Tom Brady has seen and done it all. Everything except face the New England Patriots, that is.
For two decades, Brady dominated the NFL alongside Bill Belichick. Six Super Bowl banners hanging around Gillette Stadium are testament to that.
But times change. Belichick is 8-9 since Brady’s departure; Brady is 17-6 sans Belichick – with an extra ring to boot after Tampa Bay’s win over the Kansas City Chiefs in February.
Tom Brady will face his former team New England Patriots for the first time on Saturday
He will be plotting the downfall of old coach Bill Belichick, who he won six Super Bowls with
And on Saturday the 44-year-old heads into Foxborough as a visitor in the most-eagerly anticipated week four game since Brett Favre took on the Green Bay Packers 12 years ago.
That Monday Night Football game – the Vikings beat Green Bay 30-23 – drew the largest cable audience ever of 21.8million. But that figure will be dwarfed by those tuning in.
Like Favre, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, Brady can become the fourth quarterback to beat all 32 NFL teams should the Bucs beat New England.
Brady has been keen to play things down in a week which has reached Super Bowl level hype at times, but he added to the fervour by posting a 55-second video called ‘Homecoming’ on his Twitter page.
Brady insists he ‘knows which way the wind blows’ at Foxborough and is targeting a win
On Thursday, the 20th anniversary of his first NFL start, a 44-13 win over Manning and the Indianapolis Colts, Brady said: ‘I still have a lot of great friends there, but they know I want to kick their butt this week. They’ll know exactly how I’m feeling once I’m out there.
‘I know that home locker room. I know that home tunnel. I know which way the wind blows. I know everything about that. So, in some ways it’ll be unique. I’ve never had that experience. New England will be the first time for me being on the other sideline.’
While the relationship between Brady and Belichick was always in focus, it has further been placed under the microscope this week. Even Brady’s father chipped in about his departure to Tampa Bay 18 months ago.
‘My feeling is that Tommy is extraordinarily appreciative of everything that happened during his New England career,’ Brady Snr said. ‘And he’s more than happy that he’s moved on, because it was pretty obvious that the Patriot regime felt that it was time for him to move on.
‘Belichick wanted him out the door and last year he threw 56 touchdowns – I think that’s a pretty good year.’
Brady and Belichick had a close relationship but it is said to have been tense towards the end
Brady’s reply was swift and diplomatic. Speaking on his Let’s Go podcast on Tuesday, Brady told co-host Jim Gray: ‘I’ve actually prepared a statement that I wanted to say, and it’s really all that I have to say on the subject.
‘Comments made by Thomas Edward Brady, a 77-year-old insurance company CEO, who should know better at this point in his life, don’t necessarily reflect the views or positions held by his son, Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jnr.
‘So, furthermore, should Tom Snr continue to speak out on behalf of his son without the express written consent, Tom Jnr reserves the right to eventually put him in a home against his will.’
The intrigue increased when details of a new book – It’s Better to be Feared, written by ESPN’s Seth Wickersham which is due for release on October 12 – claims that Belichick didn’t want to say farewell to Brady face-to-face, opting for a phone call instead.
Belichick denied that this week. ‘No, that’s not true,’ he said. ‘There are a few things about this book; it sounds like it’s a lot of second, third and fourth-hand comments. I’m not going to get into that. I’m going to focus on this game and try to prepare for the Bucs.’
Brady hit back at comments from his father about his time at the Patriots and hailed the relationship he shared with Belichick
Asked about Wickersham’s book, Brady replied: ‘All those things are super personal.
‘We had a great relationship. I think everything was handled the right way. We handled everything as gracefully as we could. It was an amazing time. It was handled perfectly. I think everyone understood where we were at, the people involved in the situation. Things worked out for the best for all of us and we’re all trying to do the best we can do now.’
Belichick was also asked if he would have had the same success without Brady. He said: ‘Of course not. We’ve talked about that for two decades.
‘I think I’ve been on the record dozens of time saying there’s no quarterback I’d rather have than Tom Brady. I still feel that way. I was very lucky to have Tom as the quarterback, and to coach him. He was as good as any coach could ever ask for.’
Brady needs to throw for 68 yards to beat Brees’s record for most passing yards. Brees, who retired in March and has 80,358 yards to his name, will be at Foxboro as an analyst for NBC’s Sunday Night Football.
Brady needs to throw for 68 yards to beat Drew Brees’s record for most passing yards (80,358)
He does not expect his record to stand for too much longer.
‘I’d be all for Brady just launching the first play of the game, just go ahead and get it out of the way,’ Brees said. ‘Let’s have New England kick it in the end zone, start at the 25, and have him launch one to Mike Evans and let’s just be done with it.’
As for Tampa Bay head coach Bruce Arians, he added: ‘For me, any time they say “in the history of”, you’re the first to do it, it’s big. It’s huge, especially in the history of the NFL. So yeah, it’s going to be a big, big moment. Hopefully it’s a long touchdown, we get it over with and he scores a bunch more.’
Many say Brady’s blossoming in a remarkable first season was down to Arians and his ability to relate to players.
Seemingly more willing to show his personality nowadays – he memorably threw the Vince Lombardi Trophy from boat to boat during a Super Bowl celebration in February – Brady was asked if this was due to the change in environment. The Patriots are a relentless winning machine, while things are a little looser in Tampa.
‘I think all of the above,’ he said. ‘It’s nice that I’ve found my voice more,’ he added. ‘I really enjoy being around my teammates, my coaches. It’s been a different environment. I’m just really enjoying the experience of playing football, playing with this group of guys.’
Brady has promised he will head into Saturday’s homecoming looking to ‘kick their butts’
While the Patriots are 1-2, their last game a 28-13 humbling at the hands of the New Orleans Saints, the Bucs are 2-1 and coming off a defeat against the LA Rams. Brady is in fine form, having connected on 97 of his 141 pass attempts for 1,087 yards and an NFL-leading 10 touchdowns.
And he will get the chance to see Mac Jones, his supposed successor, in the flesh. He was asked this week what he thought about the rookie, drafted No 15 overall out of Alabama.
‘I haven’t seen him much at all,’ Brady said. Until now.
And while another Patriots great Rob Gronkowski will miss the return to New England with broken ribs, the world will watch as Belichick attempts to stop Brady.
But even if records fall, perhaps the most interesting sight will be how Belichick greets Brady after the game – if he does so at all – and what the pair say after pitting their wits against one another for the first time…