FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has never been better through two games of a season, which isn’t supposed to happen when you’re 38 years old and have just been through an emotionally charged offseason of fighting the NFL in court.
Brady has a league-high 91 pass attempts as he has led the Patriots to a 2-0 record with wins over Pittsburgh and Buffalo. But it might be more accurate to say he’s 3-0, because at this point he also has put a whipping on Father Time, the same opponent many analysts said was getting the best of Brady around this time last season.
All of which sparks memories of what Patriots Hall of Famer Troy Brown said upon retirement in 2008: “You can’t outrun Father Time.”
Indeed, it catches up with everyone at some point, as coach Bill Belichick acknowledged Tuesday. But Belichick isn’t surprised by the good fight Brady is putting up.
“Tom works really hard, he takes great care of himself, and he works really hard physically to be ready to go,” he said. “I have great respect for the way he competes off the field in terms of his preparation physically and as far as knowing our opponent and the game plans and all of that. That’s a big part of it.”
Added offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels: “He's a tremendous worker. He spends the entire year preparing his body and his mind, and I would go so far as to say some of his emotions and those types of things that we have to put into this job and he has to put into it as a player ... He has high expectations and high goals for himself. He knows that it's going to take a tremendous amount of work to continue performing at the level that he wants to play at, and he deserves a lot of credit for that.”
Such credit should come Wednesday when the NFL announces its AFC Player of the Week Award, as Brady’s stellar performance in a 40-32 win over Buffalo -- a game in which he threw 59 passes -- was a reminder that he remains at the top of his game.
How long will it remain that way?
In emails made public this summer as part of his court fight with the NFL, Brady had said that he hopes to play another seven to eight seasons. That might be ambitious, but for anyone thinking the decline has already arrived, there has been no sign of it. If anything, Brady’s start to 2015 has sparked questions of whether he’s actually improving.
When Belichick was asked Tuesday about Brady’s competition against Father Time, he spoke from a general perspective about how he reminds himself every year to look at each player objectively at the start of each season. Accounting for the past is not part of the evaluation.
“I know you guys [in the media] don’t like to hear that and I talk about that probably ad nauseam, but every year is its own year, and some players get better, and some players kind of stay in a fairly consistent area and other players decline for one reason or another,” he said.
“I learned a long time ago that you don’t take that for granted, you go on what you see. The players who are on this team this year earn what they get based on their performance, as have the ones in the past -- not based on some other resume or some other year or whatever. It’s what the player does or if there is an injury situation, where you project him to be, but you can’t dream about that; you have to be realistic and evaluate it.
“I’ve had players that honestly one year were as good of players at their position as there were in the league, they went to the Pro Bowl, and the following year they weren’t, and in some cases they were maybe a year or two from being out of the league. And vice versa, guys who don’t play or who have very little to no role on your team and all of a sudden they go to a very prominent role -- Tom Brady as an example [in 2001].”
Since Brady’s breakthrough, he has proved himself to Belichick each and every year, with this year's two-game start his best yet.
But the evaluation, of course, doesn’t end after just two games.
“It is constantly changing and constantly evolving, and I think that’s what I’ve learned,” Belichick said, again speaking more from a big-picture perspective. “But certainly there is a point in each player’s career where I’d say at the end of the year, you’ve got to look at that player with the idea of, ‘Let’s see where he is next year,’ because Troy’s quote certainly has a lot of truth and application to it, for all of us.”
Indeed, Father Time catches up to everyone somewhere along the line.
The 38-year-old Brady is doing everything possible to prolong that end point, and based on the first two games of 2015, he’s putting up a helluva fight.