By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) – Like you really need us to tell you what to watch out for when Tom Brady returns to New England this weekend. All eyes will be on the quarterback in his grudge game against Bill Belichick and the Patriots.
It’s truly a unique and special weekend in New England, and the man responsible for those six Super Bowl banners hanging at Gillette Stadium is back just months after winning his seventh Lombardi Trophy with a different franchise. Few blame Brady for leaving, and fans will have a chance to see GOAT one last time in person at the stadium he called home for two decades. He has a chance with his former head coach who really didn’t want him anymore, and Belichick has a chance to put his defensive brainpower to work against one of the best to ever throw a soccer ball.
The game oozes stories and is worth all the hype that has surrounded it this week. It is the biggest regular season game of the NFL season and probably the most anticipated game in Foxboro to date. And for a few hours, we can forget about all the debates / discussions / discussions of “Why did it have to end?” And just enjoy football.
Without further delay, this is what we’ll be waiting for when Brady and the Buccaneers come to New England on Sunday night.
Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr.
Look at everything Tom Brady does. It’s that easy.
If you go to the game, arrive early to see their pre-game routine. Watch if he does his patented run down the field before the game, and see if he throws one of those LFGs when he reaches the end. Watch him make warm-up passes on the touchline. Watch him immerse himself in all that Gillette has to offer one last time. (Bonus points if you can count all the # 12 jerseys in the stands.)
Buckle up for the standing ovation Brady will receive. There are some who see him as a traitor, but they are a minority and their boos will easily be drowned out. Brady’s reception is going to rival the overwhelming cheers of the other top games at Gillette; the Snow Bowl, the double comeback against the Ravens in the 2014 AFC Divisional Round, and all those AFC Championship Games. Brady! Brady! “The chants will resound throughout Norfolk County throughout the night.
And then when the game starts, watch Tom Brady as Tom Brady. He is 68 yards away from taking his place at the top of the all-time passing yards list, which he should accomplish sometime in the first quarter. Brady rising to the top at Gillette feels good. After doing that, watch him calmly and coolly throw bullets across the field and surgical passes down the middle. And as painful as it is, watch him connect with Rob Gronkowski again.
It certainly will hurt that all of this happens while Brady (and Gronk) are wearing Buccaneers uniforms, but soak up it all. This is a unique and special game for Brady, Belichick and Patriots fans.
The post-game handshake
Given that most people expect a blast from the Bucs, or at least a comfortable Bucs win, Bill Belichick’s reaction after the game may be all the entertainment we have in the second half. And it’s not an understatement that all eyes will be on how the Patriots head coach greets his former franchise quarterback after the game.
There are two ends of the spectrum here. Belichick will do what he did with his former mentor Bill Parcels and push people out of the way to get to Brady. He also gave Jimmy G. a giant hug after a bad loss to the Patriots last season. So maybe this weekend he’ll do the same with Brady, and can even leave a Robert Kraft-style kiss on the quarterback’s cheek (though that’s not the wisest idea in COVID times, especially not with Brady battling his second cold in eight years).
Or Belichick will offer an icy “good game” and a dead fish handshake, rivaling the one he would give Eric Mangini every time the two crossed paths. Bill isn’t always the happiest of campers after a loss, so we’ll see.
But given how special their two-decade run together in New England was, we’ll lean toward the former and predict a big hug between Belichick and Brady.
Brady’s offense against Belichick’s defense
Neither of these guys play checkers, so this will be the best chess match between one of the best offensive players in the NFL of all time and one of the best defensive minds of all time. A violent chess game lasting more than three hours.
Brady obviously has the upper hand, with a ridiculous offense made up of Chris Godwin, Mike Evans and Gronk. Antonio Brown rejoined the team Thursday after his 10-day COVID absence and, like Brady and Gronkowski, will have some extra juice as he tries to show off his former team. Brady also has Leonard Fournette and Gio Bernard out of the backfield. They weren’t very effective running the ball against the Rams last week, but both can hook passes out of the backfield, which will make life even more difficult on the New England defense.
With all those weapons on offense, Brady leads the NFL with 10 passing touchdowns and is second in passing yards with 1,087. He is completing 68.8 percent of his passes, an impressive figure that Gronk would round up and laugh at.
The Patriots have good defense and their secondary has been impressive despite the loss of Stephon Gilmore to start the season. Overall, ball magnet JC Jackson and Jalen Mills have been pretty good in the corner, and safeties Devin McCourty and Adrian Phillips have been fantastic. But they are falling short when it comes to making big saves at key moments, which has hurt them in both New England losses. Now the high school has to face one of the best airstrikes in the game. Good luck with all of that.
The big wild card in this one is Matt Judon, who has been an absolute wrecking ball for the Patriots defense. Set him free with Brady and maybe, just maybe, that pressure can make the quarterback work a little harder. Maybe.
The Mac Bounce
After an afternoon of three interceptions against the Saints, Mac Jones needs to rebound on Sunday. The rookie was dejected after last week’s loss, and that was on full display as he sat alone on the bench while everyone else left the field. It’s been a few exciting games to kick off your NFL career, and now you can try to keep up with Tom Brady and the Bucs. Sorry boy, things aren’t getting any easier.
But Mac has shown us that he’s really good at staying focused on what he needs to do. It’s not Mac versus Tom, but Mac versus the Tampa defense. And the Tampa defense has had its problems this season.
This could be the weekend Jones finally blows up in the passing game. The Bucs are allowing 338.3 passing yards per game, ranking last in the NFL. Richard Sherman was brought in this week to help out in that area, and we may see him Sunday night.
Tampa’s passing career also ranks bottom of the league with just three sacks on the season. Jones may have some time to throw his passes this weekend. But for that to mean anything, your goals must open up. Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne and Jakobi Meyers need to start breaking up. Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry need to start doing … anything.
This may be the weekend the offense finally comes out of its slump and gains a few yards in the air. But in the end, it might not matter, not with that guy in the number 12 jersey leading the other team.