Have Patriots’ Struggles Sucked Fun Out Of Tom Brady’s Foxboro Return?

The Bucs currently are 6-point favorites

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For much of the football world, Sunday’s game between the New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers remains the most anticipated regular-season matchup in NFL history. And it should be, despite the excessive media coverage.

But Patriots fans? They might need to be bribed or gaslit into looking forward to Tom Brady’s Foxboro return.

Just think about what the mindset in New England was a few weeks ago.

People talked about Brady and Mac Jones both being undefeated for the Week 4 matchup, because it seemed like a realistic possibility. Even if the Patriots entered at 2-1 and you penciled in a loss, 2-2 after a night of Brady nostalgia and worship felt like a palatable outcome. Many even gave the Patriots, seemingly improved after a busy offseason, a chance of beating the defending Super Bowl champions.

$400 for the worst seat in the house? Take my money. Nearly $3,000 for a spot in the upper levels? I’ll work overtime.

Now? Total dread. A warranted fear of Brady charging into the house he built and essentially ending his former team’s season.

Consider this:

And the Patriots are to blame. They blew a game they should’ve won against the Miami Dolphins. They beat the New York Jets, yet the Week 2 contest was a two-score game midway through the fourth quarter despite an all-time stinker from Zach Wilson. Of course, New England just got embarrassed on its home turf by the New Orleans Saints.

Bill Belichick’s team now is 0-2 at home and 1-2 overall. If the Bucs, currently six-point favorites, take care of business Sunday night, the Patriots will be 1-3. Only about 8.7% of all teams who’ve started 1-3 have gone on to make the NFL playoffs.

A vintage New England team probably could rebound from such a hole. The Kansas City Chiefs, for example, currently are 1-2 and nobody will write their obituary if they lose this Sunday.

But the post-Brady Patriots — 8-11 since watching the GOAT leave — now face the uphill battle normally reserved for middling NFL teams. They used to be the mountain.

(If you’re into super nerdy stats, the 2021 Patriots = the 2021 Cincinnati Bengals.)

That’s not to say it’s all doom and gloom in Foxboro. Jones, the 15th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, might be legit. The retooled offense should improve once the new pieces jell, and the defense still is above average. And Belichick still is on the sideline — fastball be damned. So, things should get better.

However, right now, the offensive line can’t keep the rookie quarterback off the ground. The defense can’t get a stop when it needs to. Hell, the special teams kind of stink. Consequently, the Patriots are in must-win mode until further notice.

That includes Sunday night’s game, when this struggling team, with their season potentially on the line, must hold off an all-time great hellbent on kicking their teeth in. Good luck.

“Today” and “NBC Nightly News” will broadcast from Gillette Stadium on Friday. ESPN, NBC and NFL Network all will be on-site for their Sunday pregame shows — rarities for regular-season games. Nearly every local news outlet will be at One Patriot Place this weekend.

They all will be there, lending punditry and pageantry ahead of an event wholly unique to the romanticism of sports.

Meanwhile, many Patriots fans just can’t wait for it to be over. And that’s a major bummer.

New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones
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