Even on a weekend when the Red Sox clinched a ticket to face the hated New York Yankees in the MLB playoffs, there was only one storyline that really mattered in Boston on Sunday: Tom Brady returning to the New England Patriots with his new team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The game began as a lovefest. The crowd cheered an introductory video starring the man who led them to six Super Bowls over 20 years, and broke out into “BRA-DY” chants when he ran on to the field. There were boos too, but they were all but drowned out by the cheers.
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Yet, by the fourth quarter a new subplot had emerged: the rise of Brady’s heir as Patriots quarterback, Mac Jones. While the pregame discussion pitted Brady against his old head coach, Bill Belichick, Jones nearly hijacked the narrative. Some achievement in a game in which Brady also became the NFL’s all-time passing leader.
The Bucs won 19-17 but Jones legitimately outplayed Brady. He went 31-for-40 with two touchdowns while picking up 275 passing yards, edging out Brady’s 269. Brady didn’t throw a single touchdown, going 22-for-43 in a game in which the Patriots defense kept limiting Tampa Bay to field goals. But there was more to Jones’s performance than just statistics. His quick release, accuracy and cool head were reminiscent of Brady at his best.
Jones, of course, is still a long, long way from emulating Brady and, as is normal for a rookie, has looked out of his depth at times this season. On Sunday, he took four sacks while the Patriots’ most impressive throw of the night might have come from wide receiver Jakobi Meyers. But Jones was good enough to be a missed field goal away from leading New England to an upset victory over the reigning Super Bowl champions as Nick Folk’s 56-yard effort doinked off the upright in the final minute.
As for his opposite number, a man as ruthlessly devoted to winning as Brady cares about the result more than the method. We’ll leave the armchair psychiatrists to determine the sincerity of his postgame hug with Belichick, but Brady looked happy to have gone to his former home and boosted the Bucs’ record to 3-1.
As for the Patriots, an encouraging, well-fought loss is still a loss and they are now 1-3 and look to be well outside of the playoff picture. But the fans got to celebrate their glorious past while seeing signs of a potentially bright future. Maybe there is life after Brady after all.
Quote of the week
“BOOM, we want that ball. Fuck ‘em!” – New York Giants safety Jabrill Peppers, colorfully expressing his pleasure that his team won their coin toss against the New Orleans Saints.
There may be a fine coming Peppers’s way, but he was right to be excited about winning the overtime coin toss, a stroke of luck that gives one team a huge statistical advantage. It did in this case, as the Giants promptly took advantage of possessing the ball firstand their opponents didn’t even get a chance to see the field. The game ended on a six-yard Saquon Barkley touchdown run that gave the Giants a 27-21 win over the Saints.
Stat of the week
Five. That’s the number of rushing touchdowns scored by Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold this season, something which improbably gives him the league lead. In fact, he’s the first NFL quarterback to rush for at least five touchdowns in the first four games of the season in the Super Bowl era.
It’s unlikely Darnold will lead the league by the end of the season but it’s an encouraging sign that the oft-mocked quarterback is putting things together in his new environment. You know what they say: you can take the quarterback out of the New York Jets … and you really probably should. Unfortunately for Darnold, his efforts were in vain on Sunday as the Panthers lost to a Dak Prescott-inspired Dallas Cowboys.
MVP of the week
Patrick Mahomes, quarterback, Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs came into Week 4 in an unfamiliar position: up against the wall and with something to prove. Mahomes made sure the Chiefs climbed their way to .500 by throwing five touchdowns during a 42-30 win over the Eagles.
It was a solid win but one that didn’t feel secure until Mahomes’s fifth TD pass late in the fourth quarter. The Chiefs are well overdue an easy win, one of those blowout victories that prove a team is clicking on every level. Unfortunately for them, their next opponent will be the Buffalo Bills, who humiliated the Houston Texans 40-0.
Video of the week
The Detroit Lions wasted no time to provide us with Sunday’s most amusing moment. In what was yet another dreadful day for Detroit football – they remain winless after defeat to the Chicago Bears – fans had to watch a snap bounce off, well, an unfortunate piece of Jared Goff’s anatomy for an easy Bears fumble recovery.
Elsewhere around the league
— The 37-year-old Aaron Rodgers looked like he had more left in the tank than the 39-year-old Ben Roethlisberger during the Packers’ win over the Steelers. That’s unsurprising – Rodgers is coming off of an MVP campaign while Roethlisberger looked washed for much of last year. Even though we hand them wins and losses in the box score, quarterbacks don’t entirely determine team records. In the case of these two teams, however, it’s clearly a key reason why the Packers are now 3-1 while the Steelers are 1-3.
— Let’s turn our attention from a battle between two veteran quarterbacks to the rise of a rookie one. A Jimmy Garoppolo calf injury meant that, ready or not, it was time for rookie Trey Lance to see what he can give the San Francisco 49ers. While it wasn’t the official NFL debut for the 2021 No 3 draft pick, it was his first extended chance with the keys to the team.
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The results? Well, Lance went 9-for-18, threw two touchdowns without a pick, and collected 157 yards in what was an unplanned relief appearance. Not a bad start, but still not enough to secure a win against the Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks won 28-21 to raise their record back to .500.
— How tricky is it to go undefeated in the NFL regular season? Well, just four games into the season, two of the remaining unbeaten teams had to face each other. In this case, the Arizona Cardinals (now 4-0) easily took care of the Los Angeles Rams (now 3-1) by a score of 37-20. The only other unbeaten team, the Las Vegas Raiders, will play the Los Angeles Chargers on Monday Night Football.
— There are no other unbeaten teams left because the formerly 3-0 Denver Broncos fell to the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens, still dealing with a ridiculous number of injuries, promoted former star running back and recent NFL nomad Le’Veon Bell from the practice squad before the game. Bell made a few appearances in the Ravens’ 23-7 win but wasn’t much of a factor, picking up a mere 11 yards on four carries.
— We mocked the New York Jets earlier this column, so let’s make up for that here. It looked like the Jets were doing that thing they always do when they let the Tennessee Titans score a game-tying touchdown in the final minutes of their afternoon contest. Previous incarnations of the Jets might have crumbled right here but instead, New York regrouped, won the coin toss and scored first.
Unlike the Giants, the Jets could only manage a field goal, making the score 27-24. When the Titans made it to field-goal range on the other side of the field, the 0-3 Jets would have accepted coming out of this sloppy mess of a game with a tie. Then something unforeseen happened: it was Tennessee’s time to stumble. Titans kicker Randy Bullock missed the 49-yard field goal wide left, cementing a ridiculous first win for the 2021-22 Jets – not that anybody should ever expect normalcy at the Meadowlands.