AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
The NFL record book will show the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the New England Patriots last night, 19 to 17. It won't show the emotion packed into one football game. For Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady, it was a homecoming after spending his first 20 seasons in New England with six Super Bowl titles. Brady spoke about it after the game.
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TOM BRADY: That was pretty cool. You know, it's been my home for 20 years, so I had the best memories. My kids were born here. You know, it's just a great town. It's a great city. It's a great area.
CORNISH: It was also the first meeting between Brady and his longtime New England head coach, Bill Belichick, since their well-chronicled breakup after two decades together. NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins me now.
Hey there, Tom.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Audie.
CORNISH: So Tom Brady returned on a rainy night in New England. Aside from football, what was the atmosphere?
GOLDMAN: Well, you said it - emotion. Emotional for the Patriots fans, certainly, who cheered him when he first came out onto the field and then not so much when the game started. After the game, a steady stream of New England players and coaches came up to Brady for hugs and handshakes. And that was nice. It seemed genuine. And the meeting we were waiting for between Brady and Bill Belichick, they shared a brief hug on the field, then had a longer conversation later in the Tampa Bay locker room away from cameras.
CORNISH: This game was billed as a duel between Brady and Belichick, but how did that actually play out?
GOLDMAN: It sure was. You know, they are the most successful head coach-quarterback pairing in NFL history. And there was a lot of talk going into the game about what broke them apart and led Brady to Tampa Bay, where he won a Super Bowl last year without Belichick. You know, what happened when they split? Was someone at fault? Was there resentment? And how would that play out as adversaries on a football field for the first time? Both of them publicly refuted the idea there was bad blood. And while they were patient with the whole, you know, Brady versus Belichick narrative, they also reminded reporters at every opportunity this was not about one player versus one coach. It was about two teams with lots of other players.
But, Audie, if you are going to rate the duel, they both kind of won. Brady won the game barely, but Belichick's New England defense really held Brady in check. He did set an all-time NFL record for passing yards but didn't throw a touchdown pass. The crummy weather seemed to bother him. Maybe he's just used to playing in sunny Florida now. And really, statistically at least, he wasn't the best quarterback on the field. New England rookie Mac Jones was. He outperformed Brady statistically, at one point completing 19 straight passes. And he didn't shrink from the enormous moment last night.
CORNISH: Since we're from Boston - since I'm from Boston, let's just go down the rabbit hole because the baseball playoffs opened with a classic rivalry. Boston Red Sox host the New York Yankees in a do-or-die wild card game. Give me the details.
GOLDMAN: Boston sports fans, yourself included, will have to summon more emotion after the outpouring last night. But that shouldn't be a problem with those hated Yankees in town for this one-game showdown. Both teams qualified for the American League wild card game with dramatic wins on the final day of the regular season. The winner plays a very good Tampa Bay Rays team in a division series.
CORNISH: But that's wild card. Who's actually favored?
GOLDMAN: The defending champion LA Dodgers actually are the betting favorites, but they first have to win the National League wild card game Wednesday against a St. Louis Cardinals team that just went on a 17-game winning streak. If the Dodgers can survive, they are favored. But, you know, there are lots of good teams, including the surprising San Francisco Giants, who won the National League West, finishing ahead of the Dodgers.
CORNISH: That's NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman.
Tom, thanks so much.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome.
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