Patriot fans know what they’re missing without Tom Brady. They saw it Sunday.


Some suggested that Mac Jones’ limitations really showed when the Patriots needed him to lead them the most.

Mac Jones #10 of the New England Patriots walks off the field after his team's 25-20 loss against the Philadelphia Eagles at Gillette Stadium on September 10, 2023 in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
Mac Jones walks off the field after the Patriots’ 25-20 loss to the Eagles. Maddie Meyer/Getty Images


Felt like one. Looked like one.

For a moment, at least. 

The big difference between what the Patriots managed Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles and what constitutes the particulars of a “Brady Game” in these here parts is that the former quarterback, more often than not, pulled the win out for New England with late-game heroics that became his calling card. Mac Jones’ most-memorable game, to this point in his three-year career, was a windy night in Buffalo where Bill Belichick trusted him to throw the ball three whole times. 

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So you’re forgiven for sharing the thoughts many of us had going through our minds with the Patriots driving and threatening to take the lead late on Sunday. Is Mac Jones going to complete the comeback? Is he going to have his very first Brady Game? With Brady in the very building? Talk about the storybook circle of passing the old torch. 

But the Patriots’ offense isn’t at the level of operation it was when Brady was at the helm for two decades. Heck, for two of the last three years it has better resembled something stitched together like a last-minute Christmas gift that shows little-to-no effort. To see some semblance of life from the offense, one season after the Patricia-Judge debacle, was encouraging. 

Overall, Jones had an OK day. He threw the ball 54 times, had three touchdowns, and threw a costly interception that wound up a Philadelphia pick-six. The best you can say is that he looked better than he did for most of last year, which, frankly, isn’t a bad place to start from. 

Brady’s aura will never leave the building he plays in, but Jones might at least find a shade more attention coming from the stands, where you’ll find many fans who went through the last three years wearing Creamsicle colors or that ridiculous Patriots/Bucs split jersey. Remember, there’s a whole segment of Patriot fans who followed Brady to Tampa, more inclined to root for what and whom was familiar to them. 

Also, the Pats had Cam Newton. 

Former New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is honored at half time. The New England Patriots hosted the Philadelphia Eagles in their NFL season opening game on Sept. 10 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough.
Tom Brady addressed the Gillette Stadium crowd on Sunday evening. – Matthew J Lee / The Boston Globe

Brady shouldn’t have won another Super Bowl elsewhere, but then again, he shouldn’t have made the team trade his eventual successor either. Everyone was sort of wrong at some point along the way. 

Therein lies the cathartic decision to bring Brady back for the first game of the season, the first NFL game he had not dressed for (barring injury) in nearly a quarter-century. How better for Brady to experience that than by immersing him immediately into the crowd he delighted for so many years? 

He gave them more on Sunday, telling the crowd that he was a “Patriot for life,” which I think nulls the Super Bowl trophy he won in front of empty stadiums the year he left. That was nice of him. 

But once Brady announced earlier this spring that he was retiring — and that he was sort of serious about it this time — the Patriots had to rip the band-aid off. The ugly divorce that happened prior to the NFL season in front of empty stadiums was a thing of the past. No worries. Patriot for life. Except for 2020-22. And you could argue Brady was never really here in 2019 either, but regardless…

Sunday had to happen. Just like the bigger ceremony next June has to happen. There’s no way a community and player can show their appreciation for one another in time allotted by the same TV executives who greenlit “Bob Loves Abishola.” Larry Bird had his own night at the Garden. Ted Williams (posthumously) had his own night at Fenway. It’s only fitting that Brady should have his own at Gillette Stadium. 

But as far as the shadow is concerned? Now, it’s more like a path for Mac Jones. 

In some circles, Jones is being praised for his play Sunday. Others suggest that he was fine, but that his limitations really showed when the Patriots needed him to lead them the most. He can’t throw the ball downfield, which is something they used to say all the time about the guy who gave the halftime speech. 

That’s not to suggest that Jones will figure out what it takes to be another Brady in the NFL. It’s an impossible bar to hold someone to. Which is why wishing Brady Happy Retirement on Sunday meant so much. It finally made it real. Brady was no longer a far-away myth. There he was, on the field, in jeans and sneakers. All he was missing was a Goodell clown nose t-shirt and a steak tip sub. 

Tom Brady is one of us on Sundays now. Patriot for life*. 

*Except for when the minority owner is with his Raiders.