Tom Brady has been all serious business in getting the Buccaneers into the playoffs for the first time in 13 years as their starting quarterback in 2020. But you can bet he’s thoroughly enjoying the fact the Bucs have a chance to win Super Bowl 55 while his former team, the Patriots, have been eliminated from the playoffs for the first time since 2008
It might be easier to think Brady is having a chuckle over his current fruitful situation in Tampa Bay vs. how bad Bill Belichick had it in New England without him thanks to his long-time go-to tight end Rob Gronkowski being by his side. Brady convinced Gronkowski to come out of brief retirement and go along for what’s been a fun ride playing in the NFL again.
You might remember the story Gronkowski shared during his time as Fox NFL studio analyst. There was a point that Belichick and the Patriots were about to trade Gronkowski to the Lions. Gronkowski explained he avoided the trade by saying he was retired before he actually was.
After Gronk shared the story, he let out the most infectious laugh, proud of how he pulled one over on the Patriots. There should be plenty of “ha ha has” in how he’s also enjoyed proving, along with the Brady, that he was nothing close to worn down or washed up from his last days in New England
Since Gronkowski retired, the Patriots have had an absolute void at receiving tight end for two seasons. Since Brady and Belichick broke up, they botched up QB to the point of being defiant in avoiding the most important position in NFL free agency and the draft. They strung along Jarrett Stidham as the offseason starter, only to end up with a broken-down Cam Newton.
Belichick needed one of his best seasons as a general manager to overcome losing the intangibles of Brady, who lifted up the Patriots through a variety of offensive problems near the end. That didn’t happen. He spent the offseason investing heavily on versatile defensive players young and old, at the same seeing stalwarts such as Dont’a Hightower and Patrick Chung opt out and healthy veterans show their age.
Other than Jakobi Meyers, once Julian Edelman went down, the Patriots were operating with a remedial receiving corps for Newton. Their backfield and offensive line were wrought with injuries, and there were not enough suitable replacements. And so much for the genius of Belichick and Josh McDaniels suddenly transforming recycled, weary Newton into lost gold.
Brady, meanwhile, saw the red and pewter carpet rolled out for him in Tampa Bay. Jason Licht is a strong candidate for executive of the year, but really, Brady also was a pretty good GM, much better than Belichick in 2020. His needs for a new right tackle and more running back depth were met. Even with the Bucs’ strengths at tight end and wide receiver, he convinced them that both Gronkowski and Antonio Brown were necessary additions, which has been proved fortuitous.
Brady’s arrival put in motion a Super-looking team, while Belichick ended up operating with a shell of a team, especially offensively. With completely new surroundings with his first new coach, Bruce Arians and his first new offense with Byron Leftwich, getting Gronkowski was critical. He had someone with whom he could re-create his Patriots’ offensive glory days, to ease the transition without the burden of sometimes limiting “Patriot Way.”
Brady and Gronk, who didn’t need any of what the Buccaneers were paying them to be set for life financially, are two rare can’t-hang-it-up superstars who do it for the love the game and the love of competing on the highest level. The Patriots near the end didn’t give them that opportunity, and once they grinded together to victory in Super Bowl 53 over the Rams, it was clear they needed to go elsewhere to get that winning feeling again.
They also needed to have fun playing the game again. The Bucs are reaching their potential of a video-game offense backed by a well-rounded defense, just in time for the playoffs. There also are some young and hungry personalities around them, which have been ideal for rejuvenating Brady and Gronkowski.
Brady and Gronkowski won’t be resting until their team gets another crack at Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. But enjoying their success so far has to be a little sweeter knowing they did it their own way away from Belichick and the fast-fading Patriots. Imagine how much they would laugh if they earn a ring without the Patriots, too.