Tom Brady extended his hand to the only coach for whom he has ever played a professional football game, and amid a vortex of speculation and frustration, it certainly seemed like more than your typical handshake. Brady and Belichick have been in the eye of this Patriots supercell over the last 14 years. They have been the nucleus. And now we know that they are at least a little fractured, too.
One win can cover up deeper-rooted issues, for sure, but it doesn’t make them go away.
And so now, in the wake of the Patriots’ resounding 43-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, here is the question: did Brady rediscover himself in support of Belichick? Or did he win in spite of him?
At least for now, the latter seems closer to the truth. In the aftermath of a dreadful loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 4, Brady’s frustration with the Patriots organization became quite clear, be it through the commentary of Trent Dilfer or that of Steve Young. And it continued right up until kickoff on Sunday night, thanks to reports by respected NFL insiders like Chris Mortensen and Michael Silver.
People talk, folks. Even in the NFL. Even in Foxboro. Belichick effectively has had a stranglehold on the New England operation for the last 15 years and, in his mind, it has been at least a part of the reason for the team’s success. But he has never really had much of a grasp on human nature or that slippery little sucker generally known as the right of expression.
As always, there is blame to be shared on both sides, starting with a Patriots organization that has operated in recent months as if intent on antagonizing the best player in the history of the franchise. Brady restructured his contract. The Patriots thanked him by replacing Wes Welker with Danny Amendola, drafting Jimmy Garoppolo and then trading Logan Mankins. The last and final move seemingly and understandably caused Brady to lose his marbles … and the ones that remained were rattling around in his head thanks to the crushing blows of people like Oakland Raiders defensive lineman Justin Tuck.
If Brady were to have told us exactly what he felt at that moment, it probably would have gone something like this:
I’ve been covering your ass for years, Bill. I’ve been covering up for the bad drafts and the value free-agent signings. And now you’re going to get me killed, too? If you really want Jimmy Garoppolo to be your quarterback, you can have him. Knock yourself out. This is a (expletive) joke.
Really, could you blame him? Brady is 37. He wants to play into his 40s. He is signed for three more seasons beyond this one. In retrospect, one must wonder whether Belichick gave Brady any warning at all that the team intended to select his successor in the early rounds of the most recent draft, all of which got Brady’s wheels turning and seemingly sent him into a spin.
They’re setting me up to fail.
And so Tom Brady played the first four weeks of this season like a man who didn’t believe in the cause, like a man who didn’t trust his bosses, like a man who simply did not believe the Patriots had a chance. Garoppolo was here. Welker and Mankins weren’t. The writing certainly seemed to be on the wall.
Of course, sulking never really gets you anywhere, at least not in the long run. It is natural, entirely understandable. But at some point it becomes downright unacceptable. Maybe the Patriots had some sort of powwow in Foxboro last week. Maybe Belichick called Brady into his office to clear the air. Maybe Brady stormed in. Maybe Robert Kraft felt the need to intervene, ensuring that the pillars on which his entire Foxboro compound has been built remained committed to the cause, to winning.
Or maybe Brady, like Ivan Drago, came to simple realization.
I’m doing this for me.
Whatever the case, the Patriots got back their quarterback on Sunday night, rediscovered their leader. Brady ran three times on the opening drive of the game. He sneaked the ball into the heart of the Cincinnati defensive line on consecutive plays. He played like a man intent on fighting for both his job and for his place in the organizational hierarchy, and he had a succession of teammates line up right behind him.
When it was done, he shook the hand of his coach.
But whatever Brady was actually thinking at that moment, this time, he kept to himself.