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A late-season Tom Brady-Bill Belichick duel? Never in the cards, report says

The NFL reportedly set the game for early October in part to ensure Brady would be healthy for it.
Tom Brady, who won six Super Bowl titles in 20 seasons in New England, meets his former coach, Bill Belichick, when the Bucs face the Patriots in Foxboro, Mass., on Oct. 3.
Tom Brady, who won six Super Bowl titles in 20 seasons in New England, meets his former coach, Bill Belichick, when the Bucs face the Patriots in Foxboro, Mass., on Oct. 3. [ CHARLES KRUPA | Associated Press ]
Published May 17
Updated Jun. 17

A common presumption prior to the release of the NFL’s 2021 schedule was that the league would endeavor to make us wait — and wait, and wait — for the uber-anticipated Tom Brady-Bill Belichick matchup.

Many believed the NFL would spend the season’s first several weeks promoting the Bucs-Patriots showdown, ceaselessly and shamelessly hyping Brady’s first return to New England since signing with Tampa Bay in March 2020.

While that seems the savvy move, it wasn’t necessarily the smartest one. As a result, the game is set for a national Sunday night audience on Oct. 3.

In his highly popular Football Morning in America weekly column, veteran NFL writer Peter King reported the league opted for a schedule that featured the Bucs-Patriots game in Week 4 for practical reasons: Staging it earlier hedges against (A) the risk of Brady, who turns 44 in August, being injured later in the year; and (B) the Patriots being out of playoff contention when the Bucs arrive in Foxboro.

The New England weather also was a factor.

“The story can be about Brady’s return,” Mike North, a member of the NFL’s six-person scheduling team, told King.

“It would be different if Tom’s standing on the 50-yard line watching a tribute video in November in 6 inches of snow. Or, the later in the season we go, the more likely somebody’s injured. Getting in early, having that story told, made some sense.”

Fred Gaudelli, executive producer of Sunday Night Football on NBC, indicated to King the Brady-Belichick matchup shapes up as the biggest since that network regularly began airing Sunday prime-time games in 2006.

“The only one we’ve ever done that I could compare it to was our first game — the Manning Bowl,” said Gaudelli, referring to the 2006 opener pitting Colts quarterback Peyton Manning against his younger sibling, Giants counterpart Eli Manning.

“Such tremendous interest in that game. And this year, Tampa Bay-New England will be a story that transcends sports for the week before the game. It’s the game of the year, certainly. It might be the game of many, many years.”

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

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