NFL Winners and Losers: Bill Belichick made a big mistake not convincing Tom Brady to stay

Frank Schwab
·12-min read

Bill Belichick has a knack for letting go of veterans at just the right time. He has made a few miscalculations, but that will happen over 20 years. Mostly, when Belichick lets go of a longtime veteran, there’s a good reason.

That’s why it’s surprising he miscalculated on the greatest quarterback in NFL history.

Whatever led to the split between Tom Brady and Belichick — it seems fair to state the New England Patriots didn’t go out of their way to make Brady feel like he was wanted for another season — it also likely came down to a cold reality. Brady was 43 years old. Quarterbacks at that age don’t succeed in the NFL. Belichick wouldn’t have let a 33-year-old Brady leave without a fight. The Patriots must have figured they wouldn’t miss Brady at his age.

It looks really bad now. The Patriots are in trouble this season. Sunday was the kind of game they have always won under Belichick, with the NFL world questioning them after a loss. The San Francisco 49ers blew them out 33-6. And it was hard to not notice what was happening on opposite ends of the country with Brady and Newton.

Cam Newton completed four of eight passes for 30 yards and two interceptions in the first half. He was benched in the second half after his third interception, and has two touchdown passes and seven interceptions on the season. Belichick will have to decide if Newton deserves another shot next week or Jarrett Stidham takes over (Belichick said after the game he expects Newton to remain the starter). Meanwhile, Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers carved up the Las Vegas Raiders in a 45-20 win. Brady had 205 yards, two touchdowns and a rushing touchdown before halftime. He finished with 369 yards, four passing touchdowns and one rushing touchdown. Brady’s rainbow TD pass to Scott Miller was most likely the prettiest throw from a 43-year-old quarterback in NFL history. Not that there are many to choose from.

There’s a long way to this season and in future seasons, but it looks like Belichick got this one wrong. Very wrong.

The Buccaneers are 5-2 and might be the NFC’s best team. The Patriots are 2-4 and look worse than that. Their offense is not good. We all knew they didn’t have much at the skill positions. It turns out Brady was making them look a lot better than they were.

If everything continues on this path, the effect on the legacies of Brady and Belichick will be overstated. One of them doesn’t necessarily have to get all the credit for the Patriots’ dynasty. Brady is great. Belichick is great. It doesn’t need to be one or the other. They did remarkable things together. Brady could go on and win another Super Bowl and it wouldn’t lessen Belichick’s accomplishments, or vice versa.

But Belichick and the Patriots are missing Brady. Newton was a reasonable signing and looked good early on. But his play has plummeted, and he can’t overcome a bad supporting cast. The offense has become terrible — when the Patriots needed a score last week against the Denver Broncos, they dialed up two Julian Edelman passes on trick plays — and it’s not like the Patriots have a lot of answers for the future at quarterback either.

Brady might never admit it, but it has to feel good to be writing a second chapter with a new team that’s more Peyton Manning on the Broncos and less Joe Namath on the Rams. What he’s doing at his age is unprecedented. The Buccaneers are rolling. Brady looks like he can play forever.

Meanwhile, the Patriots might be in for their worst season since Brady was on the bench as a rookie in 2000. If Brady wanted to prove he could be great outside of the Patriots’ cocoon, he is doing that. This is like if Michael Jordan was scoring 30 points per game with the Washington Wizards and they were the best team in the East.

Belichick makes mistakes, like any talent evaluator does. It just seems he should have known better than to make such an error on Brady.

Tom Brady is having a fine season with the Buccaneers. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Tom Brady is having a fine season with the Buccaneers. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Here are the winners and losers from Week 7 of the NFL season:


Kansas City Chiefs, soon to be crowned AFC West champs: Not even the snow and cold in Denver could slow down the Chiefs.

The Chiefs got a defensive touchdown and a kickoff return score and blasted the Broncos 43-16. The Raiders’ loss means the 6-1 Chiefs are the only AFC West team above .500. The Raiders are second at 3-3.

Not that there was much mystery about the division, though the Raiders’ win at the Chiefs was a strange result. The Chiefs are going to cruise to another division crown. The only question is whether they’ll get the AFC’s No. 1 seed.

A great Browns-Bengals game: How many times have the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns played a classic since the Browns came back to the NFL in 1999?

Get used to it. Baker Mayfield and Joe Burrow are going to be fun to watch in the AFC North. The two helped produce a first in NFL history on Sunday.

Mayfield was great. He threw five touchdowns, and his only incompletion after an 0-for-5 start was spiking the ball to stop the clock. His winning touchdown pass with 11 seconds left was marvelous. He lost Odell Beckham Jr. early on and carried the Browns offense.

Burrow was very good, too, with 406 yards and three touchdowns. The Bengals didn’t get a win, but victories are coming. Burrow is the real deal.

If you missed them battle on Sunday, you missed one of the games of the year. You should have many more years to catch their rivalry again.

Tennessee Titans: Wait, didn’t the Titans lose against the Pittsburgh Steelers?

Yes, but the biggest win for the organization came before the game. The Titans were fined $350,000 for violating COVID-19 protocols. That doesn’t seem like a win, until you realize that is incredibly light for their clear violations.

