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady leaves the field after losing to the Tennessee Titans in an NFL wild-card playoff football game in Foxborough. Brady's final home game with the Patriots was memorable for the unusual way it ended - with a Brady blunder

In this January 4, 2020, file photo, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady leaves the field after losing to the Tennessee Titans in an NFL wild-card playoff football game in Foxborough. Brady's final home game with the Patriots was memorable for the unusual way it ended - with a Brady blunder

In this January 4, 2020, file photo, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady leaves the field after losing to the Tennessee Titans in an NFL wild-card playoff football game in Foxborough. Brady’s final home game with the Patriots was memorable for the unusual way it ended – with a Brady blunder

 

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Sportsbooks say Sunday’s showdown between Brady and Belichick is shaping up to be the most heavily bet on NFL game of the regular season.

‘We expect this game to be the biggest game of the season,’ said FanDuel spokesman Kevin Hennessy. ‘Tom Brady has always been popular with FanDuel customers. The Patriots were always a popular team for betting, and a lot of that has transferred to the Bucs.’

FanDuel, which is the official odds provider for The Associated Press, says 95 percent of bets are on Tampa Bay to cover the 7-point spread. Other sportsbooks report similarly lopsided betting action on Brady and the Bucs, and they expect a cascade of cash in the final hour before kickoff Sunday night.

‘It’s safe to say the book will be pulling for the Patriots on Sunday,’ said Wyatt Yearout, a spokesman for PointsBet. ‘It is on track to be the biggest regular-season NFL game ever at PointsBet, and it’s not even close. It is the most heavily bet game by far and we haven’t even entered the weekend yet, when a majority of the action normally comes.’

At BetMGM on Friday, 92 percent of the money was on Tampa Bay to cover; at Caesars Sportsbook, it was 97 percent.

Brady celebrates his seventh Super Bowl title with longtime teammate Rob Gronkowski, who was out Sunday due to injury

Brady celebrates his seventh Super Bowl title with longtime teammate Rob Gronkowski, who was out Sunday due to injury

Brady celebrates his seventh Super Bowl title with longtime teammate Rob Gronkowski, who was out Sunday due to injury

Brady played quarterback for the Patriots for his first 20 seasons before leaving last year to lead Tampa Bay to a Super Bowl victory. Sunday night’s game is his first against his old team and coach.

The revenge angle – on both sides – is an appealing one to gamblers.

‘Brady wants to show, `Is it you, coach Belichick, that made this team great for so many years, or was it me?” said Johnny Avello, head of sportsbook for DraftKings. ‘There’s a lot of motivation for Brady. But there’s also motivation on the other side. (New England rookie quarterback) Mac Jones wants to show he belongs, and say, `Move over, Brady, it’s a new era.”

‘Bettors are also looking to bet alternate spreads, thinking that Brady will blow his former team out and run the score up on Belichick,’ said Craig Mucklow, vice president of trading at Caesars Sportsbook.

Colin Lynch, a longtime Patriots fan from New Hampshire who now lives in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, says the Brady-Belichick angle is intriguing. He’s putting several hundred dollars on New England, and will follow closely in-game betting opportunities on an even larger spread.

‘I just hope the course of the game gives us a chance to see the chess match we’d all love to see between these two,’ he said. ‘Ideally, we get a close game with pressure situations and critical decisions to be made on both sides.’

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