Sunday night will see Tom Brady prepare to start a regular season game at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough for the 143rd time in his illustrious career. Only this time, he will not be watching the opening kick-off next to long-time head coach Bill Belichick on the home sideline. For the first time in his 22-year career, Tom Brady will join the away team for an opening kick-off at Gillette Stadium.
Boasting 14 Pro Bowl selections, 3 First Team All-Pro nods, 3 NFL MVP awards, 6 Super Bowl wins, and 4 Super Bowl MVPs, Tom Brady’s tenure with the New England Patriots was truly unparalleled. With Brady as the starter, the New England Patriots won 17 AFC East division titles, made 13 AFC Championship appearances, reached 9 Super Bowls, and brought home 6 Super Bowl trophies.
In the end, throughout the 18 seasons that Tom Brady started for the New England Patriots (i.e. ignoring the 2008 season in which Brady tore his ACL in the first game), the Pats won their division 94.44% of the time, made an appearance in the AFC Championship Game 72.22% of the time, made the Super Bowl 50% of the time, and won the Super Bowl 33.33% of the time.
To try to put these numbers into a little bit of context: a Patriots team led by Tom Brady had a higher chance of making the AFC Championship in any given year than any QB in history had of completing any given pass (as the highest career completion percentage all-time is 67.8%). Furthermore, Brady and the Pats had a higher chance of making the Super Bowl than Steph Curry has of making a 3-pointer.
However, despite all of the incredible moments that Brady experienced while with New England, his final pass in a Patriots uniform was a pick-6 in the wild card round of the 2019-2020 NFL playoffs. The following offseason, Brady famously decided to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, ending his incredible 21-year run in New England.
Two Roads Diverged…
Since Tom Brady and the New England Patriots parted ways, they have seen very different levels of success. Despite a somewhat rocky start (with this story famously making the rounds), Tom Brady quickly resumed his winning ways in Tampa Bay, helping them win their first Super Bowl since 2003 (second all-time in franchise history). He passed for the second highest touchdown total and fifth highest passing yardage total of his entire career while playing at the age of 43.
So far this season, Brady has continued his success from last season. He has led the Bucs to a winning record thus far at 2-1, and he leads the league with 10 passing touchdowns to only 2 interceptions (neither of which were really his fault). Brady is also second in the NFL with 1,087 passing yards through 3 games, despite playing at the age of 44, which is almost 19 years older than the average age of the rest of the top 5 passing yards leaders through Week 3.
On the other hand, the New England Patriots, led by Head Coach Bill Belichick, have had a different experience since Tom Brady switched teams. They missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008 and had a losing record for the first time since 2000, which was before Brady started for the team.
However, things have not been all negative following Brady’s departure. Looking to find a new franchise signal caller, the Patriots drafted Alabama QB Mac Jones with the 15th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. The following offseason, Coach Belichick went on an unusual spending spree in free agency, bringing in TE Jonnu Smith, TE Hunter Henry, LB Matthew Judon, WR Nelson Agholor, and WR Kendrick Bourne in an effort to build around his rookie QB.
However, even with all of these new additions and several key veterans returning after opting out due to Covid last year, the Pats have struggled to open the season, currently holding a losing record of 1-2.
A Debate for the Ages
In addition to ramifications for the current NFL season, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick may be playing for a bit more tonight. Immediately following their split a little over a year ago, debates commenced regarding who was more responsible for the dominance of the Pats dynasty for the 19 years that these two legendary football minds were together. Some argued that Brady merely benefitted from the great system that Belichick put in place, while others argued that Brady was the system, allowing Belichick to get away with quite a bit due to having Brady as his QB for so long.
Though the latter camp certainly grew a bit louder following Brady’s success in Tampa Bay, the truth still likely lies in the middle. Both are probably the greatest to ever do it in their own rights, but being together all of those years allowed them to reach heights that were otherwise unheard of. While it is likely that both Brady and Belichick share this sentiment and respect each other immensely, they are incredible competitors who will surely set out to try to prove a point tonight with the whole football world watching.
History on the Line
Tom Brady also enters tonight’s game on the verge of history, needing only 68 passing yards to pass Drew Brees for the most passing yards of all-time. It seems rather fitting that he should be able to achieve this milestone back where it all started, and while the Patriots do plan to acknowledge the achievement should it occur tonight, they have no plans to stop the game for any sort of ceremony.
With a storied past lending a fascinating backdrop to the game and league history on the line, the game between the Patriots and Buccaneers makes for must-watch football tonight. Tune into NBC at 8:20 p.m. EST to catch all of the action live, and be sure to stick around for any potential post-game interactions between Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.
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