Patriots: Jones v. Brady has become a must-win game for both teams, not just must-win for legacies

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We all knew this week was coming eventually, but no one saw it coming under these circumstances.

When Tom Brady makes his return to Gillette Stadium next Sunday night it will undoubtedly be the biggest regular season game in Boston sports history, the only problem is that a few of the storylines heading into the game are much different than anyone expected.

The Patriots were supposed to be 3-0 or 2-1 while Tampa was going to be 3-0 and on a quest for 20-0 when they rolled into Foxborough. Mac was going to have this offense looking like the offense of old and Brady was going to be at the top of his game, ready to unleash hell on Bill Belichick for his decision to let him walk. It was going to be a non-conference game that pretty much only counted towards the legacies of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady and wouldn’t have any significant impact on the season.

Instead, New England is now 1-2 after an embarrassing 28-13 loss to the Saints on Sunday and Tampa was blown out by the Rams in Los Angeles for their first loss, dropping them to 2-1. Brady looked jittery in the game after being hit and pressured throughout the afternoon. Meanwhile, in Foxborough it felt like Jones hit the turf more times than he completed a pass behind an offensive line that was supposed to be the strength of this team. It also doesn’t help that Jakobi Meyers is the only receiver who can consistently get open.

Brady’s return is going to be a night to remember for anyone who has ever rooted for the Patriots and the tribute video and accompanying standing ovation will be an all-timer. However, this has become a bit less about the marquee QB matchup and more of a “where do we go from here?” type of game for both teams.

If Jones is outplayed and the offense looks as inept as it did on Sunday, does it shatter his confidence being the starter of a 1-3 team? What if Brady lights it up, is there a “I’ll never be able to do what he did here” factor in play that he may never recover from?

On the other hand, if Brady loses to this mediocore-at-best offense in his triumphant return and he gets rattled like he did against the Rams, do his teammates look at back-to-back losses where the offense doesn’t produce and start to question whether he’s finally losing a step? Things can snowball quickly in the NFL, which makes this a must-win game for both teams and we’re less than a month into the season.

For now, the youngster is pleading the fifth when it comes to talking about the matchup.

“I think we’re just going to focus on learning from the tape,” Jones said when asked if he’s ever had any contact with Brady or if he had any thoughts on the Bucs. “I think that’s most important. It definitely stinks to lose, but you can learn from it, and it definitely eats away at you when you lose, but you’ve got to learn and move on. That’s what a lot of the older guys were telling me, just keep my head up. Obviously, no one likes to lose here, and the Patriots have done nothing but win for a long time.”

Brady did the same thing in his postgame press conference, choosing to do some self reflection before looking ahead to the spectacle of next Sunday night.

“It’s a tough loss for us,” Brady said after the loss Sunday. “So, I’ll just get to the plane to evaluate what we need to do to get ourselves in a better position to win, from a quarterback standpoint. I want to win every time I take the field.”

As if Brady wasn’t motivated enough to stick it to Belichick and the new QB who’s in charge of replacing him, he’s now just 68 yards away from becoming the all-time passing yards leader, a total he might get on his first drive if he has his druthers.

Bill Belichick infamously said “we’re onto Cincinnati” after a blowout loss to the Chiefs in 2014 immediately after the game. On Sunday, even he showed some apprehension about looking towards the tsunami of negativity and embarassment that could be headed his way this week on and off the field of things don’t turn around in seven days.

“Obviously, they’re a good team. Right now we’re just focused on New Orleans. Look at the film, make the corrections on that, then we’ll move on,” he said postgame. For a guy who usually wants to turn the page on a loss as quickly as possible, sticking with the Saints breakdown on a game that should probably be forgotten as soon as possible seems awfully out of character.

Jones has not been the reason the Patriots have gotten off to such an ugly start and that’s pretty much all Patriots fans and Belichick can ask for at this point given the fact that the offensive line, tight ends, receivers and Josh McDaniels’ questionable play calling have let him down. The problem is, the guy coming back next Sunday will forever hold the hearts of (logical) fans in this region. Unless Jones throws for 400 yards and wins the game 45-42, the night will forever be about Brady.

The weird thing is, as much as the game is about the past and the present for the Patriots and an opportunity for the fans to thank Tom Brady for 20 years of incredible memories, it’s more of a gut check game for both teams now than anything else. I’m not sure anyone would have predicted that when the schedule came out in the spring.

In the words of George Costanza, “you wanna get nuts? Let’s get nuts!”