Tom Brady, Bill Belichick deliver historic 'Sunday Night Football' ratings

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Tom Brady and Bill Belichick spent the past 20 years dominating the NFL. On Sunday, they saved it from five years of declining ratings. 

The much-hyped "Sunday Night Football" matchup between Brady's Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Belichick's New England Patriots resulted in a total audience delivery of 28.5 million across NBC, Peacock and other digital platforms. That's the second-highest "Sunday Night Football" game ever, after a Dec. 30, 2012 Dallas-Washington game that drew 30.3 million. 

Total viewers on NBC alone were 27.2 million, making the game the most-watched event this year other than February's Super Bowl. Tampa Bay-New England also drew a 34 share, meaning more than a third of all televisions in use were turned to the game. That's the highest mark ever for "Sunday Night Football" since the show began in 2006. 

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - OCTOBER 03: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots looks on as Tom Brady #12 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers runs past during the fourth quarter in the game at Gillette Stadium on October 03, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - OCTOBER 03: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots looks on as Tom Brady #12 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers runs past during the fourth quarter in the game at Gillette Stadium on October 03, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

This follows strong ratings for last Thursday's Bengals-Jaguars game, the most-watched NFL Network-exclusive "Thursday Night Football" game since 2018. The game's 8.5 million viewer total is a 47 percent increase over last year's Week 4 game between the Broncos and Jets.

The astounding numbers from Bucs-Pats seem to validate the theory that the NFL is a game of matchups, and that viewers will tune in to see the marquee games regardless of other entertainment options or political leanings. The NFL is cutting from a smaller overall pie now, but it's still getting the biggest slices. 

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com. 

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