The sound of the football thudding off of the left upright last night was deafening.
After everything that had happened over the past three hours, there was palpable disappointment when Nick Folk’s 56-yard game-winning effort clanged off of the post. And the boom that echoed through Gillette Stadium left no doubt that the results of that night would reverberate for years as part of the long history of two NFL legends.
It was amazing that the Patriots were even in a position to win this game.
More than a touchdown underdogs against the defending Super Bowl champs with a motivated Brady, coming off a loss? Most people thought the Bucs would blow doors.
The Patriots played their asses off last night. They played their ASSES off.
Let’s be frank – Tom Brady was bad in this game. Twenty-two completions on forty-three passes, for just barely over a 50% completion rate. 269 yards, no touchdowns, and a quarterback rating of 55.3. He overthrew receivers several times and looked frustrated as the Bucs struggled to move the ball.
Maybe it was nerves – even for Brady, who has played in ten Super Bowls, this was an unprecedentedly big game. Maybe it was the pouring rain at Gillette. Maybe it was the absence of safety net Rob Gronkowski, out with a rib injury and not even in New England for his own return to Foxboro.
Or maybe it was the genius of Bill Belichick (whatever is left of it) using every ounce of knowledge he had about Brady from their 20-year partnership to try to limit the Tampa Bay passing game.
I suspect it was a little bit of all of the above.
Whatever it was, the Patriots kept Brady from finding the end zone.
Mac Jones played well, and was rightfully lauded by Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth on the NBC broadcast. In difficult weather conditions, he spread things out and completed 78% of his passes with two touchdowns. He led several scoring drives, giving the Patriots the lead in the first half and reclaiming the lead in the second after Tampa finally punched one in to take a 13-7 edge in the third quarter.
He kept them in the game on a night where the running game was abhorrent. On a rainy night that was made for ground and pound football, the Patriots had eight carries for negative one yards. Their leading rusher was wide receiver Nelson Agholor (1 carry for four yards). Their only RB to get more than one carry, Damien Harris, netted -4 yards on four totes. Even against the best rush defense in the league, it was an embarrassment.
For his part, Jones gave the Patriots reason for optimism after an inept offensive showing last week against the Saints. The defense did as well, though their run stopping still needs to be shored up. Overall, it was a more than respectable showing for Belichick’s troops.
Am I glad that they didn’t get blown out, as most people expected? Yeah, absolutely. But, oh, what an opportunity they had.
There are no moral victories, though.
The Patriots lost and are now 1-3. Brady and the Bucs are 3-1. Those are the short term ramifications.
The long term result is that history will always show that when Brady and Belichick went head to head, Brady won. It’s a small sample size, but it is very likely the only sample there will be. People in the Brady camp will always have this game in their back pocket. They will deploy it from their arsenal in sports debates and bar conversations for years to come.
Brady 1, Belichick 0
But that won’t tell the whole story. The story of last night is much more complex than that.
Last night was not a coronation for Brady or Belichick.
It didn’t answer the question: “Who was more responsible for the six championships, the coach or the QB?”
It wasn’t even about whether the Patriots were right or wrong to move on and try to develop their quarterback of the future.
And it won’t be complete without one crucial word…DOINK.
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