Mark your calendar for Tom Brady's return to Foxborough in Week 4
By Martin Rogers
FOX Sports Columnist
It wouldn’t have mattered if it was on Sunday afternoon, Monday night, Thursday night, or even one of those peculiar Tuesday and Wednesday night National Football League offerings that sprung up in 2020.
Heck, it wouldn’t have mattered if they’d scheduled it for the middle of the night, during Friday morning rush hour, on your kid’s birthday, on your wedding anniversary, or at any other time when you don’t particularly figure to be watching television.
Tom Brady heading back to Foxborough was going to find its way to the top of your viewing schedule no matter what, so it’s just as well we got to hear about it now so you can cancel all those other plans you might have had for Oct. 3, 2021.
Brady’s return to visit his old stomping grounds was always going to be the highlight of the NFL’s schedule release, which came on Wednesday along with several other juicy concoctions to look ahead to.
Here it is: Week 4, Buccaneers at Patriots. Otherwise known as 143 days and counting.
So begins a delicious piece of anticipation before one of those rare matchups where it won’t especially matter what the records look like when it happens. Maybe the Bucs will have continued their momentum from February’s Super Bowl triumph and be riding effortlessly at 3-0. Or maybe they’ll be a little worn from a tough West Coast trip to play the Los Angeles Rams.
Maybe the free-agent-stacked Patriots will have picked up from missing the postseason for the first time since 2008 and the contest will be a clash of divisional leaders.
That’d be nice. But frankly, in the scheme of things, not entirely necessary. It’s going to be a mouthwatering masterpiece of theater either way.
For this tale will be the defining parcel of NFL folklore from this window of pro footballing time, the story of how Brady’s double-decade collection of brilliance wasn’t enough to prevent him from being shown the exit in New England.
And how he took his talents, his timeless smarts and new age mindset, packed them off to the franchise with the worst winning percentage in American sports, and only went and won the whole darn thing yet again.
He couldn’t really do it, could he? We now know, of course, that he could, and did. Remember when the chatter skewed toward the suggestion it was Patriots head coach Bill Belichick who had been the primary architect of all those titles they collaborated on?
How it was Belichick’s system that made those six rings mystically appear? How the Pats could survive without Brady better than he could thrive without them?
It is a different story now, and thus that journey back to Gillette Stadium will be a haughty and triumphant march. Sure, there’ll be plenty of smiles, hugs, handshakes and well-wishes to familiar faces.
But make no mistake, Brady will be going there to win. He occasionally enjoys being reflective but he doesn’t do sentimental, quite the opposite. If you hear any football-speak about this being just another game, feel free to yell "nonsense" and hurl something (soft, like a pair of socks) at the TV. Because it just won’t be true.
Brady wants to win every game. He’s won 264 of them across his career. He really, really wants to win this one.
"He’s going to be prepared either way," Patriots running back James White, who Brady once described as his "forever teammate," said last week.
There won’t be the dramatic backdrop of a frosty New England midwinter, but that wouldn’t have mattered anyway, given that Brady greets the onset of chill like an old friend and has thrived in the iciest of climates.
There will, potentially, be a record-breaking twist to the occasion. Brady needs 1,154 more passing yards to overtake Drew Brees at the summit of the all-time NFL list. His average from last year was 289.6 per game, putting him on track to surpass Brees … with a last-gasp game-winner, perhaps.
There is also the possibility for Brady to win and attain the rare accolade of completing the set against every NFL opponent.
"In the 101-year history of the NFL there have only been four QB to defeat all 32 teams," Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe said on FS1’s Undisputed. "No one really thought Tom Brady in year 18 or 19 would even have the opportunity to ever play against the Patriots."
When he does, we sort of know the story already, there are just little details to be filled in. FOX Bet has already marked up the Bucs at +750 to take home the Lombardi Trophy next season.
It will be Brady on one side against either Cam Newton or Mac Jones, most likely on the other. Patriots fans will salute him, they’ll play a tribute of some kind, and, as this is a New England crowd, there may be few good-natured boos and a couple of salty ones, too.
"What they’ll find is perhaps unlike any other game in NFL history," wrote Dan Wetzel on Yahoo Sports. "Most multiple Super Bowl champion quarterbacks retired with their team. For others, there was never quite the same showdown."
You can get a sense of what it will look like, some pageantry, some nostalgia, and even with some other big matchups the same week, no one is going to be talking about anything else. You can see Brady emerging, first for his pregame warmups and then for kickoff. You can then envision his interaction with Robert Kraft, and with Belichick, and some old colleagues.
You can hear the noise of the crowd. You can picture the weirdness of Brady at Foxborough, wearing another team’s jersey. You can almost feel the occasion, and you probably even have thoughts on how the game itself is going to turn out.
But you’re not going to miss it, you know that already. Sporting situations like this one are rare, so rare that they’re worth making an appointment for. Even five months in advance.
Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider Newsletter. You can subscribe to the newsletter here.