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Tom Brady won’t have the AFC to kick around any more

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When Tampa Bay acquired New England’s longtime starting quarterback, everything changed — not only for them but for the whole AFC.

Kansas City Chiefs v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

I feel bad for Teddy Bridgewater.

Drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft (32nd overall) the young quarterback held great promise. You probably know Kansas City Chiefs fans who still wish the team had drafted him that year. (Instead, the Chiefs took linebacker Dee Ford with the 23rd pick).

Bridgewater was with the Vikings for four years, never quite meeting fan expectations. He made the Pro Bowl (and the playoffs) in his second season — but during a practice during the next year’s training camp, he suffered a nasty ACL tear that also dislocated his knee joint. He missed all of that season — and in the next, played in just one game.

In 2018, he signed with the New York Jets — who traded him to the New Orleans Saints just as the season began. The once-franchise quarterback settled in as Drew Brees’ backup — and the next year, got another chance. Starting (and winning) five games as Brees recovered from a thumb injury, Bridgewater turned in the best performances of his NFL career.

And that led to this moment at 5:39 p.m. (Arrowhead Time) on Tuesday:

But just one minute later, the Earth shook:

Normally, the news that Bridgewater was displacing Cam Newton after nine seasons as the Carolina Panthers’ starting quarterback would make NFL headlines for hours. One story after another would have detailed what that would mean for the Panthers — not to mention Bridgewater himself, who is finally getting another chance to achieve his potential.

Instead, all the attention went to Tom Brady’s signing by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

But there’s no reason to be surprised. Ever since he became the NFL’s golden boy in 2001, rising from unheralded late-round backup to Super Bowl winner in a single season, Brady has attracted most of the NFL’s focus.

And he deserved it.

You don’t need me to tell you about all his important come-from-behind victories... the receivers to whom he has thrown... his incredible six Super Bowl victories over 20 seasons. If you’ve paid any attention to the NFL media since late Tuesday afternoon, you’ve already heard all about it. The writers have dusted off their favorite Brady anecdotes, statistics and interviews, writing story after story about the greatest of all time.

It didn’t end there. Some speculated about how much Brady could accomplish throwing to Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. There were suddenly long waits to obtain tickets to Buccaneers home games. Digitally-manipulated photos of Brady in various Tampa Bay guises multiplied — including my personal favorite:

Brady has earned every bit of attention.

But you might wonder why they’re choosing this moment to give Brady these accolades. After all, he isn’t retiring. He’s simply moving on to a new team — a franchise hoping that this January, his skills will help it achieve (and win) its first playoff game in 18 years.

In truth, the team’s sights are undoubtedly set much higher than that.

Could it be that deep down, those NFL writers know better? Is it possible they suspect Brady’s best years are behind him? Might they realize that as much as his success was properly earned, much of it depended upon his relationship with New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick?

As Chiefs fans, this all seems familiar. Like Buccaneers fans today, we couldn’t have been more excited when Joe Montana came to town in 1993. He was the man — the missing piece — who could restore Kansas City’s franchise to glory.

It just didn’t work out that way.

To be sure, Montana was still a brilliant quarterback — just like Brady is today — but he wasn’t the same. The Chiefs’ Marty Schottenheimer was a great coach — just like Tampa Bay head coach Bruce Arians is today — but he and his quarterback didn’t have the same symbiotic relationship Montana had shared with Bill Walsh when they won three Super Bowls in eight seasons with the San Francisco 49ers.

Just ask Chiefs fans. Or Montana himself. Or Johnny Unitas, Joe Namath, Craig Morton, Brett Favre or Kurt Warner. All of these quarterbacks won league championships — but once on another team, found it a lot harder to rekindle that magic than they had imagined.

In fact, only one quarterback has managed to win another championship wearing another team’s colors: Peyton Manning, who won Super Bowls as a member of the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos.

So we can’t — and shouldn’t — say it’s impossible for Brady to do the same.

But we can — and should — remind Buccaneers fans that while it’s fine to be excited about hosting Brady’s second act, they should always remember this: history suggests it won’t necessarily lead to the goal they seek.

All the writers who have been retelling Brady’s career exploits undoubtedly understand this. They also know that it’s better to sing his praises now — before his success in New England is temporarily overshadowed with what could easily be an inglorious conclusion to a brilliant career.

Still... Brady could do it. He’s proved he could be that good.

But he’ll also be playing in the NFC South. Drew Brees, Matt Ryan — and yes, Teddy Bridgewater — will all have something to say about whether Brady can dominate their division the way he has run roughshod over the AFC East for the last two decades.

Even if he is able to succeed in Tampa Bay, however, he will no longer be the quarterback every team in the AFC has to face in order to reach the Super Bowl.

Oh, sure... AFC teams will have to play him every once in a while — but only in inter-conference games that carry less weight for the postseason. (In fact, the Chiefs will face Brady in Tampa Bay during the coming season). But without Brady guarding the road to the championship, every AFC team is now breathing a sigh of relief.

Why? Because now, he’s the NFC’s problem.

Of course, Brady could still be a postseason obstacle for AFC teams — but only in the championship game. While they didn’t win second Super Bowls with other teams, both Warner and Morton played in them.

In such a matchup, today’s Chiefs fans would probably like their chances.