Not to bring every NFL punishment back to Deflategate, but what the Titans did was far worse than any nebulous violations from Brady and the Patriots. The Titans unapologetically broke protocols. They put out the Steelers, who basically lost their bye week when the game was rescheduled, and the Buffalo Bills, who had to wait and play on a Tuesday.

So, sure, the Titans lost to the Steelers on Sunday. But they still have all their draft picks and didn’t get a seven-figure fine like they should have, so count that as a win, and a loss for the NFL in its half-hearted effort to enforce its own COVID-19 protocols.

Pittsburgh Steelers’ Super Bowl chances: Now for the team that won on the field in Nashville.

The Steelers are 6-0 and Sunday’s win was another validation of them as a Super Bowl contender. The Titans had a nice comeback, and the Steelers had to fade a late field-goal attempt after a bad Ben Roethlisberger interception late, but Stephen Gostkowski’s kick went wide right and the Steelers won 27-24.

We don’t know yet who will win the AFC North or be in the mix to take home a title. But the Steelers and Titans seem like two good candidates to be in the mix and a head-to-head win could be huge for playoff seeding. And it gives the Steelers plenty of momentum going into next week’s showdown against the Baltimore Ravens.

Drew Brees: He didn’t have Michael Thomas or Emmanuel Sanders on Sunday. He has been dogged with questions about his fading ability at age 41.

Brees still has his days. Despite playing shorthanded, the New Orleans Saints pulled off a 27-24 win over the Carolina Panthers behind Brees’ 287-yard performance. It wasn’t a dominant Saints win but there might not be many of those, especially until Thomas gets healthy.

Brees’ top receiver on Sunday was Marquez Callaway, an undrafted rookie with five career catches coming in. He had eight catches for 75 yards Sunday. Brees put up a 118.4 passer rating, which isn’t bad considering he was without his top two targets including last season’s NFL Offensive Player of the Year. Brees also had one of his trademark touchdowns when he jumped over the line on a sneak from the 1-yard line.

The Saints haven’t been great, but they are 4-2 and will get healthier. If Brees can keep playing like he did Sunday, New Orleans might still have a chance to be great this season.

Davante Adams: With Michael Thomas on the shelf, Adams has a good argument as the NFL’s best receiver.

Sunday’s game provided more evidence of it. Adams caught 13 passes for 196 yards and two touchdowns in the Green Bay Packers’ 35-20 win. It’s not like the Houston Texans didn’t know where the ball was going, especially with Aaron Jones out for the game.

The Packers have been great against bad defenses this season. They struggled last week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and it’s worth wondering if they can handle business against an elite defense, but having Adams certainly helps.


Tua Tagovailoa: There’s pressure on any rookie first-round quarterback. That pressure has increased a lot for Tagovailoa before he even takes the field for the Miami Dolphins, through no fault of his own.

He’s going to be compared to Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert, and that’s a high bar to jump over.

Burrow threw for 406 yards on Sunday and is legit. Herbert continues to look great, too. He had a huge game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, putting up more than 300 passing yards in a 39-29 victory.

Tagovailoa might have a normal inconsistent rookie season. It would look a lot worse with what Burrow and Herbert are doing.

Mike McCarthy: The Dak Prescott excuse doesn’t work too well when the Cowboys defense looks this bad.

The Cowboys’ horrible 25-3 loss to the Washington Football Team on Sunday should bring about questions surrounding McCarthy’s future. Dallas looks absolutely awful. McCarthy’s decision to hire Mike Nolan as his defensive coordinator — the two buddies went way back for more than a decade — might be what costs McCarthy his job.

It’s hard to fire a coach after just one season. But there are no signs that McCarthy is any better than he was when he was letting the Green Bay Packers slip his final years there, and no real optimism that it’s going to get better if they keep him around. Jerry Jones will have a hard decision to make. Or maybe it’s not that hard.

Falcons and a new way to lose: If you thought the Atlanta Falcons were done losing in weird ways just because Dan Quinn isn’t their coach anymore, you were wrong.

Sunday’s loss might not be quite as bad as blowing two-touchdown leads in the fourth quarter, which Atlanta did twice earlier this season, but it’s a rare one. The Falcons lost because Todd Gurley scored a touchdown. The Detroit Lions let him score because they were going to run out of time, Gurley tried to hold up and couldn’t, barely crossing the goal line.

Given the Falcons’ star-crossed season, everyone knew what was coming next.

The Lions drove down and scored with no time on the clock, as Matthew Stafford hit T.J. Hockenson for the win. Unbelievable. It doesn’t really matter for the Falcons, whose season is done and fans are numb to heartbreaking losses. But it’s one for the time capsule.

New York Jets’ chance to put 0-16 questions behind them: The Buffalo Bills won, and that’s about the only nice thing you can say about them on Sunday.

The Jets actually had a chance to win. They led 10-0. They held the Bills without a touchdown. And they still couldn’t win a game. The Bills kicked six field goals and took an ugly 18-10 win. There should be concern about what has happened to Buffalo’s offense, and we’d hear a lot more about that this week if the Jets were good enough to take advantage and win.

The Jets’ best chance at a win might be that opponents aren’t motivated to play them. It seems that might have happened Sunday. Maybe that helps them avoid 0-16. But it’s hard to figure out who they can actually beat.

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