Tomase: One year after ESPN story, Brady vs. Belichick no longer dominant Patriots storyline

John Tomase
January 09, 2019 - 1:10 am
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One year later, there's little talk of rifts.

It doesn't mean they're not there, fault lines threatening to fracture. It does mean Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick have succeeded in keeping their differences from registering on the Richter Scale.

That's a far cry from one year ago, when all hell broke loose in Foxboro following a bombshell report from ESPN's Seth Wickersham that tensions between the Hall of Fame coach and G.O.A.T. quarterback had grown so dire, the end of the dynasty loomed.

 The story -- preceded by similar reporting from NBC Boston's Tom E. Curran -- laid bare the simmering conflict between two of the three most pivotal figures in franchise history.

We all remember the particulars: Belichick resented being forced to trade backup Jimmy Garoppolo to the 49ers, a move he blamed on Brady's influence with owner Robert Kraft. Meanwhile, Brady had tired of Belichick's relentless antagonism, not to mention the banishment of personal trainer Alex Guerrero.

Ominous signs pointed to a meltdown of Chernobyl proportions, but 12 months later the fallout has been contained to Three Mile Island levels.

Only a Pollyanna believes the men have resolved their differences -- it's not like Belichick became cuddly after 20 years of scowling, and Brady is unlikely to suddenly decide he's fine with being treated like a 25-year-old -- but at least they have back-burnered them.

And while Patriots fans may still uneasily fear the end of the greatest coach-quarterback partnership the NFL has ever seen, at least we haven't been bombarded with daily evidence of discord.

Brady's not swearing at offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, devoting five minutes of his personal documentary to Guerrero's gameday luxury box exile, or liking Instagram messages from benched Super Bowl heroes.

Belichick, meanwhile, doesn't appear to be pining for Jimmy G. and has even gone out of his way to commend Brady's preparation, decision-making, and leadership. "No quarterback I'd rather have than Tom Brady," he said after an October romp over the Colts.

At this time last year, with the Patriots preparing to play the Tennessee Titans, an overmatched club they'd thump in the divisional round, the week leading into the game was devoted almost entirely to the friction between Brady, Belichick, and Kraft, which seemingly led perilously close to a point of no return.

Coaches scurried for the exits, with defensive coordinator Matt Patricia headed to the Lions and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels likely following him out of town to Indianapolis. The dynasty would crumble from within.

The conflict forced fans to make hypothetical choices between Hall of Famers. If you could only keep one, would it be Brady or Belichick? We were no longer sure it could be both.

This garbage lasted well into the summer, with Tom vs. Time, Brady skipping OTAs, Belichick never satisfactorily explaining his decision to bench Malcolm Butler, Rob Gronkowski effectively holding out and then nearly being traded, Brady openly wondering if it was all worth it, Gisele saying he wanted to feel appreciated, Danny Amendola leaving for the Dolphins, and Julian Edelman getting popped for PEDs.

That's a lot of misery to pack into about five months, but the Patriots have reached the other side. That an 11-5 regular season is their worst in nearly a decade speaks to the bar they've set, but also to their ability to keep their collective compass pointed due north rather than spinning wildly like something out of Lost.

It helped that McDaniels spurned the Colts at the altar. And if we're being honest, Jimmy G. blowing out his knee wasn't the worst outcome from a narrative perspective, since it denied those of us who believed Belichick should've been allowed to move on to the next guy the oxygen to fuel our arguments.

Brady hasn't appeared in vintage form by any stretch, but as the Patriots prepare to host the formidable Chargers on Sunday, at least no one's wondering if he wants to be here anymore.

Whatever his issues with Belichick, it appears both parties have agreed to lay them aside in pursuit of the greater good.

Considering where we were at this time last year, that might just be good enough.

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