Ask any NFL fan or league official or broadcast executive what Sunday Night Football in Week Four is all about and the answer will be painfully obvious. Sunday Night Football in Week Four is about Tom Brady going back to Foxborough to face Bill Belichick and his former team of 20 years. There is at least one man who would disagree, however, and his name happens to be Tom Brady.
Brady's Tampa Bay Buccaneers will take on Bill Belichick's New England Patriots on Sunday night, reuniting (in a loose sense) the two key figures in the Patriots' 20-year, six-championship dynasty. Brady left for the Buccaneers in 2020, won his seventh Super Bowl ring and is now going back to his former haunt for the first time as an opponent. Oh, and he'll probably become the NFL's all-time leader in passing yards in the process, as well. It's a story unlike one the league has ever seen before.
But for Brady, the story always remains the same during football season. Only he knows the emotions he will feel when Sunday's game is over, but until then he's focused not on his own homecoming but the team on the other side of the line.
"I'm just excited to go up there and try to beat a really good football team," said Brady. "That's ultimately what this week's about. It's not about the quarterback, it's not about the fans or the home crowd or relationships of 20 years. It's about two good football teams going at it and we've got to do a great job. It's going to be a huge test. Last week was a huge test and we didn't quite meet it. This is another huge test; we've got to go meet the challenge."
View some of the top photos from Buccaneers practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.
The Bucs saw their 10-game winning streak snapped in Week Three as they lost to the Rams in Los Angeles, 34-24. That dropped them to 2-1, one behind Carolina for the NFC lead. There's no reason to panic after one loss, but the Buccaneers obviously want to avoid a losing streak and keep pace in the division. Their Week Four opponent is 1-2 and has a rookie quarterback in Mac Jones at the helm but is also playing very good defense. New England ranks fifth in both points and yards allowed per game so far after spending heavily in free agency to add new starters at all three levels. Matt Judon, J.C. Jackson, Dont'a Hightower…those are the things occupying Brady's mind right now.
"They're really well coached," he said. "Obviously, they've got a lot of great players, smart players. They're going to be in the right spot. They prepare really well. Obviously being there for a long time I know how well they prepare. I think you when you put great preparation with great players it makes for a great defense. They have one of the great defenses in the league. … I'm pretty familiar with kind of who they are, what they do, we've just got to go do a great job against it. But they're going to make it challenging. It's going to be a very, very, very tough game."
It's not that beating his former team wouldn't have extra meaning for Brady; that seems impossible. It's just that he is capable of ignoring that aspect of this game until it can no longer affect his performance. It's not really just another game, but he will treat it as such so that he can continue to prepare in the ways that have served him so well for 22 seasons. There just isn't time for that story to take up space in his head right now.
"I said the other day, I always feel like I put 100% into it," said Brady, noting that he has spent almost no time visualizing such moments as running out of the tunnel onto the Gillette Stadium field. "I use the time as wisely as I can and try to just do what I always do and communicate with our guys, try to put us in the best position to be successful.
"This is a big game for our team, a big game for our guys. We had a tough loss last week. We want to get back track, get back to winning. You've got to do things right, right? Obviously, this team challenges you to do it the right way. They do a lot of difficult things for the offense. It will be a big challenge for us."
The topic isn't completely avoidable for Brady, of course. He did his weekly media session on Thursday and, obviously, was asked about the Patriots, Belichick and his time in New England. As he has done repeatedly since leaving the Patriots for the Buccaneers, Brady spoke appreciatively of his former team, his former coach and 20 years of incredible experiences with the franchise but then quickly turned to how much he is enjoying his time with Tampa Bay. Sure, Brady would like to get a win over the Patriots, but more importantly he wants to get a win for the Buccaneers. He wants to win for Bucs fans and he wants to win for General Manager Jason Licht and Head Coach Bruce Arians, who made it their top priority to get Brady to Tampa.
"Things worked out for the best for all of us and we're all trying to do the best we can do now," he said. "That's what happens in life. You go through these experiences, you don't know where life's going to lead. And I think the only thing I know how to do is give it all I can in every day, moment. And the people that really bet on me, I want to do really well for them. [General Manager] Jason [Licht] and [Head Coach] Bruce [Arians], I think them coming into my life and saying, 'Hey, we really want you to be here,' has been an amazing thing for me."