Sorting the Sunday Pile, Week 7: Tom Brady’s Bucs, Patriots are headed in opposite directions


Bill Belichick hasn’t had many truly terrible NFL Sundays over the last 20 years or so, but Week 7 of the 2020 season had to qualify as one of the worst. Belichick’s old backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo led the 49ers on a multi-pronged revenge game drubbing of the Patriots while in the same time slot, a very spry looking Tom Brady appeared to be testing out a “2007 Tom Brady” costume against the Raiders in a five-touchdown effort that helped the Bucs surge to the top of the NFC. 

Even for someone who had the 49ers as a best bet, the outcome in Foxborough was shocking, with Garoppolo and Co. trouncing Cam Newton and the Pats 33-6. Things got so bad, that Belichick yanked Newton off the field for Jarrett Stidham in what amounts to a mercy benching of his first-year quarterback. 

For San Francisco, it had to be a sweet victory. Jimmy G returned to his first squad, the one that generously traded him to the 49ers, where he’s found a great deal of success and an even larger pile of guaranteed money. Two weeks after getting a mercy benching of his own, Garoppolo was largely impressive, completing 20-of-25 passes for 277 yards. He had one really bad interception on the 49ers second series and a mostly-meaningless pick taking a shot down the field at the end of the half — several passes set up the rushing scores by Jeff Wilson and Kyle Juscyzk. It wasn’t some MVP game, but Garoppolo was the better quarterback. That matters. 

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Also getting to hand out some icy dishes were Kyle Shanahan, toppling Belichick in a rare matchup between the squads. It’s hard not to think of the pairing and Belichick’s comeback Super Bowl win against the Falcons — Shanahan was OC then — in Houston, the famous 28-3 game. Outcoaching Belichick has to feel good for anyone, especially so for Shanahan. It wasn’t mano-o-mano though, as the 49ers completely outflanked the Pats coaches in this one. 

Garoppolo had guys running wide open into space and despite missing some important skill guys (Raheem Mostert), the 49ers were in advantageous spots because of Shanahan’s schemes and an impressive performance from the offensive line, which blew away the Patriots front seven for most of the game. Meanwhile, Newton wasn’t able to get his running game going — credit the 49ers defensive scheme for keeping eyes on him — and the Pats didn’t have a gameplan to get guys open against the Niners coverage. 

I actually don’t think Newton played quite as bad as the numbers would indicate, but 9-of-15 for 98 yards and three picks isn’t an ideal stat line against another contender visiting your home turf. One of Newton’s picks was an arm punt and another was tipped off Julian Edelman into the air where it was snatched by the 49ers. Not making excuses for Cam — he’s been bad the last two weeks — but I think his stats might be more about the Pats being outplayed and lacking skill-position talent than it is about Cam just forgetting how to play quarterback. It’s at least reasonable to ask if he’s dealing with some post-COVID physical situation. Maybe it’s a combination of all those things.

Whatever the case, the Patriots have now lost three straight games under Belichick for the first time since 2002. New England is 2-4 and in third place in the AFC East. The Pats are 5-1 to win the division (not a terrible bet if you believe in Belichick and are seeing the same cracks in the Bills I’m starting to see), the longest odds for New England in a long, long time. 

That’s bad enough for Belichick, but imagine dealing with this while your former long-time quarterback yuks it up in his new landing spot, lighting up the Raiders defense and launching his new team to the top of the NFC. Brady tossed four touchdown passes against Jon Gruden’s crew and looked like vintage Brady, growing more and more comfortable in his new skin.

Anyone who thought Brady was just going to fall off a cliff this year was a fool. He’s Tom Brady! But it was fair to wonder how quickly he could acclimate to a new team and new offensive scheme. The answer? He figured it out pretty fast. After a slow start to the year against the Saints, Brady and the Bucs have incorporated a more Brady-friendly offense, nicely blending what Brady likes to look for and what Arians likes to call. 

The result is an absolutely explosive offense that will soon be adding Antonio Brown. Whether or not you like the karmic aspect of bringing in Brown is largely irrelevant — Brady loves Brown as a player and Antonio was the best receiver in football for nearly a five-year stretch. If he’s operating at peak Antonio Brown — or even something close to it — the Bucs will be even more lethal on offense. 

Seeing the Patriots and the Buccaneers operate on Sunday, in that same time slot, was a startling juxtaposition. Is it possible Belichick regrets letting Brady walk? Certainly it’s in the realm of possibility. Would this Pats team be that much better with Brady? 

I’m not so sure. I could definitely see Belichick being frustrated seeing Brady have tremendous success away from New England. The reality of the split between these two parties was always going to be a hefty dose of comparisons throughout the 2020 season. Early on it was advantage Belichick, but Brady clearly has a leg up. There’s plenty of time and a lot of season left — the Pats could make some kind of a trade to shore up their pass catchers and the Buccaneers could run into better defenses (see what happened to them on a Thursday in Chicago). 

But on Sunday it was impossible to ignore the shocking difference in trajectory between Tom Brady and his old team. 





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