Tomase: And now begins the most perilous test of the Brady-Belichick relationship

John Tomase
September 24, 2018 - 11:26 am
Tom Brady and Bill Belichick

Robert Deutsch/USA Today Sports

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Forget about the summer. Nothing of consequence happens in the summer.

The real test of the relationship between Tom Brady and Bill Belichick starts now.

Sunday night represented one of lowest points of their collaboration, a lifeless 26-10 loss to the mediocre Lions that saw Brady chucking fruitless 50-yard passes down the field in one of his few tells that he's genuinely frustrated.

It would be one thing if the Patriots simply had a bad day, but the problems plaguing them during a 1-2 start defy easy fixes, particularly on defense, where a lack of team speed has allowed opposing offenses to turn the corner with ease for two straight weeks.

Brady seemed to know the Patriots were cooked, tossing his helmet on the sidelines in dismay like a kid who's just been told recess is over. It doesn't take much mental dexterity to imagine Brady laying this squarely at Belichick's feet.

Put yourself in Brady's cleats. You're 41 and nearing the end. You're coming off the greatest individual losing performance in Super Bowl annals. You've got one, maybe two, years left to complete your legacy before walking away or being carted away.

You've been unhappy with the direction of the team for a couple of years now, the constant negativity wearing you down when you wouldn't mind some acknowledgement of your historic accomplishments.

But you put all of that aside to make one last run. And three weeks into the season, you find yourself throwing to Cordarrelle Patterson, Phillip Dorsett, and Sony Michel.

The previous low-water mark for putrid receiving corps came in 2006, when Brady willed Reche Caldwell, Doug Gabriel, and Jabbar Gaffney to the AFC title game, where he put up 34 points in a shootout loss to the Colts.

This is worse, though at least Julian Edelman returns in two weeks. Of course, Edelman hasn't played in 18 months and just got popped for PEDs, so there's no telling how effective he'll be.

Regardless, Brady's lack of weapons is appalling, and that's with Rob Gronkowski and James White healthy, albeit not as featured in the offense as Brady would prefer, in the case of White.

All the Patriots did on offense was subtract this offseason, and it could've been infinitely worse. They said goodbye to reliable big-game receiver Danny Amendola and watched him sign in Miami. They traded deep threat Brandin Cooks to the Rams for a first-round pick they used on a guard who's already on IR. They bid adieu to versatile running back Dion Lewis and replaced him with Michel, a talented multi-dimensional threat at Georgia who nonetheless looks overmatched thus far.

Oh, and now we come to discover that Gronk needed to threaten retirement to thwart a trade to the Lions for draft picks that would have left Brady utterly bereft of talent.

One could even imagine the Patriots taking the 20th pick from Detroit and packaging it with 23 (from the Rams for Cooks) to move into the top 10 to draft Brady's replacement at quarterback. Imagine that kick in the teeth: not only have we traded away all of your weapons, we're going to use them to find the guy who'll take your job. Be a good mentor, now.

And so that brings us back to the here and now. According to a credible number of reports, Brady has been tiring of Belichick's militaristic approach for a while now. He blew off the voluntary portions of camp this summer without regret, and according to author Mark Leibovich of the New York Times, would've been OK being released this summer to start somewhere new.

Meanwhile, Belichick could be excused for wondering how much of a hit his authority has taken in the locker room because players see Brady no longer shouting, "THANK YOU SIR MAY I HAVE ANOTHER!" in response to every command. Belichick's grip on that room has always been more tenuous than people might think, cemented by the twin pillars of constant winning and Brady's willing subservience. When one or both disappears, the danger is a dawning collective awareness that this bleep ain't fun.

And that seems to be one possible outcome at this fraught moment. Brady deserves better talent around him and everyone knows it. Belichick isn't sure he can rely on his QB to blindly follow orders anymore and the repercussions across the roster could be devastating.

All along, we assumed the arrival of the regular season would unite Brady and Belichick around a common goal and force their differences into remission. Their shared history demands it.

That sounds good. But what if we were wrong? What if real football has ratcheted up real tension that simply couldn't exist during the low stakes of summer?

What if this actually makes everything worse?

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