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Devin McCourty: Watching Brady, Gronkowski reach another Super Bowl 'awesome' but 'bittersweet'

Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski will play in another Super Bowl on Sunday. Their former Patriots teammates will watch from home.

One of those former teammates is safety Devin McCourty, who remains impressed by Brady's ability to perform at a high level into his 40s, but will also witness his pal's performance with a bit of wistfulness.

"To watch those two guys leave our team and bring everything they've learned to Tampa, a team that didn't make the playoffs last year and now is having an opportunity to win a world championship, it's been awesome to watch," McCourty said during a Friday appearance on ESPN. "And obviously, a little bittersweet because you would rather those two guys suiting up with you on Sundays.

"But it's still awesome to see those guys going out there and doing it again. Obviously, for Tom and his legacy and what he's done in this league, he doesn't have to do any more. But to continue to watch him and his greatness, and continue to get better and better each year, it's just unbelievable."

Brady's success is indeed unbelievable. Since 2014, every other Super Bowl winner has included Brady (2014, 2016, 2018), a trend that could continue into Sunday with a Buccaneers victory. That would also be the case for Gronkowski, a three-time champion who has secured each of his diamond-packed rings alongside Brady.

That's the key difference, though: This Brady victory wouldn't have New England attached to it.

After two decades of unprecedented success, the Patriots fell back to reality in 2020, going 7-9 with Cam Newton at quarterback and a defense missing multiple key players due to COVID-19 opt-outs. Bill Belichick's first test in the post-Brady era wasn't so much a failure as it was a demonstration of the importance of quarterback -- and Brady filling the role.

"I think as a team, organization, we moved on," McCourty said of the 2020 season, New England's first without Brady since the last century. "But you lost Tom Brady. You lost the best quarterback in the NFL. You don't just replace that. You don't just make up for that.

"We definitely felt that. We lose Tom, we don't have an offseason to even begin to try to process that, and prepare and get ready. The guy's been the best quarterback in the NFL for the last two decades."

New England was instead forced to find a bargain-bin option to replace Brady, opting to go with Newton, a former NFL MVP whose potential was uncertain when he signed a one-year deal with the Patriots. Though he got off to a productive start, ultimately, Newton was unable to lift the Patriots out of the post-Brady haze.

New England faded into the abyss filled with teams incapable of winning enough to earn a trip to the postseason. A month after their season came to a close, the Patriots will settle in and join the rest of the world in watching Brady play in another Super Bowl. Should he win, those Patriots will be left only to wonder what might have been had Brady stuck around in New England for another season.

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