Tom Brady has officially won his breakup with Bill Belichick. At least for now.
The two called it quits last March after 20 years together. The decision was mostly mutual, but it was really Brady who laid down the “it’s not me, it’s you” (and your lousy wide receivers) speech.
Then he moved to Florida and proved it by going 11-5, throwing 40 touchdown passes and getting Tampa Bay to the NFC championship game Sunday in Green Bay. He even got mutual friend Rob Gronkowski in the split.
Without him, Belichick tried to get something going with an old crush only to limp to a 7-9 season.
In dancing off to another championship game – Brady’s 14th and first without Bill – he is doing the football equivalent of posting sun-splashed photos on social media with his new partner, who happens to own a Mediterranean yacht.
Meanwhile, Belichick is sitting on the couch eating leftovers while watching “The Bachelor.” (“He’s willing to be so vulnerable with her.”) He has no QB in his life he can count on and he knows that no matter how many times he swipes right on Trevor Lawrence, it isn’t happening.
Together they were everything, the greatest match of coach and quarterback the NFL has ever seen. And it came out of nowhere.
On Sept. 23, 2001, when Brady ran onto the field to sub for an injured Drew Bledsoe, there was no clue this would happen. Brady was a gangly backup in his second season — a late-round draft choice with few expectations.
Belichick was a retread head coach (he had a five-year stint in Cleveland) coming off a 5-11 season, his first in Foxborough.
The two could have walked into any Dunkin’ Donuts on the South Shore and gone unnoticed.
Together, though, they were magic. Nine Super Bowl appearances, six Vince Lombardi Trophies, dual track Hall of Fame careers. They partnered to form the greatest winning machine in league history, a relentless churn of accountability and success.
It got so predictable the joke among fans was that the Patriots season didn’t even start until the AFC championship game. They reached 13 of them, including eight consecutive at one point.
Then things grew stale, supporting talent faded and personality quirks that once seemed charming (getting dressed down in film sessions, or how a lack of athleticism made run-pass options impossible) no longer were.
Brady left. Belichick rebooted. All of their friends and family wondered who would fare better – in this case by debating it on national television nearly every single day.
Kardashians have had quieter breakups.
The verdict wasn’t always obvious this season. Belichick and his new quarterback, Cam Newton, started strong. The Pats won their opener. The Buccaneers lost theirs. Belichick was able to expand the playbook. Brady needed time to get his teammates, and perhaps even his coaches, on the same page.
As New England descended into mediocrity though, Brady and the Bucs got hot, winning their last four regular-season games and now two in the playoffs. It’s clear Brady, at 43, is still good enough to quarterback a team to Super Bowl contention.
So there is no question: As Brady won, Brady won.
It isn’t that clear-cut, of course. It’s not that Belichick can’t win without Brady or that Brady can always win without Belichick. First off, a conference championship game is but the Mendoza line for these two. Win in Wisconsin and then call me.
Besides, this always favored Brady, who had the easier task of just needing to find an underachieving team to join. It was like moving into a new condo downtown. Belichick needed to overhaul nearly an entire roster, like beginning the long-overdue renovation of the aging family home.
Back in Foxborough they won and won and won not because of one or the other, but because they were together. Brady has now silenced whatever few haters were still out there suggesting he was a product of Belichick’s system.
To say Belichick still needs to do that would be foolish. Yes, his regular-season record with Brady as a starter of 219-64 (.774) is far greater than without 61-72 (.459), but it’s not like Brady was the only reason the Patriots won all those years. Not even close.
Besides, if BB had gotten, say, the 2015 version of Cam Newton rather than the 2020, is there much doubt the Patriots would still be playing? Talent matters. And they went 7-9; it’s not like they just morphed into the Jets.
The breakup proved nothing more than each man is great but they were the greatest together.
This is just one season, of course. Brady and Belichick say they’ll be back next season, separate but still playing. Tampa will even visit New England. While the QB can play for only so long, the coach still has time to spare. The final score isn’t set here.
Still, football is a game of winners and losers, and so are football breakups. As Brady runs through practice this week in the Tampa sun and heads to Lambeau for a huge game, the victor thus far is obvious.
Bill will have to watch on TV and say he’s happy for him.
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