Tom Brady gets the better of Bill Belichick but plenty of positives for Bucs and Pats

It was the biggest game of the NFL season, the most hyped-up regular season game in history, but what did Tom Brady's return to New England tell us about the future?

The champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers went into Gillette Stadium and came out with the victory, but only after Patriots kicker Nick Folk hit the upright with a possible game-winning field goal in the final minute. The noise of the dreaded 'doink' rattled around the ground as it signalled the end for the home side.

Brady was left to celebrate the most emotional of victories in the place he called home for 20 years, but the 19-17 defeat also saw Bill Belichick and the Patriots emerge with a lot of credit after shackling the Super Bowl champions for large parts of the game.

In typical New England weather of driving rain, Belichick made it a scrap as Brady and the Bucs had to earn every point, work harder for every single yard and reply in kind to slow a promising display from Brady's successor Mac Jones.

All the pomp and ceremony happened before the game, a tribute video for Brady's return, the home crowd saluting the greatest hero in their history and a welcome fit for the GOAT.

Once the game started though, the adulation turned to hostility, the crowd got behind their current team ahead of their former legend, and Belichick and a fired-up Patriots side ensured it wasn't the champagne passing masterclass we've seen from Brady this season, and instead turned into a fist fight.

Belichick will be desperately disappointed to lose that game, but in truth both teams can take plenty of positives from game that was a hard-hitting tribute to two of the sport's most fierce competitors.

Ultimate competitor Brady makes more history

Brady wasn't able to sling the ball around as he had done previously this season but while he didn't throw a touchdown, his 269 yards saw him eclipse Drew Brees for the most passing yards in NFL history - and what a venue to set that new benchmark.

The 44-year-old also became just the fourth quarterback to beat all 32 NFL teams, joining Brees, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning in that most exclusive of clubs. There's not much Brady hasn't done during the most successful NFL career ever - but playing at Gillette Stadium as a visitor, using the away locker rooms, was a brand new experience.

"I couldn't run through the normal tunnel, so, yeah, just happened to be the opposite way," said Brady.

"It was just some emotional moments thinking about coming up here and playing. I know why it's tough to come in here and win a game all these years. This team does a great job. They make you earn it. It's a tough football environment. The crowd is into it. I'm just really happy we got a win."

Brady didn't throw a touchdown, but he led his team down the field for what turned out to be the winning field goal, while he also ran for a tough first down - showing just how much he wanted the 'W' on his homecoming.

Paint has dried faster than Brady has managed to move his legs at times throughout his career, but toughness has never been a question and that coupled with his continued game-winning ability make him a live contender for a fourth league MVP award - he's now 11/1 third-favourite to do so.

Bucs still fancied for big Super Bowl bid

Tampa Bay are still around 6/1 second-favourites to successfully defend their Super Bowl title, something which Brady has already achieved with the Patriots so knows exactly what it takes when playing with that target on your back.

They've lost to the Rams, who were then pretty well beaten by the Cardinals so the NFC looks an even tougher conference than last season, but they showed in winning this game that they can win tough battles just as much as shootouts with their vast array of receiving talent.

Brady's team are now 3-1 along with NFC South rivals Carolina, so have been installed as whopping 1/5 favourites to win the division - something they didn't manage last season of course - but they do have issues to address.

Rob Gronkowski was a huge miss for Brady and the team, especially in the red zone as they had to settle for field goals without Gronk's uncanny ability to find space and where his sheer size and catching ability makes him able to dominate defensive backs to make TD grabs look automatic.

Speaking of defensive backs, that's an area of concern for head coach Bruce Arians with newly signed Richard Sherman one of their only fit cornerbacks, and with a top-ranked run defence teams will already be scheming to pass the ball on their depleted secondary.

The Bucs won tough, and it won't get any easier for the them, but they host the Miami Dolphins next up and will fancy their chances against their struggling Florida rivals.

Mac Jones can play - now favourite for rookie award

Tom Brady has won more games at Foxborough this season than the Patriots - who are 1-3 for the first time since 2001 and are now 8-12 since Brady left the team.

On the plus side, they produced their best performance of the season, they face a winnable game at Houston next week and this team will only get better as the raft of new players start to come together as a group.

Belichick has spent huge in free agency mainly on defence, they of course have rookie Mac Jones under centre and more new starters on the team than most - they will continue to improve and even in defeat this game will do them the world of good.

Jones' performance was excellent for a rookie QB in not only a prime time game but one of this magnitude, in those weather conditions and considering the occasion. His numbers were better than Brady's and he showed poise and management of his offence - he also hung tough against the blitz while still delivering his throws.

Jones strung 19 straight completions together at one point - the most by a rookie in 40 years - and perhaps deserved the chance to try and win the game himself when Belichick decided to try a long 56-yard field goal instead of letting Jones try and convert a fourth-and-three.

On this evidence though, that trust will come, and the Patriots look like they're in good hands with the former Alabama man as their long-term quarterback. Jones is now a 4/1 favourite to win the Offensive Rookie of the Year award after that display.

Could the Pats make the playoffs?

The Buffalo Bills will win the AFC East but with seven playoff spots again this season then the Patriots could have a decent chance of making the postseason if they can replicate these types of performances.

They'll need to cure their own red zone problems and start turning field goals into touchdowns, but their defence looks on the right track and more consistent output from them will make life a whole lot easier for Jones and the offence.

New England need to beat Houston though, they can't afford to slip to 1-4 with several 3-1 teams already in the AFC that won't be finishing top of their division.

Houston have just been shutout by the Buffalo Bills though and with a rookie QB of their own in Davis Mills - Belichick has a great record against rookie QBs and a solid win at the Texans can help get the Pats back on track for a playoff run.

Brady and Belichick meet in post-game gathering

The on-field hug was brief, but that is how Bill Belichick operates and after the game he went to the Tampa Bay locker room for a 20-odd minute catch up with Brady, his quarterback of 20 years with whom he re-wrote NFL history together.

Belichick cuts a cold, stone faced figure in the media, but we know behind the scenes there's more warmth than that and there's no doubt there's a special bond between the head coach and Brady.

As the man himself alluded to.

"We've had a personal relationship for 20-plus years," Brady said of Belichick. "He drafted me here. We had a lot of personal conversations that should remain that way. They're very private.

"I would say, so much is made of our relationship. Nothing is really accurate that I ever see. It definitely doesn't come from my personal feelings or beliefs."

And although that may be the last time we see Brady play at Gillette Stadium (he does say he could play until he's 50 though so...) when he finally does retire, even though there are some who think he never will, he'll be back to support the team that helped make him the GOAT of the NFL.

"It's been a great stadium for me for a long time. I don't know what the future holds. Obviously, could be an opportunity to come back here (to play). We'll see," Brady said.

"I feel like I'll always be a part of this community. I'll be up here quite a bit when it's all said and done. When I retire, I'm sure there will be a lot of time; I have a lot of friends up here, and it's a great place. My kids were born on Beacon Street in the city. It's been an amazing place for me; it still is."

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