Tom Brady vs. Bill Belichick was Adele-worthy
I used to think the NFL Films music was the most dramatic football soundtrack possible. Booming horns, thumping timpani-these were the signs that a football game was an epic clash of gridiron titans.

Winner: The Brady-Belichick Game
And then, last Sunday, NBC played Adele. Do you realize how dramatic something has to be to justify the unironic usage of Adele? After many decades of trying, we had finally discovered a football game worthy of a British woman hollering to heaven about heartbreak: the first and perhaps only matchup of Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady and Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, two legends of the game who spent two decades together:

The broadcast repeatedly played sound bites of conflicted Patriots fans interviewed in the parking lot in an attempt to understand what they were trying to get out of this game. Were they coming to cheer their former hero, or to boo him? Did they still love Brady? We heard from someone named "Schwartzy." The Foxborough fans began the game by chanting their departed GOAT's name, even though he was wearing rival colors:

Personally, I got tired of Tom Brady in about 2007. Less than halfway into his career of unparalleled greatness, I wanted to tap out. What's the difference between four or five or six or seven Super Bowls? Greatness is great, but we can only take so much of it. It's why we get brain freeze while eating delicious ice cream. I guess Brady got tired of it too-it would explain why he ended the greatest player-coach partnership in football history to play for a team as random as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

But a decade and a half after I got tired of Tom Brady, I was riveted Sunday night. His matchup with the Patriots was a story we'd never seen before. There has never been a seven-time Super Bowl winner before, and therefore, there has never been a seven-time Super Bowl winner playing against the coach with whom he won six Super Bowls.

The game, of course, was great. After Brady threw 10 touchdowns in his first three games, he threw none Sunday night, just his second game with no touchdowns since joining Tampa Bay. And New England called a smart game for rookie quarterback Mac Jones. They didn't ask Jones to do too much, and he finished the game with more yards and more touchdowns than Brady. NBC should've done a "NEVER MIND I'LL FIND SOMEONE LIKE YOUUUUUUUUUUU" montage about Belichick drafting Mac.

But of course, Brady got the ball with under five minutes left in the fourth quarter and led Tampa Bay on a game-winning field goal drive. He has now defeated all 32 NFL teams in his career:

I kept realizing throughout the game that I couldn't tell whom I was rooting for. I got tired of Brady in 2007, or maybe I got tired of the Patriots in 2007. Maybe I got tired of Brady on the Patriots? Sunday night, we were forced to figure this stuff out in real time. It wasn't just a great football game; it was an opportunity to figure out exactly what stirred up so many emotions in us for so many years. This one game couldn't provide a definitive answer to whether Belichick or Brady is greater at their job-nothing can-but like an Adele song, I feel like I just worked through something I wasn't going to work through by myself.

Loser: A Very Long, Rainy Field Goal
The Patriots came a few inches from beating Brady. Trailing 19-17, Belichick sent kicker Nick Folk out to attempt a potential game-winning 56-yard field goal. It slammed off the left upright, unleashing one of the most powerful DOINKs in NFL history. Just a beautiful timbre, richer and deeper than any upright you've ever heard. That upright, honestly, is the Adele of uprights.

The Patriots' 20-year dynasty was built with help from the legs of two incredible kickers. The early Pats championships featured multiple game-winning kicks by Adam Vinatieri, who holds the NFL's all-time scoring record. He left in free agency in 2006, and somehow, the Pats found an even better kicker-Stephen Gostkowski, who is ninth all time in field goal accuracy. It's an almost unrivaled stretch of kicking excellence; there's no other team in the NFL that hasn't had at least one period in the last 20 years when they couldn't find a kicker worth a damn.

That streak ended in 2019, when Gostkowski struggled deeply and eventually got injured. The Pats turned to Folk, who was cut by the Buccaneers during a brutal 2017 campaign, couldn't find an NFL team in 2018, and played in the AAF in 2019. Considering his last few seasons before signing with New England, Folk has been pretty good-he came into Sunday having made 49 of 54 attempts with the team.

But Folk was injured all week-he was listed as questionable for Sunday night's game with a left knee injury. (Believe it or not, both legs are important for kicking field goals.) And Folk's career long was 56 yards, the exact length the Patriots needed him to hit. Oh, and it was pouring rain in Foxborough Sunday night. The Pats had a fourth-and-3; they obviously should've gone for it instead of asking their injured kicker to attempt the longest kick of his life in the worst possible weather conditions for kicking.

All things considered, Folk kicked the hell out of that ball. He had the leg, despite the conditions, and was only a few inches off. Justin Tucker will be remembered forever for a kick that would've missed if it had been a foot shorter; Folk won't be remembered as the guy who helped the Pats beat Brady because his kick was a foot too far left. What a doinking game.

Roger Sherman,, published 4 October 2021