TAMPA, Fla. — When the NFL schedule comes out, there are certain games circled on the calendar every year and there is no doubt the Buccaneers-Patriots game is at the top of the list.
For the first time since leaving the Patriots after the 2019 season, Tom Brady will return to New England to take on his former coach Bill Belichick and company.
“I have great respect and admiration for my time there. I had 20 great years," Brady said last week. "It was a great time in my life, but I’m really happy to be [in Tampa] and I think we’ve done some great things in a short period of time."
Brady and Belichick make up the greatest quarterback-head coaching duo in NFL history.
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During Brady's tenure with the Patriots, 18 years as the primary starter, New England went to the Super Bowl nine times winning six of them. During those six victories, Brady earned Super Bowl MVP four times.
Brady and Belichick combined for 219 wins, but the Patriots head coach is starting to show weaknesses without No. 12 leading the squad. Belichick's overall record without Brady is 62-74.
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Last week, Tom Brady's father was asked on Tom Curran's Patriots Talk Podcast if he felt his son was vindicated after winning a Super Bowl with Tampa Bay?
"Damn right," he told Curran. "Damn right. Belichick wanted him out the door and last year he threw 56 touchdowns. I think that's a pretty good year."
Then Alex Guerrero, Tom Brady's personal fitness guru and TB12 business partner, had some scathing words for Belichick's treatment of Brady.
"I think [Belichick's] emotions or feelings never evolved with age,” Guerrero told the Boston Herald. “I think in time, with Tom, as Tom got into his late 30s or early 40s, I think Bill was still trying to treat him like that 20-year-old kid that he drafted. And all the players, I think, realized Tom was different. He’s older, so he should be treated differently. And all the players, none of them would have cared that he was treated differently. I think that was such a Bill thing. He never evolved. So you can’t treat someone who’s in his 40s like they’re 20. It doesn’t work.”
On Monday morning, the Patriots coach made his weekly appearance on WEEI and was asked about his former star quarterback. He denies pushing him out the door.
“Well, I think we’ve been through all of the dynamics of that," Belichick said. "There were a lot of things there — he looked at his options and made his decision. We weren’t as good of an option as Tampa. You’d have to ask him about all that, but it wasn’t a question of not wanting him that’s for sure."
This will also be a homecoming for Rob Gronkowski who played nine season with the Patriots totaling 7,861 receiving yards and 79 touchdowns.
Bruce Arians is well aware of the media circus coming.
"[For] 98 percent of these guys it's just another game," Arians said. "We're playing an AFC game on the road and we need a road win. But for [Brady and Gronkowski] it's huge. It's the biggest story nationally and that's all they'll hear about all week, but that ain't got a damn thing to do with their job. Just get yourself prepared to play and beat the Patriots and let all the hoopla take care of itself."
Brady, Gronk and Belichick will mouth platitudes all week, but it is hard to imagine these three involved did not circle this game on the calendar before the season began.
And we cannot wait to watch.