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One year ago, it wasn’t clear who would win the most noteworthy breakup in NFL history. The winningest quarterback in league history had thrown three touchdowns and three interceptions in his first two games in Tampa, before leading the Buccaneers to a 2-1 record. The most decorated coach in league history opened 2-1 with another former MVP at quarterback, who had produced six total touchdowns and two interceptions.
You know the rest. Cam Newton cratered, and Bill Belichick’s Patriots finished 7-9, missing the playoffs for the first time in 12 years, while Tom Brady led the fifth-seeded Bucs to a Super Bowl title.
On Sunday night, the coach and quarterback forever linked will face off for the first — and likely only — time. It is still staggering that the 20-year partnership, which produced the greatest dynasty in NFL history, ended. It is still strange to see Brady wearing any other uniform besides New England’s.
But it shouldn’t have been entirely surprising. Since winning his first championship as a head coach, Belichick repeatedly showed his willingness to part with his stars. He wanted to be rid of them one year early, rather than one year late. He wanted to spread money around his roster, rather than tie up too much on one player. It resulted in the releases of Lawyer Milloy and Ty Law, the trades of Richard Seymour, Deion Branch, Logan Mankins and Randy Moss, the departures of Adam Vinatieri and Wes Welker and Malcolm Butler.