Tonight the Tampa Bay Buccaneers travel to Foxborough to face the New England Patriots but instead of this just being an early-season game it becomes much, much more. The bright lights of NBC Sunday Night Football will be shining on what is being called “The Return”
NBC Sports’ Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Tony Dungy, Rodney Harrison, and Drew Brees previewed this weekend’s Sunday Night Football matchup on a media conference call as Tom Brady makes his long-anticipated return to Gillette Stadium when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers visit Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots this week.
Coverage begins this Sunday at 7 p.m. ET with a special on-site edition of Football Night in America, followed by kickoff at 8:20 p.m. ET from Gillette Stadium on NBC, Peacock, and Universo.
For Michaels, Sunday’s matchup marks the 44th time he will call a game with the 44-year-old Brady as the starting quarterback.
ON ‘THE RETURN’
Michaels: “I can’t think of any game that’s been more anticipated than this one in the 36 years I’ve covered the NFL in primetime.”
Dungy: “I can’t remember a regular season game that had this much buildup and anticipation. I think back to when I was in Indianapolis and went back to Tampa the first time, and … I’d only been in Tampa six years. Tom Brady, 20 years in one spot with the same coach and now going back, it’s going to be amazing.”
Collinsworth: “They know each other inside out. And which path are they choosing to attack the other? I can’t imagine there’s a better story, if you just love football, than simply that. I can’t wait to watch it.”
ON BRADY VS. BELICHICK
Collinsworth: “In my lifetime, the greatest run that we have ever seen out of a coach and a quarterback is standing right in front of us for this game, and they’re on opposite sides of the field. Football’s been my lifetime anyway, but how do you get more passionate and more interesting and more theatrical than that? I mean, it’s just going to be a great, fun watch.”
Harrison on the Patriots’ success: “Tom’s a tremendous player, and Bill’s a tremendous coach, but none of that stuff happens without the other players…Everyone wants to put them together, pit them against each other as opposed to celebrating success. Twenty years together, that is a long time to be able to win championships, win titles, division titles, win a bunch of games. It takes a lot of unselfishness. It takes a lot of sacrifice to do that.”
Dungy: “I also am curious who is going to have the advantage? I think of, if I played a game against Peyton Manning and he played against my team, all the practice time he had against the defense, all the practice time Tom has had against that New England defense, knowing their calls, what they like to do, will he have the advantage? … I’m telling you, Peyton Manning would feel like he had the advantage playing against me and the Colts defense, and I’ll tell you Tom Brady feels like he has the advantage having practiced against that defense.”
Dungy on his experience returning to Tampa Bay with the Colts in 2003: “When you walk in that stadium and you go to the visitor’s locker room, which you’ve never been in before, and you come out the visitors tunnel and you’re not sure what the reaction is going to be and you see people that were so special to you for 10 or 12 years and now they’re in opposite uniform or they’re not your teammates anymore or your staff, it’s emotional…No matter how you say it and slice it and try to say it, for Tom Brady going back after 20 years, I can’t even imagine.”
ON THE MATCHUP
Brees: “I think Tampa has a ton of weapons, and it’s going to be really hard to handle all those guys. I think Tom has the ability to find each and every one of those guys depending on what the look is that he’s given. At the end of the day, I think the Patriots are going to have to find a way to take the ball away. They’re going to have to find a way to steal a possession…To me, they’re outmatched in this game personnel-wise, and they’re going to have to pull out all the stops to beat them.”
Harrison: “I think for me just watching the Patriots secondary, they’ve given up some plays. They haven’t really been able to make a lot of plays on the ball…As much as you can hit Tom — and it’s shown in the past, if you can hit him, if you can make him uncomfortable, you can rattle him. I think you saw a little bit of that last week against the Rams. That’s the way you have to play Tom. You have to play very physical. Not just with Tom, but with his receivers as well. You’ve got to jam them up and kind of slow them down and disrupt them.”
Brees on Brady potentially breaking his all-time passing yards record this weekend: “I’d be all for Brady just launching the first play of the game and just go ahead and get it out of the way…Let’s have New England kick it in the end zone. They start at the 25. Have him launch one to Mike Evans and let’s just be done with it…I can’t think of a guy who has invested more into his career, into his preparation, and kind of what he’s meant for the game. It’s definitely a special record because it speaks to the longevity that he’s been able to experience and the level that he’s been able to play at.”
Brees on Patriots rookie QB Mac Jones: “I’ve been really impressed with him…I think what I see is a guy who’s got pretty good command of that offense. He doesn’t look like he’s ever rattled. He looks like he is in a position where he’s playing with confidence.”
Collinsworth on Jones and the Patriots offense: “I think for all of us that have watched Brady play the game with New England and Josh McDaniels‘ offense for all those years, it’s amazing how much — and I’m not comparing him to Tom Brady so don’t get me in trouble with something that only I can say — but it feels like their offense again.”
Harrison: “I’m looking at Josh McDaniels. You look at this offense, and you see it’s a kind of wide open offense, and it’s very conservative…I think he hears the talks and all the conversations about the Patriots offense not being a big play offense, and I think they should open it up a little bit. I think they should let him run the no huddle and maybe the hurry-up offense just to get another feel for it.”