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FOXBOROUGH, MA. — When it was over and the public had seen Tom Brady return to his old haunts and beat his old team and break another NFL record while walking away victorious, we then caught a glimpse of a seemingly very cold, brief meeting between Brady and New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick at midfield of Gillette Stadium.
That fleeting acknowledgement in public, after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat New England 19-17, didn’t seem like much of a sportsmanlike encounter much less a moment appropriately shared by men with two decades of history because, well, it wasn’t.
That moment was merely a tool to set an appointment for later.
And minutes later, away from television cameras and beyond the reach of microphones, Belichick walked through the bowels of the stadium in which he and Brady shared so much success and found his way into the Tampa Bay locker room.
And that’s where the coach and quarterback met.
Except this is the kind of meeting no one expected.
Least of all Brady himself.
Brady, you see, came to this game fully at peace with the notion of having zero interaction with Belichick, according to people close to quarterback. Yes, the two share history and respect, but Brady has moved on.
So if some rendezvous happened, however it happened, it would’ve been fine for Brady. But if nothing happened, if there was no meet or even a chat, that would’ve be fine for Brady as well.
This long session? This one-on-one in a private area of Tampa Bay’s locker room that lasted about 23 minutes?
It basically shocked Brady, his people said.
Yet there he was with his old coach and all their shared memories — most great, some not too pleasant — as the two talked and apparently cleared the air about some things that obviously Belichick wanted to address.
“Yeah, I mean, all those are personal,” Brady said when he was asked for details early Friday morning, which is when he finally got around to speaking with reporters. “We got a personal relationship, you know, for 20-plus years. He drafted me here. We’ve had a lot of personal conversations that should remain that way and are very private.
“And I would say so much is made of our relationship. You know, as I said earlier this week, from a player’s standpoint you just expect the coach to give you everything he’s got, and I’m sure as a player that’s what he was hoping from me.”
The Brady-Belichick relationship was obviously far more than that at its best because there was just so much dang success. And it was obviously far more during its divorce because after all that time and all that winning, the parting was done awkwardly over the phone.
But was there underlying drama? A falling out?
Much has been speculated.
“But nothing is really accurate that I ever see,” Brady said. “It’s all kind of – definitely doesn’t come from my personal feelings or beliefs. I got a lot of respect for him as a coach and obviously a lot of respect for this organization and all the different people here that try to make it successful.”
Respect is one thing.
Love is something else. Something different. Deeper.
Brady carefully used the one word and not the other.
So the two men who together often surprised the entire NFL did it again Sunday night.
Theirs was a 20-year run that included six Super Bowl championships that defied league parity. It included run-ins with opponents and league rules, including the Deflategate investigation.
But it all often ended the same way — with the Patriots celebrating because no one anticipated their next move.
And here everyone was again late Sunday and into Monday — fooled by a Belichick and Brady misdirection again.
Instead of the new passing yards record Brady set this night, instead of his fateful return to Gillette, or even the game’s outcome itself being the news, the story revolved around the relationship between the New England coach and his former quarterback.
And typical of the last two decades, it’s hard to grasp the full truth because those with intimate knowledge of the facts aren’t transparent. Surely, Belichick isn’t.
“Look, we went against Tom Brady every day, every day in practice defensively,” Belichick growled. “So it’s not like we’ve never seen Tom Brady before.
“They are a good football team and he’s a great quarterback, and I think that’s all – goes without saying.”
One has to assume that long meeting between Belichick and Brady addressed lingering issues for both sides. Unfortunately this game in which Tampa Bay prevailed left one issue unanswered:
Did Brady play better than Belichick coached?
The only reason this matters is because, for such a long time, we all knew the combined force of these giants was a steamroller flattening overmatched opponents.
But was it more about Brady?
Or more about Belichick?
The Patriots are a combined 8-12 since Brady departed after the 2019 season. Brady, meanwhile, won his seventh Super Bowl ring with the Buccaneers and seems headed in that general direction again this season.
So the answer would seem clear.
Except Belichick pulled out every coaching stop this game. His offense kept rookie quarterback Mac Jones on a disciplined course that avoided mistakes and even delivered occasional tricks featuring double passes from receiver Jacobi Meyers.
The defense, meanwhile, limited Brady to 269 passing yards without a touchdown.
“That’s a 1-3 team that doesn’t play like a 1-3 team,” Tampa Bay running back Leonard Fournette said. “Their defense is very disciplined.”
Here’s Brady’s response: He’s now the NFL’s all-time leader in Super Bowl titles (seven), Super Bowl MVPs (four), playoff wins (34), regular season wins (233), passing touchdowns (591) and now passing yards.
And, yes, that was Belichick coming to see and make peace with Brady late Sunday — not the other way around.
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