By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- You know, we talked about it for so long, that by the time it actually happened, it wasn't even shocking. It was big, yes. Earth-shattering, as much as sporting news can be, no doubt. But was it truly shocking when Tom Brady left the Patriots and signed with the Buccaneers?
And certainly now, with 18 months having passed, with the Cam Newton era rising and falling, paving the way for Mac Jones, all with Brady winning a seventh Super Bowl and a fifth Super Bowl MVP at the age of 43 years old serving as the backdrop, everybody in New England (and beyond) has had more than enough time to process their feelings with regard to the greatest quarterback of all time and the way his tenure with the Patriots ended. Whether last year was a weekly horror movie for you or an absolute delight to watch, season one of the post-Patriot Tom Brady procedural drama had enough highs and lows for everybody to wrap their head around the new reality.
Yet if you thought that Brady might begin to taper off, and that this tale may finally be reaching its denouement, then I come bearing bad news. Because we need to have ourselves an earnest, honest conversation about the quarterback of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Because Tom Brady isn't as good as he was last year.
And he seems intent on driving that point home as much as humanly possible.
What else is there to conclude after Brady threw for five touchdowns on Sunday, in a 48-25 win at home over the Falcons?
Including the regular season and playoffs, it was the ninth time that Brady has thrown five or more touchdowns in a game. (Insanely, he has thrown 48 touchdowns and exactly two interceptions in those nine games.) Brady threw five or more touchdowns in a game three times in his age 30 season of 2007 and once apiece at age 32, 34, 37, 40, 43, and now 44.
Go ahead and read that last sentence again. Out loud, if you'd like.
Through two weeks, he leads the NFL in passing touchdowns, with nine. He's been the best quarterback in the NFL, by Pro Football Focus' evaluation -- and by a fairly significant margin.
At 44 years old -- we'll touch on that again later -- he's doing things that just almost nobody at any age has ever done.
For lack of a better word, the man is a menace. What Tom Brady is doing to football right now is menacing. It is obscene.
And it ... doesn't seem like it's going to stop.
This is relevant for a number of reasons.
Most pressing is the fact that he's visiting Foxboro in two weeks. While that game was the marquee matchup on the entire NFL schedule from the second it came into existence, we weren't sure exactly how it would look once it finally arrives. We thought it might feature a 3-0 Patriots team lead by Cam Newton against the reigning champs; now it'll be the young man selected to carry the mantle in New England left vacant by Brady going up against the man who lifted that franchise to unimagined heights.
And Brady happens to be playing as well as he ever has in his career.
Outside of that, though, there's the developing reality that Brady is playing at an MVP level. Granted, he's two miles into the marathon, but he appears to be intent on racking up as many touchdowns and passing yards as possible in his limited run at this 17-game schedule.
(He made an offhand comment that a 17-game schedule would alter record books and such. Is that motivating him to go HAM and start utilizing goal line fades and red zone rollouts to his advantage? Who's to say?)
(I am. I am to say. Yes, it is.)
(Is a run at 56 touchdowns entering the conversation, too? Why, yes, yes it is.)
(Can we stop with the rhetorical question-and-answer show now? Sure!)
With 655 passing yards thus far in 2021, Brady now trails Drew Brees by 499 yards for most regular-season passing yards in NFL history. In Week 3, the Bucs play the Rams, against whom Brady struggled last year. He threw for just 216 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Even if Brady repeats that semi-dud, he'll be within 300 yards of setting that record at Gillette Stadium, underneath the six banners he won with the Patriots. Any improvement he makes upon last year's work vs. the Rams will only bring him closer to making history in New England, with the whole world watching.
That possibility was always on the table. Now add in the very real threat that Brady throws up four ... or five ... or six touchdowns against a defense that doesn't have Stephon Gilmore, and this one has all the makings of a very weird night in Foxboro.
In the bigger picture, we're already seeing Brady shatter the ceiling on what's physically possible for a 44-year-old human being who is playing in a violent, dangerous sport like football. Entering this season, the quartet of men who even attempted to play quarterback at age 44 combined to go 2-6, with a 52.9% completion rate, with 13 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Brady's already matched their victories, and he's at nine touchdowns with two interceptions, with a 65.1 percent completion rate, and absolutely no sign of wearing down.
And to be frank, I don't know how all of this makes you feel. Perhaps you love it. Maybe it's still too painful to acknowledge.
But the point is this: If you thought that Tom Brady's excellence in Tampa was a short-term matter, it's time to adjust. He's perhaps as lethal as he's ever been, he's motivated to maximize the time he has left in the league, he's equipped with a comic book-level compilation of offensive weapons, and he's backing up everything he's ever said about his commitment to his body and his dedication to his career. He's playing like a man who one-thousand-percent believes he should and will have no trouble playing this sport at its absolute highest level for as long as he wants to play.
This comes, of course, with all the caveats that accompanies any football story in September. The season is long. Injuries happen. Bad teams become good teams. Good teams become bad teams. We'll all be telling very different stories come December and January.
That's all true, but there's never been anybody in football history better at avoiding the inevitability of all those realities quite like Tom Brady. Betting against him at this point just seems foolish.
When Brady won that Super Bowl in February, some folks might have thought that the 2020 season could serve as the first and last chapter in the tale of the quarterback's post-Patriots run of success. A neat and tidy postscript to a career that would always be synonymous with the New England Patriots. One final shot at glory, preceding the unavoidable deceleration on the way to the off-ramp of retirement.
Yet by the looks of it in 2021, that story was just getting started. Brady may be writing an entirely new book by the time it's finished, and his age 44 season may be his most explosive chapter yet.
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