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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Once More into the Fray: Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski Go Back to Gillette

The two former Patriots will return to where it all started for the first time since jumping ship to Tampa Bay.

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"Once more into the fray…"

If that sounds like a melodramatic way to begin the discussion of quarterback Tom Brady's return to New England, that's because it is. It's the beginning of a poem from The Grey, a film starring Liam Neeson. It was also Brady's caption for a Super Bowl hype video posted to social media before Super Bowl LV against the Kansas City Chiefs but here it is having relevance again. The poem continues:

"…Into the last good fight I'll ever know."

Brady, over the course of his 21-year NFL career, has beaten every team in the league …except one: his former New England Patriots. And for the first time since becoming a Buccaneer, he will have the chance to complete the set of 32 in Week Four when the Bucs visit the Patriots for Sunday Night Football at 8:20 p.m. ET. The last good fight.

"To live and die on this day."

Will there be cheers? Will there be boos? What will be the reaction of fans as Brady dons the colors of the opposition when taking the field at Gillette Stadium? Fans that Brady brought countless wins and six championships to, who have showed an overwhelming support for their former quarterback, even as he won a Super Bowl with another team.

Brady is cemented in every major statistical category for quarterbacks in league annals. Among quarterback careers with one team, his 20 seasons, 14 Pro Bowl appearances, 219 quarterback wins, 74,571 passing yards, 541 passing touchdowns 30 playoff wins, six Super Bowl wins and four Super Bowl MVPs with New England rank first. Brady's 115 wins with the Patriots at Gillette Stadium (including playoffs) are an NFL record for most wins by a quarterback in one stadium. He becomes the fourth quarterback in NFL history to amass over 100 wins with one franchise and then face them later in his career, according to NFL Research. Should he come out of the game victorious, he will join just Brett Favre, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees as the only quarterbacks to beat all 32 NFL clubs.

The two teams in separate conferences of course didn't meet in the 2020 season, denying Brady the chance to complete his game of Around the League in his first year away from New England. But that didn't stop the masses from directly comparing them; one under the control of long-time head coach Bill Belichick, the other under Brady as their captain. The Bucs' Super Bowl success is a direct contrast to how the Patriots did in 2020, in fact. New England suffered their first losing season since 2000, which is the year before Brady took the reins under center.

View pictures of the Buccaneers' 2021 Home and Away Opponents!

Brady and the Buccaneers are coming off an 11-5 regular season record that propelled them into their first postseason appearance since 2007. From there, the team faced off against four consecutive division winners, taking down elite quarterbacks like Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and ultimately Patrick Mahomes. They emerged victorious with the Lombardi trophy, and before Brady's infamous toss of good old Vinny, came two tosses to another familiar face for New England fans: Rob Gronkowski.

The Brady-Gronkowski connection was alive and well in Super Bowl LV, with the pair putting 12 points on the board, and two Gronk-spikes into the ground. Come Week Four of this year, Gronkowski will trot out onto the opposing sideline just like Brady and it's anyone's guess what the reaction, especially should he decide to spike the ball inside Gillette yet again, will be.

You'd have to go back a bit further for Gronk's last spike in New England, though. He spent a year out of football in 2019, in a quasi-retirement that let his body heal after nine years of taking a beating season after season. He finished a full 16-game regular season with the Bucs in 2020 for the first time since 2012, which was his second year in the league. He then added four more games and his fourth Super Bowl championship, to boot.

So, as luck (or rather, scheduling rotation) would have it, Tampa Bay is playing the entirety of the AFC East in 2021. And now, there is a direct comparison. One team will win while another loses; both cannot be true. There is no, "I just hope everyone has fun." There is no diplomacy. It's head to head.

It's the single biggest storyline around the league as we all enter the 2021 season. And once more, Tom Brady (and Rob Gronkowski) will go into the fray.

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