Opinion: Are the Patriots ready for Tom Brady and the Buccaneers? It doesn't look like it.

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — When the NFL released its 2021 schedule, football fans everywhere took note of Week 4. Tom Brady’s return to Gillette Stadium to take on Bill Belichick and the Patriots is perhaps the most highly anticipated regular-season game in New England sports history.

Ticket prices for this "grudge match" hit all-time highs this offseason. There was some drama last week when Brady’s father and trainer took shots at Belichick and the Patriots organization. Tom Brady Sr. said that Belichick didn’t want his son and that he and his son feel vindicated after the quarterback won a Super Bowl with Tampa Bay. Alex Guerrero said the Patriots coach failed to "evolve" with Brady and took issue with the way Belichick called out the quarterback as if he were a younger player.

This matchup has everything — arguably the greatest quarterback of all time at age 44 set to take on arguably the greatest coach of all time. The Brady-Belichick combo won six Super Bowl championships in New England. Sunday night’s matchup between the Patriots and Buccaneers will be must-see TV.

Or at least most everyone hopes.

In reality, following their 28-13 loss to the New Orleans Saints, the Patriots don’t look like Super Bowl contenders. They don’t look like a team that’s ready to take on Brady, his star-studded offense or the defending Super Bowl champions.

“We’re not good enough to get lost in headlines,” Patriots safety Devin McCourty said.

MORE: Tom Brady not yet ready to look ahead to showdown with Patriots

“Those guys are coming here as defending champs, so all those things we talked about — you want to have a test and see if you can get it done. We'll definitely get that Sunday night."

“Obviously, no one likes to lose here," quarterback Mac Jones said, "and the Patriots have done nothing but win for a long time. We've got to get back to that.”

All the talk last week added more fuel to this Week 4 fire. The problem was that the Pats still needed to show up and beat quarterback Jameis Winston and an inconsistent Saints team. We’re talking about a QB who threw five touchdown passes in Week 1 to help lift New Orleans over Green Bay by a score of 38-3 and managed no touchdowns and two interceptions the next game to lose, 26-7, to the Carolina Panthers.

You know, the same quarterback who played five seasons with Tampa Bay and, in his last season, with Bucs coach Bruce Arians, threw an NFL-leading 30 interceptions. Winston and the Bucs were 7-9 that season. That made last year’s turnaround even more impressive. Brady came aboard and the Bucs went 11-5 en route to winning their second Super Bowl title.

Sep 26, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) scrambles from New Orleans Saints linebacker Tanoh Kpassagnon (90) during the second half at Gillette Stadium.
Sep 26, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) scrambles from New Orleans Saints linebacker Tanoh Kpassagnon (90) during the second half at Gillette Stadium.

It was only a week ago that this Saints defense allowed 305 passing yards by Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold. If the Patriots struggled against Winston and a Saints team that’s been inconsistent, what do you think will happen next Sunday night?

On paper, this should be a blowout. Brady should ride into Gillette Stadium, take a seat on that opposing sideline for the first time and then rip through the Patriots' defense. It should be an emotionally charged night.

Of course, nothing in sports is solved on paper and we’re going to learn a lot about this 2021 Patriots team next weekend.

On Sunday, we saw an offense that looked frustratingly inconsistent. The offensive line hasn’t been able to adequately protect its rookie quarterback, who was hit 11 times and sacked twice. This has been an issue during all three games. Meanwhile, the Bucs have a talented defense with several players who can get to the quarterback, including Jason Pierre-Paul, Devin White, Shaquil Barrett and Ndamukong Suh.

Foxboro, MA  September 26, 2021 -New England Patriots host New Orleans Saints at Gillette Stadium.Patriots QB #10 Mac Jones is sacked by #90 Tanoh Kpassagnon of New Orleans in the 4th quarter.[The Providence Journal/Bob Breidenbach]
Foxboro, MA September 26, 2021 -New England Patriots host New Orleans Saints at Gillette Stadium.Patriots QB #10 Mac Jones is sacked by #90 Tanoh Kpassagnon of New Orleans in the 4th quarter.[The Providence Journal/Bob Breidenbach]

The Pats also lost running back James White to a hip injury on Sunday, so Jones will head into this matchup without his security blanket and with an offense that has scored 16, 25 and 13 points this season. Can they actually keep up with Brady and the Bucs' offensive juggernaut?

The defense will be challenged more than anyone next Sunday. This season, the Pats have allowed 17, 6 and 28 points. You can't fault the defense for Jones' pick-6 to the Saints or the other interception that set up New Orleans at the 9-yard line. When the Pats trailed, 31-21, with 9:22 remaining in the game, the defense could not get off the field. It was similar against Miami when the defense couldn’t stop the Dolphins with the Patriots down by one with three minutes left on the clock.

Next weekend, the defense will be tasked with getting off the field against Brady and an offense that features tight end Rob Gronkowski and receivers Mike Evans, Antonio Brown and Chris Godwin. Good luck.

In the event that the Patriots lose to Brady, they’ll drop to 1-3 for the fourth time in franchise history. That occurred twice in the 1990s and those teams finished 1-15 in 1990 and 6-10 in 1995.

The last time the team started 1-3 was during the 2001 season.

That year, a young quarterback named Tom Brady took over for an injured Drew Bledsoe and the rest is history. Fast-forward 20 years and a lot of memories later and Brady is set to return to Foxboro.

It should be a fun night, at least for Brady — because right now, the Patriots don’t look ready for prime time.

Tom Brady is in his 22nd NFL season.
Tom Brady is in his 22nd NFL season.

This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: New England Patriots don't look ready to face Tom Brady, Buccaneers