Regular-season showdown: Bucs QB Tom Brady returns to New England
Leave it to resident comedian Bill Belichick to provide a bit of levity heading into arguably the most publicized regular-season game in NFL history.
The typically close-to-the-vest Belichick actually was quick with a joke after he walked up to the podium for his Wednesday morning press conference.
“What’s going on? Got any stories this week?” Belichick said with a smile.
Well, Bill, perhaps you’ve heard that Tom Brady is returning to his NFL home of 20 seasons on Sunday night when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-1) visit the New England Patriots (1-2) in Foxborough, Mass.
Brady, 44, won six Super Bowl titles with the Patriots before capturing his seventh last season in his first campaign with the Buccaneers. The three-time NFL Most Valuable Player and 14-time Pro Bowl selection also is 68 passing yards shy of moving past Drew Brees (80,358) for the most in league history.
“Tom’s had an unbelievable career,” Belichick said. “There’s not enough superlatives and adjectives to compliment him on everything that he’s achieved and continues to achieve, so yeah. It’s unbelievably impressive.”
Belichick said Tampa Bay’s offense has Brady’s fingerprints all over it, saying it’s the one “he’s run his whole career.”
Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians wasn’t going to let that comment slide.
“I think (the Patriots) copied a lot of ours, so it’s probably the same,” said Arians, who was Peyton Manning’s quarterbacks coach with the Indianapolis Colts beginning in 1998 before serving as an offensive coordinator with the Cleveland Browns (2001-03), Pittsburgh Steelers (2007-11) and Colts (2012).
“Ask them which film they watch every week, they’ll know. They always picked ours up and watched it, so it’s the same thing.”
In addition to Brady’s return, the Patriots also will see a familiar face in Rob Gronkowski. The five-time Pro Bowl tight end played a significant role in helping New England win three Super Bowl titles during his nine seasons with the club.
“I appreciate everything they’ve done and I have a ton of respect for them,” Belichick said of Brady and Gronkowski. “But this Sunday we’re on opposite sides of the field and we’re going to do what we can to not make them enjoy the night.”
Brady threw for 432 yards and had two touchdowns (one passing, one rushing) in Tampa Bay’s 34-24 setback to the Los Angeles Rams last week.
Gronkowski sustained injured ribs that prevented him from playing in a few series. Initial X-rays were negative, and he was able to finish the game.
Gronkowski, running back Giovani Bernard (knee) and outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul (shoulder) did not participate in practice on Wednesday, however. Carlton Davis (abdomen/ribs) was a full participant on Wednesday, while fellow starting cornerback Jamel Dean (knee) was limited.
The Buccaneers placed Scotty Miller on injured reserve Wednesday, however fellow wideout Antonio Brown — who was briefly member of the Patriots — is expected to be activated from the reserve/COVID-19 list this week.
Like the Buccaneers, the Patriots also are entering this high-profile game off a loss. New England dropped a 28-13 decision to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday to fall to 8-11 since Brady left the team.
The Patriots turned to Cam Newton to replace Brady last season, however the end result was the team missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Newton was then released in favor of rookie Mac Jones prior to the start of this regular season.
Jones completed 30 of 51 passes for 270 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions against New Orleans. Jakobi Meyers reeled in a season-high nine catches for 94 yards last week.
The loss was extremely costly as versatile running back James White sustained a reported season-ending hip injury. The pass-catching back was second on the team in receptions (12).
Damien Harris has team highs in carries (45) and rushing yards (176) for the Patriots, who traded Sony Michel to the Rams last month.
The Patriots listed seven different players as limited participants in Wednesday’s practice, including linebackers Ja’Whaun Bentley (shoulder) and Kyle Van Noy (groin) as well as offensive tackles Isaiah Wynn (knee) and Trenton Brown (calf).
–Field Level Media