By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Tom Brady is returning to Foxboro this weekend. Perhaps you heard it mentioned on the local news, or perhaps you read about it in a magazine over the summer. Some folks are really getting jazzed up about it.
There’s no real way to oversell the magnificent spectacle that’s on tap for Sunday night at Gillette Stadium … but everyone and their mother sure is trying. Such is the nature of the beast.
While the game itself might be a terrible dud, there’s obviously been and will continue to be a tremendous amount of build-up for the once-in-a-lifetime event of Tom Brady — the greatest quarterback to ever play — returning to his former home of 20 years to face his old team and his old coach in Bill Belichick, who also happens to arguably be the best of all time in his chosen field. That’s not a thing that happens … ever. So it’s getting the full hype treatment.
Part of that involved some snippets from Seth Wickersham’s forthcoming book hitting the internet on Wednesday. As tends to be the case when Wickersham drops nuggets on the Patriots, it kept Twitter and local talk radio buzzing, because for as much as we all want to believe we’re better than that, the reality is that everybody is susceptible to juicy soap-opera rumors and reports. It’s human nature. We are what we are.
Despite that, what’s really struck me in monitoring the reaction to the tidbits was how inaccurately people view the Belichick-Brady relationship that existed for 20 years in New England. Obviously, given the stature and import of both men in NFL history, they’re regarded differently from outsiders. Certain expectations about how they act/speak/work with each other are placed upon them.
But … what is that based in?
When you hear that Brady and Belichick didn’t speak face-to-face when Brady told his coach he was leaving (something we already knew from last year’s Howard Stern interview, but I digress), did you expect them to? Do you envision Brady driving over to the Belichick residence regularly, just to pop in and see what his coach is up to? It’s more likely that Brady couldn’t find Belichick’s house on a map than it is that he ever made a visit.
Remember in 2010, when “A Football Life” on Bill Belichick came out? The longest connection showed between Belichick and Brady came right in the middle of the NFL Films documentary. Brady sat in Belichick’s office as they prepared for the Ravens. They went back and forth talking about Ed Reed’s greatness, offering ideas on how to trick him and beat the Baltimore D. At one point, Brady used his finger to draw out the routes for the play he was concocting in his head; Belichick followed every last bit of it. After about a dozen head nods and a jotted down note, Belichick lets Brady know, “Yeah, that’s a good idea.”
(It’s here, from about 25:30-28:30, if you’ve never seen it or forgotten.)
These are two actual football geniuses. Their respect for one another on that level is unquestioned.
But their relationship beyond that? There’s not much to speak of.
And that makes Brady like … literally every other player who’s ever played for Belichick.
That’s not some sort of old-school hard-knock coach mentality that Belichick has, like a game of tough love. It’s just … his days are not filled by hanging out with former players that have become his pals. It doesn’t have to do with grudges or ill will. It’s just …. well, it is what it is.
As for this weekend, I do think Belichick would love to beat Brady, for a multitude of reasons. Likewise, I know Brady is looking to earn a big, fat W in his former home. But for as much as Brady eventually felt he had to leave New England, and for as much as Belichick also felt Brady had to leave New England, the feelings may not be as acrimonious as so many people seemingly want to make them out to be.
Brady is all about “The Four Agreements” and the power of positive thinking. The man refused to speak ill of Roger Goodell, who literally tried to tear down his entire career and tarnish all of his accomplishments for the better part of two years. He has an ability to flush toxic feelings from his system.
So while he’ll surely be looking to win by a thousand points on Sunday night, it won’t be because he hates his old coach. It will simply be because that’s what he wants to do in every single competitive venture he finds himself involved in. (Remember that story Wes Welker told about Brady humming a board game off an airplane wall and throwing a fit because he was losing some stupid game? Guy is nuts.)
And Belichick will desire with every element of his soul to beat the Buccaneers on Sunday night, because they’re the defending champs, because Brady is an outstanding football player, and because he doesn’t want to be 1-3. If Brady’s talent is in avoiding negativity, Belichick’s skill is tuning out the hype. Through scandals, media frenzies, Super Bowls and all the rest of the attention that’s been heaped on the Patriots for 20-plus years, Belichick’s managed to stay the same day in and day out. He’s not going to change now.
The two will shake hands after the game. They’ll go along their merry way. They likely haven’t spoken since March of 2020, and they likely won’t speak for many years to come. That doesn’t mean they hate each other.
For decades, everyone in football assumed that Belichick held a special level of contempt for Bill Parcells, his former boss and one of the most important mentors in his career. While “The Two Bills” 30 For 30 showed some regret from Belichick for going so long without talking to Parcells, both men more or less admitted that they were holding more positive memories toward each other than negative ones.
Given that lesson learned with Parcells, Belichick likely won’t wait 20 years to sit down with Brady and talk about everything that happened — good, bad, and otherwise. But for now, he’s on the other team. That’s how Belichick sees it, anyway.
Sometimes, it really is that simple.
Now let’s pick some football games.
(Home team in CAPS; Wednesday lines)
CINCINNATI (-7.5) over Jacksonville
They’re billing this one as Trevor Lawrence vs. Joe Burrow, and I get it. That’s cool and all. It’d be a whole lot cooler if it wasn’t the Bengals vs. the Jaguars though.
I don’t want to bash the matchup too much, though, because these are the Thursday games that separate the real Thursday night aficionados from the phonies. Some clowns only want marquee matchups on Thursday nights. Well guess what, bucko? That’s not what Thursday Night Football is for.
