Watch all of Tom Brady's 26 touchdowns so far this season, in a handy 180 seconds!
Week One: Defending Super Bowl champions New England Patriots are humbled at home 42-27 by the Kansas City Chiefs, Tom Brady’s stats reading 16 of 36 passing, for 267 yards and no touchdowns.
It’s fair to say the five-time Super Bowl winner’s first start as a 40-year-old did not go as planned and it led to inevitable questions as to whether time had finally caught up with Brady and a (possibly final) season of struggle awaited.
Throw things forward 12 weeks and Brady leads the NFL with 3,374 yards – the oldest player to do so, surpassing Fran Tarkenton (1978, aged 38) – and his 26 touchdowns on the season trails only Carson Wentz (28). The Patriots are 9-2, equal with the Pittsburgh Steelers atop the AFC.
With New England’s win over the New York Jets in Week Six of this season, Brady broke yet another record, surpassing both Peyton Manning and Brett Favre (186) for the most regular-season wins among QBs in NFL history, and has since improved that mark to 192.
It makes the early season questioning of Brady sound absurd but, history tells us it was not without merit.
“Anybody at that age in the NFL, you really shouldn’t be playing,” says Sky Sports’ Jeff Reinebold. “So, as soon as Brady has even a little bit of a dip, everybody is quick to say ‘here comes the end’.
“But, people are all too quick to write his obituary.”
While the lifespan of a quarterback is traditionally longer than that of the men they feed in the backfield – running backs are traditionally seen as expendable beyond the age of 30 – the decline of other some greats under centre has been rapid and without warning.
Manning and Favre actually serve as the most obvious recent examples. In 2013, the then 37-year-old Manning surpassed 5,000 yards in a season for the first time and threw a career-high 55 touchdown passes. Within two years he was being dropped mid-season for Brock Osweiler – (Brock Osweiler?!) – on his way to a nine-TD and 17-interception strong campaign with the Denver Broncos.
It was a season, and career, that did, however, get a fairy-tale ending as, despite a severely-limited 39-year-old Manning leading the offense, he managed to walk off the field at Super Bowl 50 in San Francisco with his second Vince Lombardi trophy.
At the same age, in 2010 with the Minnesota Vikings, Brett Favre swiftly followed up a 4,202-yard (his third-highest mark of his career), 33-TD and seven-interception (a career low) year, with 2,509 yards, only 11 TDs and 17 interceptions as his career came to a close.
Brady’s decline could come just as rapidly, and without warning, or maybe – as has been the case throughout his 17-year NFL career – he is just different, special.
“I don’t know if Favre – as great a player as he was – ever committed himself as much as Brady off the field,” says Reinebold. “Then, when you talk about Manning, his neck injury in 2011 with the Indianapolis Colts hastened the beginning of the end for him.
“You become more brittle as you get older. But the difference with Brady compared to those two is he is so unbelievably careful about how he takes care of his body. He is legendary for how well he eats, sleeps, trains.
“It’s the most incredible thing when you look at him today at 40 compared to the way his body was when entering the league – he took his shirt off at the combine and there were a few sniggers from the crowd. He actually looked 50 when he was 22!
“He also still has an incredible competitive edge to him. That tends to dissipate over time, as guys make more money and have more success. Most start to coast and say ‘do I really want to get up this morning, do I really want to go to the gym, turn down that ice cream?’ He doesn’t do that.
“His competitive juices never stop flowing, so I don’t see why he can’t play at least another two or three more years.”
And neither, seemingly, can the Patriots.
It’s what helped persuade them to part with both of their preseason back-ups – third-stringer Jacoby Brissett sent to the Colts and even more notably, the apparent heir to the throne in New England, Jimmy Garoppolo, gone to the San Francisco 49ers before the trade deadline.
Owner Robert Kraft sat down with Sky Sports News to explain the key aspects to the New England Patriots' remarkable success.
Team owner Robert Kraft, in speaking to Sky Sports before the start of the season, said of Garoppolo: “People wanted to trade for Jimmy, but we wouldn’t do it. We don’t reveal our hand to the competition on how we plan to handle it. But we like having good quality depth management.”
So, what changed?
Brady’s exceptional play, for one. Kraft wasn’t lying, nor was their normally emotionless coach Bill Belichick when he said of Garoppolo following the trade: “I couldn’t ask him to give us any more than he has. The 49ers are getting a good player, a good person and a great teammate. They’re getting a good quarterback.”
The Patriots were hot on their back-up QB and ideally would have loved to keep him around as insurance but as Brady’s seemingly infinite run of success continued, they opted to move Jimmy G on.
“Letting Garoppolo go surprised me,” adds Reinebold. “That’s making a long-term commitment to Brady still being their guy as the Patriots aren’t going to be drafting high all the while Brady and Belichick are there.
“Their success always sees them draft near the foot of the first round, and good quarterbacks rarely fall that far, nor do New England normally trade up for one.
“They must have faith in Brady’s ability to continue to play, and find another guy – though maybe not another sixth-rounder! – in the later rounds.”
Since his sixth-round selection in the 2000 draft, Brady has long since ensured his legacy as the G.O.A.T with a record five Super Bowl wins at quarterback, but he is far from satisfied with his lot.
Again, Brady is different, special.
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“He has won rings, yet coaches in New England all say the same thing, that he still sits in the front row of the meetings, takes better notes than anybody, studies harder than anybody,” says Reinebold.
“He still has that hunger like he did in his very first year, that ‘I was a sixth-round draft pick’ edge.
“In say five to 10 years, when New England’s dominance is finally finished – Brady and Belichick walk away – we’ll look back on this and think what an incredible run and wasn’t it cool to be able to watch it.”
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