FOXBOROUGH, Massachusetts — Almost every second of Tom Brady’s return to New England was subject to dissection and debate Sunday, with tens of millions of Americans tuning in to perhaps the most anticipated regular-season game in NFL history. But the most fascinating part of the evening was what happened far from any camera’s reach.
A half-hour after Brady’s new team (the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) beat his old team (the New England Patriots) 19-17 Sunday night, the two men at the center of this epic soap opera got together and talked.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick sought out Brady in the visiting locker room, and their conversation lasted longer than anyone might have expected. The media waited. Heck, even the Buccaneers’ team charter waited. But after two decades and six titles together, they deserved to share the moment alone. Sunday night will probably be the last time the future Hall of Famers are on the same field at the same time.
Reflecting on relationship with Belichick
“Yeah, I mean, all those are personal,” Brady said of what was said during that closed-door chat. “We’ve got a personal relationship, you know, for 20-plus years. He drafted me here. We’ve had a lot of personal conversations that should remain that way and are very private.
“And I would say so much is made of our relationship,” Brady continued. “You know, as I said earlier this week, from a player’s standpoint, you just expect the coach to give you everything he’s got, and I’m sure as a player that’s what he was hoping from me.
“But nothing is really accurate that I ever see. It’s all kind of – definitely doesn’t come from my personal feelings or beliefs. I got a lot of respect for him as a coach and obviously a lot of respect for this organization and all the different people here that try to make it successful.”
Perhaps Brady was alluding to the soon-to-be-released Seth Wickersham book, “It’s Better To Be Feared,” which purports to give an inside look at the two-decade Patriots dynasty, which ended in early 2020 when Brady signed with the Buccaneers. Part of the drama of his return Sunday was how the relationship between coach and player deteriorated over time and how it might have added to Brady’s motivation to leave.
Foxborough appreciative of prodigal son
The other big question entering Sunday night was how the Patriots faithful would receive Brady. Turns out, they showered him with love — until the game began. Then the standing ovations gave way to the competitive boos. Still, the memory most will carry — other than his embrace of owner Robert Kraft and many others — will be the “Brady! Brady!” chant that echoed through Gillette Stadium like it was still 2015.
“I’m not surprised,” Brady said. “I tried not to predict what was going to happen and how I would feel. Had a few emotional moments this week just thinking about the people that have really meant so much to me in my life and that are a part of this community. Just very grateful for an amazing time here.
“Like I said, my football journey took me somewhere else, but I’m really enjoying that, and great to get a win. 3-1, I know to make it about the game, but 3-1 against a really good football team tonight is what we wanted to get done.”
Perhaps those emotions impacted his performance. Brady wasn’t his best Sunday. His accuracy was off, and the stats — 22 of 43, 269 yards, and no touchdowns — reflected it. The Buccaneers’ running game and defense were the engine that powered this win. In that way, it was a bit like the Patriots’ first championship, 20 years ago, in Brady’s second NFL season.
Tom Brady surpasses Drew Brees for career passing yards
Here’s how unique this evening was: Brady broke the NFL’s career passing record, surpassing Drew Brees, and it was hardly a subplot. And when he did it on a 28-yard pass to Mike Evans in the first quarter, he refused to even take 30 seconds to recognize it.
“I just think it’s an amazing statistic in that so many people can share in it with me,” Brady said, who finished the night with 80,560 passing yards in 305 career games. “Quarterback doesn’t throw and catch. Quarterback can just throw it. It’s yards. Passing yards have to be caught, so I just hope that everybody who caught passes from me over the years just had a little smile on their face tonight knowing they contributed to a very cool record.
“There are some people that have kind of preceded it by name, Drew Brees, who I look up to, hell of a guy. Peyton Manning, who is one of my all-time favorites. Brett Favre, Dan Marino.
“But obviously my teammates who caught all these passes over the years, mean an awful lot to me.”
Could Brady come back to the Patriots?
What will probably mean just as much? Eventually retiring as a member of the Patriots, which Kraft very much wants to happen.
“It’s been a great stadium for me for a long time,” Brady said. “I don’t know what the future holds. Obviously could be an opportunity to come back here. We’ll see. I feel like I’ll always be a part of this community. I’ll be up here quite a bit when it’s all said and done. When I retire I’m sure there will be a lot of time for – you know, I have a lot of friends up here and it’s a great place. My kids were born on Beacon Street in the city. It’s been an amazing place for me, it still is.”