The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 2-1 after seeing their 10-game win streak snapped by the Los Angeles Rams and the New England Patriots are 1-2 following a 28-13 home loss to the New Orleans Saints. And absolutely no one cares what the records are as those Buccaneers and Patriots get ready to square off in Week Four.
The nationally-televised Sunday night showdown between Tampa Bay and New England at Gillette Stadium is perhaps the most anticipated regular-season game on the entire 2021 NFL schedule. This has nothing to do with any playoff race but is simply because Tom Brady is returning to the place where he made an untold legion of fans and help build the NFL's greatest dynasty. It is, for the first time, Tom Brady versus Bill Belichick's Patriots.
Belichick and Brady were, obviously, the two key figures in New England's two decades of nearly uninterrupted success, which included nine trips to the Super Bowl and six world championships. Those two finally parted ways in 2020 when Brady used free agency to start a belated new chapter in his career…and promptly won his seventh Super Bowl ring with the Buccaneers. Brady and the Bucs are prime title contenders again in 2021 while the Patriots are forging a new path with rookie quarterback Mac Jones, perhaps the next object of obsession in New England.
Brady earned his 'G.O.A.T' nickname long before he became a Buccaneer and undoubtedly has many fond memories of his 20 years as a Patriot. He has, however, tried to turn the page over the last year and a half and has tried to focus solely on helping the Buccaneers chase championships. That said, the questions about his time in New England will probably never fully cease, and certainly not this week.
"I have great respect and admiration for my time there," said Brady before the game in Los Angeles. "I had 20 great years there. It was a great time in my life, but I'm really happy to be here and I think we've done some great things in a short period of time. I really love the teammates that I have, that I'm playing with here. I love the coaches. The organization has been amazing. Again, it's just a lot of gratitude for me. … From my standpoint, I had a great time, but really my focus has been on trying to be the best I can be for this team and trying to go out and be a winning quarterback, be a championship-level quarterback, for this team and for this organization because they certainly deserve it. I made a commitment to them and I want to live up to it."
As if Brady returning to Foxboro wasn't juicy enough as a storyline, there's an extremely strong chance that he could make history (again) in Sunday night's game. After throwing for 432 yards against the Rams, Brady now has 80,291 passing yards in his career. That leaves him just 67 behind Drew Brees for the all-time NFL record, and given that Brady has averaged 301 passing yards per game since joining the Bucs, the record might be his before the first quarter is over.
Brady left New England for Tampa Bay after 20 seasons, nine Super Bowls and six championships, sharing the glory with Belichick for two decades. After Brady joined the Buccaneers and (eventually) won his seventh Super Bowl ring, the Patriots turned first to former Panthers star Cam Newton to take over under center in 2020. After a 7-9 seasons, New England drafted Alabama quarterback Mac Jones in the first round and, after a preseason competition, picked the rookie to take over the reins. Through three games, Jones has thrown for 737 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions, with all of his picks coming in Week Three against the Saints.
The Patriots will be moving forward with Jones, hoping to find another long-term starter like they did with Brady in 2000. For one night, though, Brady will once again be in the brightest spotlight in Gillette Stadium in front of a Patriots crowd that will surely welcome him warmly while hoping he suffers defeat next Sunday night.