Playing as a visitor at Gillette Stadium wasn’t the only big change for Tom Brady on Sunday night.
The seven-time Super Bowl champion, including six with the Patriots, struggled in rainy conditions much of the evening. He was booed – often.
Being Brady, he also won.
Brady took Tampa Bay on a 45-yard drive helped by a 31-yard pass interference penalty, and Ryan Succop had a 48-yard field goal for a 19-17 victory. While most of the game wasn’t a classic for the 44-year-old quarterback, the march to victory seemed appropriate in a place where Brady won 135 of 158 games.
“It was pretty cool,” Brady said. “It has been my home for 20 years. I have the best memories. My children were born here. It’s just a big city, a big city, a big region. I like it here. I have so many people that I have connections with, but it was about this team that came here to win. It wasn’t a single player. It was about our whole team going out on the road beating a good team. “
Brady threw for 269 yards, but the Bucs (3-1) only scored one touchdown, on an 8-yard run from Ronald Jones. With the game in play, he watched from an unknown sideline as Nick Folk had a 56-yard field goal hit the left upright in the last minute for New England.
Brady then hugged dozens of his former teammates and coaches in midfield – a quick one with Bill Belichick – as the rain intensified and Gillette Stadium silently emptied.
Despite the rising expectations and the hype, this was no classic. There weren’t many personal highlights for the returning hero. Indeed, when Brady was sacked by Matt Judon in the second quarter, the crowd went wild.
Even when the Buccaneers quarterback set the career passing yard record on a 28-yard run to Mike Evans in the first quarter, there was a mix of cheers and applause along with the taunts. Brady, 44, hit 80,359 yards in the air, then requested a time-out before the next play – though no announcements were made to set the mark. It happened during the time out.
Ryan Succop’s placement a few games later – after Brady missed a few shots – gave Tampa Bay a 3-0 lead. At halftime in constant rain, Brady looked ordinary in the busy atmosphere, and defending champion Tampa Bay was down 7-6. Brady was 15 for 27 for 182 yards, with a few specific goals and just as many knockdowns.
After a friendly welcome for the quarterback during pre-game warm-ups, fans were in no mood to welcome him at the start of the game.
Brady made two passes in the Buccaneers’ first practice before they stalled and punted. He walked stoically to the sideline – on the opposite side of the pitch from where he usually settled as the Patriot – with little reaction to the taunts from fans. It was like that most of the game.
He did, however, get the Bucs to score on their next possession, also surpassing Drew Brees’ passing record.
During the warm-ups, to the chants of “BRADY, BRADY, BRADY in a half-full Gillette stadium, he knew exactly where he was, of course.” He did his usual “Let’s Go” fist pump after going all the way down the sideline. The crowd responded with cheers as Brady hugged New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels before heading to the other end of the pitch to warm up.
Belichick came out halfway through the pre-game warm-ups but did not approach Brady.
Earlier there had been a long and seemingly warm embrace between Brady and Robert Kraft, the quarterback towering over the Patriots owner outside the visitor’s locker room.
Brady, who left New England in 2020 after leading the Patriots to those six Super Bowl titles and then winning another in his first season with Tampa Bay, even seemed comfortable heading to a locker room that he absolutely did not know.
Not that anything should have felt close to normal for the most anticipated game of the NFL start to the season. Brady’s poor first half in wet conditions added to the unusual scene.
In the parking lots, hundreds of fans wore No.12 Patriots jerseys, and there were a handful of Buccaneers Brady kits as well. Josh Nelson of Burrillville, Rhode Island went for the split look.
“He’s a classy guy. I’ve been a fan of Tom Brady forever, ”said Nelson, a season ticket holder for over seven years. “The memories of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, we cannot forget this success.”
When asked why he was wearing the New England / Tampa Bay jersey, Nelson laughed and replied “I looked for him”.
Devon Poduje, 20, from West Hartford, Connecticut, who attends the University of Maryland and traveled for the hero’s comeback, wore a new Bucs No.12 jersey, while his 13-year-old sister, Tiegan, remained faithful to the traditional Patriots’ Shirt. The whole family was divided on who would win – 3-2 in favor of the hosts – but all noted that they expected an enthusiastic reception for Brady.
Before kickoff, that is. And they were right.
“It worked out really well with his trip to Tampa,” Devon said, noting that the family’s NFC team was the Bucs. “And then win the Super Bowl.”
Knowing Brady was a lock in breaking Brees’ NFL record for passing yards, she said he would receive “absolutely a standing ovation” when he did.
His sister Riley added, “He set up most of these yards here. “
Still, the reaction was disappointing when this happened.
Another costumed Bucs fan, Brody Swanson of Mapleton, Utah, had flown to the game – and is not a fan of either team. His favorites are the Raiders. But he bought the Brady jersey on Saturday, wanting to be part of “history”.
Elaina Roundy, also of Mapleton, noted that “everyone bought Brady’s jerseys” in the Patriots store and often went to games he played.
“You can’t boo a legend,” she said.
Well, tonight in Foxborough, they might.
Two fans who were willing to pay big bucks for tickets, but were lucky enough not to have to shell out four figures, expected a “crazy” atmosphere all night long.
CJ Dalton of Rindge, New Hampshire, has said he will be standing for Brady until kickoff.
“It’s all the Patriots once the game starts,” he noted.
AP Sports writer Kyle Hightower contributed.