Thursday Night Football is for urine-colored Jags jerseys, sloppy penalties, and lopsided final scores. It is a celebration of all that is ugly about the beautiful game of football.
If that’s not for you, then you’re not for Thursday Night Football.
I have said what I needed to say.
ATLANTA (+1.5) over Washington
I don’t know how this happened, but I think I’m a Falcons guy now. Sure, they rank 29th in points scored and 30th in points allowed, and that’s not great. Not from a traditional standpoint.
But golly, they’ve got some spunk. They showed some fight against the defending champs and then went out and beat the Giants. Now, did I watch that game? No, I did not. Will I ever watch that game. The answer’s no. Am I being derelict in my duty? A little. But the fact is, we’ve got a limited time on this planet, and some of us simply have to make some decisions with that in mind. Not watching the Falcons play the Giants in a football game is one of those times.
I might watch this one though. Go birds! (Do people say that? I’m new to the Falcon fanhood.)
Houston (+17) over BUFFALO
I like to tease the Houston Easterbys as much as anybody, but 17 points is too rich for my blood. Give me a Davis Mills garbage time touchdown to let the Texans in the back door, thank you very much.
Detroit (+3) over CHICAGO
I suppose that there are some people who may believe that the dysfunctional Bears will turn things around quickly after putting up THE WORST OFFENSIVE SHOWING IN THE PAST 40 YEARS. I am not one of those people.
Plus, Dan Campbell has definitely been chewing nails for every single minute that’s passed since Justin Tucker’s 66-yard kick flopped over the crossbar. He may suit up for this one himself.
DALLAS (-4.5) over Carolina
The Cowboys have:
–Lost by two points to the defending champs on opening night.
–Soundly beaten a bad Eagles team.
–Narrowly beaten a good Chargers team.
I say they’re good.
The Panthers have:
–Beaten three teams with a combined 3-6 record. And one of those wins came against the Jaguars so TAKE IT AWAY.
I say they’re meh. The most meh 3-0 team going.
Things don’t always work out so smoothly, but this early in the year, you’ve got to trust in what you know.
Kansas City (-7) over PHILADELPHIA
Chiefs, coming off a loss, facing a team that’s on a short week with a coach who may not be very good. As long as Mr. Reid is OK, the Chiefs will roll. That’s not a team that’s built to stay under .500 for more than a few days.
Tennessee (-7.5) over NEW YORK JETS
The Jets have scored six points in their last eight quarters of football.
And that’s all I’ve got to say about that.
MIAMI (-2) over Indianapolis
Each week, I will choose* a 1 P.M. GAME OF THE WEEK. (*I will not.) This one’s my pick this week, which says more about the 1 p.m. slate than it does this game in particular.
Cleveland (-1.5) over MINNESOTA
It’s your 1 P.M. GAME OF THE WEEK RUNNER-UP!
NEW ORLEANS (-7.5) over New York Giants
Being a Giants fan right now seems fun. Their quarterback, taken with the sixth overall pick, does not seem to be very good. (Except at running; he is awesome at running.) Their head coach … is in over his head. Their all-world running back has absolutely no chance behind the worst line in football. And they don’t have a real chance to win a game until Week 12.
They haven’t won a playoff game since Super Bowl XLVI. Things could be better.
Seattle (+3) over SAN FRANCISCO
Sometimes your dumb little sports brain thinks things like “there’s just no way the Seahawks fall to 1-3 on the season” and you can’t get it out.
And here we are.
Arizona (+5) over LOS ANGELES RAMS
After a thorough win over the defending champs, the hype train has left the station for the Rams. But doesn’t that just make them liable to suffer a letdown this week? They’re not exactly known for their staggering consistency, you know.
GREEN BAY (-6.5) over Pittsburgh
Does the Steelers’ season end Sunday? I say yes. The Packers shook off the stink in Week 1 and went right back to being the Packers. Kind of rude.
(The Steelers host Denver and then Seattle in the next two weeks, before a trip to Cleveland, by the way. Rough sledding ahead.)
Baltimore (+1) over DENVER
OK but enough with the Broncos though. They’ve beaten the Giants, and the Jets, and the Jaguars. Has their season even started? They should have to give one of those wins back. Doesn’t count. Not real.
Tampa Bay (-6.5) over NEW ENGLAND
There are a few teams in the NFL that can hang with the talent of Tampa Bay. The Patriots aren’t one of them.
Covering Mike Evans, and Antonio Brown, and Chris Godwin, and Rob Gronkowski, and Cameron Brate, and Giovani Bernard (and even, like, Tyler Johnson, and O.J. Howard) is a lot. The Patriots’ pass defense has actually been good thus far (thanks in part to Zach Wilson), but they haven’t faced anything like this.
Given the way Tampa’s defense has looked, I do think young Mac should have his first real good game of his NFL career. But it won’t be enough. It can’t be enough.
Brady, winning on Sunday night, at Gillette Stadium? It’s inevitable.
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (-3) over Las Vegas
The Raiders must simply be exhausted. They played the full OT last week, they played the most bananas OT game on Monday Night Football to start the season two weeks prior, and now they’re back on MNF, on the road. It’s dizzying.
Maybe Jon Gruden’s team is mentally tougher than I’m giving them credit for here, but enough’s enough. Time to put the L in Las Vegas.
Last week: 10-6
You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.
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