Tom Brady Returns to the Patriots—and Not a Moment Too Soon

Brady's value to the Patriots has never been more evident than after a shutout loss to the Buffalo Bills.

While the Patriots were tearing through the NFL last month without Tom Brady, the anti-Brady trolls were beginning to come out of the woodwork. They called into talk radio shows and droned on about how he’s a “system quarterback,” crediting all of the team’s success over the last 15 years to Bill Belichick.

Those folks are probably silent today.

Brady’s four-game Deflategate suspension is finally, finally over and it couldn’t come at a better time. For one day, the Patriots got a taste of how the rest of the NFL lives. There was uncertainty about the quarterback position heading into Sunday’s contest against the Buffalo Bills, with reports swirling that Jimmy Garoppolo would be ready to play two weeks after suffering an injury to his right shoulder. But just hours before kickoff, Garoppolo was deemed unable to go, meaning rookie Jacoby Brissett got the call to start his second consecutive game. It wasn’t pretty.

The Patriots were shutout at home for the first time since 1993, losing 16-0 to the lowly Bills. The most symbolic sequence of the sloppy afternoon came midway through the third quarter, when a Patriots 3rd-and-1 from the Buffalo 8-yard line was whistled dead because the referees “weren’t all in position to officiate.” Then center David Andrews backed up the Patriots 10 yards due to a holding penalty and Brissett fumbled on the very next play. It was a comedy of errors that’s seldom seen in Foxborough.

The loss was a team effort. Prior to the game, Patriots president Jonathan Kraft took a shot at Rex Ryan’s Bills, calling them undisciplined after a Buffalo linebacker knocked into Brissett during warmups, starting a fight between the two clubs. But after the Patriots were charged with nine penalties, it was Ryan who enjoyed the last laugh. “I don’t think [the Patriots] were as disciplined as they needed to be,” he said at the postgame podium.

With Brady under center, the Patriots may have been able to make up for those mistakes. But they couldn’t with Brissett. When you start a third-string rookie with an apparent thumb injury, that’s kind of how it’s supposed to go.

The Patriots are still sitting atop the AFC East with a 3-1 record and are in position to make a run for home field advantage throughout the playoffs. It’s remarkable they played as well as they did without Brady, especially considering a seemingly hobbled Rob Gronkowski only has one catch through two games. But it seemed as if their good fortune was starting to run out.

Though Garoppolo played well through five and a half quarters, his unavailability over the last two weeks is a reminder of Brady’s incredible durability. Brady hasn’t missed a game due to injury since 2008, when he tore his ACL during the first game of the season. Teams around the league deal with injured quarterbacks on a regular basis, but the Patriots have largely been able to avoid that dilemma ever since Brady took over the starting job 15 years ago. They saw firsthand this weekend how crushing it can be when your quarterback isn’t ready to go.

While the Patriots were falling apart at Gillette Stadium Sunday afternoon, Brady was videotaped playing catch at a field in Brookline. In just a matter of hours, he’ll be back throwing passes to Julian Edelman and Gronkowski instead of sunbathing nude on the Italian coast and shooting Uggs commercials with Jeff Bridges. Brady the A-lister will turn back into Brady the football player for the rest of the year. His value to the Patriots has never been more evident.