(EDITOR'S NOTE: To access the Karen Guregian interview, click on the following attachment: Ep 53: Patriots Talk With Karen Guregian | Spreaker)
Now that we have a date for this season’s Tampa Bay-New England game (it’s Oct. 3), only one question remains: Who’s under more pressure to win it -- Tom Brady or Bill Belichick?
For years, the two were the Lennon-McCartney tandem of the NFL. Nobody was better, provoking us to wonder who was more critical to their success. Then the relationship fractured, Brady moved on to Tampa Bay and Belichick found a new quarterback in Cam Newton.
The rest you know.
At the age of 43, Brady won another Super Bowl, and Belichick had his first losing season since 2000 – or the year before Brady took over as New England’s starter. So Brady proved what he had to prove – and he’s always trying to prove something.
But now there’s another, equally daunting challenge: It’s not proving he can win without Belichick or Belichick proving he can win without Brady. It’s proving each can win vs. the other. I know, football’s a team sport ,and it’s never mano-a-mano, right? Tell that to the people promoting that Oct. 3 Sunday night broadcast.
It won’t be Tampa Bay vs. New England. It will be Brady vs. Belichick.
So back to the original question: Who’s under more pressure to succeed? For an answer, we turned to the Boston Herald’s Karen Guregian, who covers the Patriots -- and has for years -- on the latest “Eye Test for Two” podcast on fullpressradio.com.
“I think it’s on Belichick,” she said, “mostly because Brady already showed him up last year by joining a new team and, right out of the gate, winning the Super Bowl. And it wasn’t just any team. It was one of the losingest franchises in the history of the NFL.
“So, Brady won all the points last year. There’s no question about it.”
Before Brady’s arrival, Tampa Bay hadn’t been to the playoffs since 2007 … had losing seasons in eight of the previous nine years … finished last in its division seven of the past nine seasons … and had a 49-95 record since 2010, a .340 winning percentage.
Then Tampa Bay became Tampa Brady, and the Bucs became Super Bowl champions -- winning their first championship since 2002.
That Bucs’ team was driven by defense. This one was, too, especially down the stretch when Tampa Bay won its last eight starts, overcame (in succession) Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes in the playoffs and shut down Mahomes and the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV.
So Brady wasn’t alone in driving the Bucs to the top. But he was the catalyst who made it all happen, much as he was in 2001 in New England when he took over a team that was 5-11 the previous season and drove it to the first of six Lombardi Trophies.
That wouldn’t have happened without Belichick, and Brady has said as much. But the record shows that when Brady wasn’t starting in New England, the Patriots weren’t going to Super Bowls. The record also shows that when Belichick wasn’t paired with TB12 he didn’t have success. With him, he was 219-64 in regular-season play, with nine Super Bowl appearances and six Lombardi Trophies. Without (and that includes coaching in Cleveland), he’s 61-72, with one playoff appearance and no Super Bowls.
A year ago Belichick was 7-9 without Brady, but that was after a league-high eight veterans – including linebacker Dont’a Hightower and safety Patrick Chung -- opted out because of COVID and with Newton, who tested positive for COVID during the season, hampered by injuries. So maybe, just maybe, you can cut him some slack.
But let’s be honest, people: As a quarterback, Cam Newton was a better running back. He was one of the league’s most inaccurate passers, with more interceptions (10) than TD passes (8), the 28th best passer rating (82.9) and nine games where he failed to throw for 200 yards, four where he failed to throw for 100 and one where he had 34 before sitting down in favor of backup Jarrett Stidham.
Now you know why Belichick did something in April he’s never done: He spent a first-round draft choice on a quarterback (Alabama’s Mac Jones) for the first time in his career.
That demonstrates urgency. So did his push to spend megabucks on top-end free agents, like linebacker Matthew Judon, tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith and wide receiver Nelson Agholor. So there’s a feeling in and around New England that this is Belichick’s year to prove he can … and will … win without Brady.
That’s why that Oct. 3 game is – contrary to what you may hear – more than a game. It’s a Clash of the Titans. Brady is a proven winner. Belichick is a proven winner. Both are going to Canton. And both made history together. But this is their first and, possibly, last chance to prove themselves vs. each other.
“Maybe Belichick got a little bit of leeway for having to move on without the quarterback,” Guregian said of last season, “but Brady is coming in with the ring with another team. So I think the burden is more on Belichick to win that game.”