Tom Brady has made no secret of his desire to play into his 40s.
He’s reached the halfway point of his 17th NFL season, and at age 39 heads into the Patriots’ bye week performing at a level that puts him in the conversation to become the league’s oldest MVP.
He started the 2016 season as a spectator while he served a four-game suspension as part of his punishment for his role in the “Deflategate” saga.
Since his return to the lineup Oct. 9, Brady has shown few signs of decline in his four starts. He’s 4-0, has already thrown for 12 touchdowns and 1,319 yards, and if the season ended today his 73.1 percent completion rate and league-leading 133.9 passer rating would both be career highs.
What’s more, with 198 victories, he will enter the second half of the regular season just three wins shy of passing Brett Favre (199) and Peyton Manning (200) to become the winningest quarterback in NFL history.
For Brady, though, the most important number is New England’s NFL-best 7-1 record.
“It’s pretty early, so, there’s a long way to go,” he said. “Seven wins, it’s a good place, I think decent position. But coach always says ‘Seven wins won’t get you anything in this league.’ He’s right. We’ve got a lot of football ahead.”
For what it’s worth, former quarterbacks Rich Gannon (2002) and Peyton Manning (2013) are the current oldest MVP winners, having won the award at the age of 37. If Brady can do it a year shy of 40, it would bolster his claim as the best quarterback in history.
One of the biggest questions coming out of the preseason was how Brady would be able to adjust after not being able to practice with his teammates for the month he was suspended.
He was able to get in work with new additions Chris Hogan and Martellus Bennett during preseason workouts, but only played in the final two preseason games after missing the first to attend a memorial service, and the second after accidentally slicing his thumb with a pair of scissors.
There was also the nagging hamstring injury to favorite option Rob Gronkowski, which limited him over the first month as well.
But Brady has made it work, and so far has been able to integrate both new and old options seamlessly; spreading around the wealth in offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels passing attack.
In each of his four games Brady has completed passes to at least six different receivers, and has twice completed passes to eight different receivers. He’s done it without throwing an interception, while also showing more of a willingness to throw deeper routes and by opening himself up to hits by scrambling more.
One example of Brady’s toughness came during the Patriots’ 41-25 win at Buffalo was when he was able to hang in the pocket and deliver a 53-yard touchdown pass to Hogan just a play after taking a hard hit.
“I’ve seen it for years,” receiver Julian Edelman said. “The guy’s a tough SOB. It’s a pleasure to get to play with a guy like him.”
McDaniels says Brady’s dedicated approach has been the thing that’s stuck out since his return.
“Tommy is just consistent. That’s the thing,” McDaniels said. “He prepares as hard as he ever has. He doesn’t leave any stone unturned. He takes care of his body. He gets his rest.
“Then comes out there and takes advantage of every minute of practice to try to work with his teammates to get better and really learn the game plan to go out there and execute it.
“That doesn’t surprise me. When you work hard and try to do things right, you give yourself a chance to have some success. And we’ve certainly done that so far.”
As well as things have gone for the Patriots, the trade of defense stalwart Jamie Collins last week was a reminder to everyone — Brady included — that no one has infinite time in Patriots’ locker room.
“You can’t be around this long and not realize that the world will keep spinning and the sun will come up tomorrow without you,” Brady said.
“That’s just the way it goes. I think you enjoy just the experiences that you have, but also understand that it just keeps going on. It could happen to anybody. You just have to show up to work, do the best you can do every day, and let your performance just try to speak for itself.”
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