Leave it to resident comedian Bill Belichick to provide a bit of levity heading into arguably the most publicized regular-season game in NFL history.
The typically close-to-the-vest Belichick was quick with a joke after he walked up to the podium for his Wednesday morning press conference.
“What’s going on? Got any stories this week?” Belichick said with a smile.
Well, Bill, perhaps you’ve heard Tom Brady is returning to his NFL home of 20 seasons on Sunday night when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-1) visit the New England Patriots (1-2) in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
Brady, 44, won six Super Bowl titles with the Patriots before capturing his seventh last season in his first season with the Buccaneers. The three-time NFL MVP and 14-time Pro Bowl selection also is 68 passing yards away from moving past Drew Brees (80,358) for the most in league history.
“Tom’s had an unbelievable career,” Belichick said. “There’s not enough superlatives and adjectives to compliment him on everything that he’s achieved and continues to achieve, so yeah. It’s unbelievably impressive.”
Belichick said Tampa Bay’s offense has Brady’s fingerprints all over it, saying it’s the one “he’s run his whole career.”
Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians wasn’t going to let that comment slide.
“I think (the Patriots) copied a lot of ours, so it’s probably the same,” said Arians, who was Peyton Manning’s quarterbacks coach with the Indianapolis Colts beginning in 1998 before serving as an offensive coordinator with the Cleveland Browns (2001-03), Pittsburgh Steelers (2007-11) and Colts (2012).
“Ask them which film they watch every week, they’ll know. They always picked ours up and watched it, so it’s the same thing.”
In addition to Brady’s return, the Patriots will also see a familiar face in Rob Gronkowski. The five-time Pro Bowl tight end played a significant role in helping New England win three Super Bowl titles during his nine seasons with the team.
“I appreciate everything they’ve done and I have a ton of respect for them,” Belichick said of Brady and Gronkowski. “But this Sunday we’re on opposite sides of the field and we’re going to do what we can to not make them enjoy the night.”
Brady threw for 432 yards and had two touchdowns (one passing, one rushing) in Tampa Bay’s 34-24 loss to the Los Angeles Rams last week.
Gronkowski sustained injured ribs that prevented him from playing in a few series. Initial X-rays were negative, and he was able to finish the game.
Gronkowski, running back Giovani Bernard (knee) and outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul (shoulder) did not participate in practice on Wednesday. Carlton Davis (abdomen/ribs) was a full participant on Wednesday, while fellow starting cornerback Jamel Dean (knee) was limited.
Like the Buccaneers, the Patriots are entering this high-profile game off a loss. New England fell 28-13 against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday to fall to 8-11 since Brady left the team.
The Patriots turned to Cam Newton to replace Brady last season, however the end result was the team missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Newton was released in favor of rookie Mac Jones prior to the start of this season.
Jones completed 30 of 51 passes for 270 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions against New Orleans. Jakobi Meyers reeled in a season-high nine catches for 94 yards last week.
The loss was extremely costly as versatile running back James White sustained a reported season-ending hip injury. The pass-catching back was second on the team in receptions (12).
Damien Harris has team highs in carries (45) and rushing yards (176) for the Patriots, who traded Sony Michel to the Rams last month.
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