Bill Belichick 1.
Tom Brady 0.
We are only one week into a 16-game season, but Belichick on Sunday took an early lead in the silent, subliminal spitting contest regarding who was most responsible for the greatest sports dynasty of the 21st century.
It was business as usual for Belichick as the Patriots beat the Dolphins, 21-11, at Gillette. With no Brady, no fans, and no help from eight players who opted out because of COVID-19, the Pats beat the Fish easily. Belichick is still the greatest coach of all time, the Dolphins are still Tomato Cans, and New England’s new quarterback Cam Newton is a pretty good runner. The Pats are 1-0 in the coronavirus era.
Hours later in New Orleans, Brady at times looked 143 years old in his debut against the Saints. Brady completed 23 of 36 passes and threw two TDs, but also threw two interceptions, including a pick-6, in a 34-23 beating. Brady spent a lot of the game yelling at teammates and officials. It was meet-the-new-Bucs, same-as-the-old Bucs. Hoodie must have been loving it in his Foxborough bunker.
After six months of virtual lockdown, New England was ready for some football. The Pats in September of 2020 looked almost the same as they looked in 2003, 2011, and 2018.
Pregame in Foxborough was interesting. Protesting what they termed “the NFL’s empty gestures,” the Dolphins stayed in the locker room for the playings of “Lift Every Voice And Sing” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.” All of the Patriots were on the field and all of them stood for both songs. No Patriot players locked arms, nor did any raise fists. It was a far cry from September of 2017 when as many as 18 Patriots kneeled during the anthem. No more of that in New England. There’s not a lot of room for public protest when your owner and coach have pledged allegiance to a president who views all protests as anarchy.
“The anthem wasn’t a big deal to us,” said Patriot captain Devin McCourty. “. . . We’ve done a ton of work off the field . . . I feel like we’ve been doing our work and we really don’t want to fall into trying to do something to keep up with everyone else . . . For us to anthem, you know, we just didn’t feel anybody in our community would gain anything about what we do with the anthem. It’s all about the work for us.”
As ever, the Patriots won the coin toss, deferred, and bolted to an early lead. As ever, when the Patriots scored their first touchdown, CBS cut to the obligatory shot of Bob and Jonathan Kraft. As ever, Chan Gailey — Miami’s new offensive coordinator — was pantsed by Belichick. As ever, the Patriots are in first place in the Warhol Division.
When it was over, Belichick was in midseason monotone form.
“We competed well,” said the coach. “After all of what we’ve been through, it was good to actually get on the field and coach and play . . . There’s room for improvement in all of us. I’m not saying it was the greatest executed game in the history of football.”
Amen to that. This was a throwback rock fight; a 2020 salute to leather helmets and Bronko Nagurski. The Patriots ran the football 42 times. There were no cheers and no boos.
“It was like scrimmaging the Titans or scrimmaging Detroit,” acknowledged Belichick. “That’s what it’s like in practice. There’s no fans at practice, either.”
Newton made Belichick look good. The 31-year-old quarterback rushed for 75 yards and two touchdowns, passed for 155 yards (15 of 19) and, unlike Brady, did not turn over the ball. New England’s offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels made the most of Newton’s obvious skill set. If N’Keal Harry didn’t kill a nifty drive with a fumble through the end zone, this would have been a blowout.
Just after 4:30, Brady got the ball in his hands for the first time as a Buccaneer and engineered an 85-yard touchdown drive (two pass interference calls helped) to give Tampa a 7-0 lead. Answering Newton, Brady plunged across the goal line from 2 yards out, then spiked the ball, Gronk-style.
On his first pass of his third series, Brady was picked off by Marcus Williams. True to form, Fox announcers Joe Buck and Troy Aikman rushed to Brady’s defense, blaming the throw on a miscommunication with receiver Mike Evans. Brady yelled at Evans as they came off the field. The Saints converted the turnover into a touchdown.
Brady had a bad series before halftime, drilling a pass over the middle into the ground (look familiar, Pats fans?) then getting sacked from behind before the Bucs had a field goal attempt blocked. Adding insult, Brady watched his defense get suckered into offsides when the Saints pretended to go for it on fourth-and-short. Tom should have told his teammates that Belichick pulled that one just about every week.
Facing more pressure, Brady got tagged with an intentional grounding penalty on the Bucs' last drive before intermission. The Saints led, 17-7, at halftime.
Brady’s first pass of the third quarter sailed 15 feet over the receiver’s head out of bounds. After another dumb penalty by the Bucs, Brady threw a pick-6 to Janoris Jenkins on an outside route. It was 24-7.
In his postgame Zoom session, Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians put both picks on Brady.
Brady got the Bucs back into the game with two quick scoring drives, both aided by huge PI calls. The Saints led, 24-17, after three. Veteran Brady-watchers buckled in for Tom’s magic fourth-quarter comeback.
Not this time. Not when you play for the losingest franchise in the history of sports.
Welcome to Tompa Bay, Tom.
More coverage from the game:
- Stephon Gilmore, Patriots secondary pick right up where they left off
- Cam Newton says Dolphins tried to come for his gold chain in dust-up after game
- Cam Newton made his own noise in a smashing debut for Patriots
- Chad Finn: Now that reality has set in, watching Cam Newton on the Patriots will be a lot of fun — and other thoughts
- Cam Newton rushed for more yards in one game than Tom Brady did in two regular seasons combined