FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) – Playing as a visitor at Gillette Stadium wasn’t the only big change for Tom Brady on Sunday night.
He was also booed. Often.
And when Brady was sacked by Matt Judon in the second quarter, the crowd went wild.
Even when the Buccaneers quarterback set the career passing yard record on a 28-yard run to Mike Evans in the first quarter, there was a mix of cheers and applause along with the taunts. Brady, 44, hit 80,359 yards in the air, then requested a time-out before the next play – though no announcements were made to set the mark. It came during the time out.
Ryan Succop’s placement a few games later – after Brady missed a few shots – gave Tampa Bay a 3-0 lead. At halftime in steady rain, the six-time Super Bowl champion looked ordinary in the busy atmosphere, and defending champion Tampa Bay was down 7-6. Brady was 15 for 27 for 182 yards, with a few specific goals and just as many knockdowns.
After a friendly welcome for the quarterback during pre-game warm-ups, fans were in no mood to welcome him at the start of the game.
Brady made two passes in the Buccaneers’ first practice before they stalled and punted. He walked stoically to the sideline – on the opposite side of the pitch from where he usually settled as the Patriot – with little reaction to the taunts from fans.
He did get the Bucs to score on their next possession, however, also surpassing Drew Brees’ passing record.
During warm-ups, to chants of “BRADY, BRADY, BRADY in a half-filled Gillette stadium, the returning hero knew exactly where he was, of course.” He did his usual “Let’s Go” fist pump after going all the way down the sideline. The crowd responded with cheers as Brady hugged New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels before heading to the other end of the pitch to warm up.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick came out halfway through the pre-game warm-ups but did not approach Brady.
Earlier, there had been a long and seemingly warm embrace between Brady and Robert Kraft, the quarterback towering over the Patriots owner outside the visitor’s locker room.
Brady, who left New England in 2020 after leading the Patriots to those six Super Bowl titles and then winning another in his first season with Tampa Bay, even seemed comfortable heading to a locker room that he absolutely did not know.
Not that anything should have looked close to normal for the NFL’s most anticipated game of the start of the season. Brady’s poor first half in wet conditions added to the unusual scene.
In the parking lots, hundreds of fans wore No.12 Patriots jerseys, and there were a handful of Buccaneers Brady kits as well. Josh Nelson of Burrillville, Rhode Island went for the split look.
“He’s a classy guy. I’ve been a fan of Tom Brady forever, ”said Nelson, a season ticket holder for over seven years. “The memories of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, we cannot forget this success.”
When asked why he was wearing the New England / Tampa Bay jersey, Nelson laughed and replied “I looked for him”.
Devon Poduje, 20, from West Hartford, Connecticut, who attends the University of Maryland and traveled for the hero’s comeback, wore a new Bucs No.12 jersey, while his 13-year-old sister, Tiegan, remained faithful to the traditional Patriots’ Shirt. The whole family was divided on who would win – 3-2 in favor of the hosts – but all noted that they expected an enthusiastic reception for Brady.
Before kickoff, that is. And they were right.
“It worked out really well with his move to Tampa,” said Devon, noting that the family’s NFC team was the Bucs. “And then win the Super Bowl.”
Knowing Brady was a lock in breaking Brees’ NFL record for passing yards, she said he would receive “absolutely a standing ovation” when he did.
His sister Riley added, “He set up most of these yards here. “
Still, the reaction was disappointing when this happened.
Another costumed Bucs fan, Brody Swanson of Mapleton, Utah, had flown to the game – and is not a fan of either team. His favorites are the Raiders. But he bought the Brady jersey on Saturday, wanting to be part of “history”.
Elaina Roundy, also of Mapleton, noted that “everyone bought Brady’s jerseys” in the Patriots store and often went to games he played.
“You can’t boo a legend,” she said.
Well, tonight in Foxborough, they might.
Two fans who were willing to pay big bucks for tickets, but were lucky enough not to have to shell out four figures, expected a “crazy” atmosphere all night long.
CJ Dalton of Rindge, New Hampshire, has said he will be standing for Brady until kickoff.
“It’s all the Patriots once the game starts,” he noted.
Mike Leflore of Salem, New Hampshire, said he’s always been “more of a Brady guy than a Belichick guy.” The players play, the coaches train. He was hoping for a video tribute to the quarterback during the game.
Both men thought the stadium would switch for Brady during warm-ups and presentations, and wondered if fans would hoot Brady at any time. They got their answer early.
So it wasn’t a tribute to Brady’s legacy despite what appeared in an area next to the end zone known as Brady’s Corner. A banner that disappeared when Brady made it last year was on display again on Sunday evening.
AP Sports writer Kyle Hightower contributed.
More AP NFL coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL