By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- Tom Brady joined Jim Gray over the telephone for their final Monday night interview of the season this week. During that conversation, Brady told Gray that nothing has changed with his long-term goals, meaning he fully intends to play next year at the ripe age of 43.
Despite the fact that Brady has said this roughly 11,714 times over the past four or so years, it has led to dozens upon dozens of headlines running the story: Brady intends to play next season.
Right. Knew that.
While that portion of the talk shouldn't have qualified as breaking news, it was interesting later in the interview to hear Brady speak glowingly of the Patriots. On the one hand, duh. He's been a Patriot for 20 years, with the same owner and the same head coach, during a period of unprecedented success and winning. But on the other hand, the Patriots are a team that played hardball with him over his contract in the summer, leading Brady to demand that the team agree to not place the franchise tag on him at the end of the season, thus kicking off the first moment of free agency of Brady's professional career.
Obviously, that portion of Brady's future remains the most interesting. Brady playing in Foxboro next year would be a continuation of what an entire generation of football fans knows. Brady playing for a different team next year? Pandemonium.
So, it stood out that when he was asked about the ridiculous run of 11 straight division championships, he said the following:
"For me personally, it's been an amazing run with an incredible organization. There will be a lot of time for me to reflect on my career, and now is not the time. But I would just say the goal for our team is to win. What I think the great part about our team is that from the owner of the team to the head coach to myself to the other veteran leaders, we prioritize winning. And we try to put our best out there every week. Even when it's not great, hopefully it's good enough. You're not gonna have your peak performance every single week, but you still like to win when you don't play your best.
"Hopefully we have a team that's very smart, that's very tough, physical, mentally tough. And if you practice and compete on a daily basis, you give your team a chance to win and compete at the highest level every week. And I'm proud of being in an organization where that's what it's all about, and this year has been no different than that. We have a lot of the same processes in place, and we're trying to go out there every week and be the best we can be.
"And I'm happy we're division champs. Obviously we have bigger goals ahead, but all of those will need to be earned. And this isn't the time to earn those; this is the time to still go out and finish the regular season in a very strong way."
As for this season, which had its peaks and valleys and included lengthy stretches where Brady's feelings and moods were psychoanalyzed by the masses, Brady said:
"If we win this week against Miami, we'll get a first-round bye. And then beyond that, you've got to win to get by. So it really started last week [at Cincinnati], the games really all meant something. And that's the position that you hope to be in at this time of year.
"There's many emotions and you can characterize however you'd like, and there are a lot of adjectives to describe this season, but from a winning standpoint, we're 12-3, and that's a pretty good place to be. A lot of teams I'm sure would love to change places with us. All the games have been a little different, some different matchups and really some tough weather conditions. And we fought through all the adversity, we fought through a couple of back-to-back losses, which is tough. And we got a chance to play Miami at home and try to finish strong and get to 13-3, which would be a great way to end our season."
"I'm excited for what's ahead for our team. I'm excited for what we can accomplish. We have to take care of business this week first. Then we'll get a chance if we win to take a deep breath, evaluate where we're at, what we need to do going forward."
In a season where glum press conferences have been broken down and dissected like the Zapruder film, it's worth noting that Monday's interview was on the opposite end of the scale.
Similarly, the head coach who doesn't often open up the doors to over-the-top praise of anybody -- even Tom Brady -- has been downright loquacious this week when talking about his quarterback.
Belichick was asked what it was like to sit with Brady on the set for the "NFL 100" show, which features the top 100 players to ever play in the NFL. Belichick answered quite thoroughly:
"All of that [show] was a great experience for me. I really appreciate the opportunity and was honored to do it, and spending time with Tom on the set was awesome. We've been through so many great moments together, both on and off the field, in terms of the actual football game itself, but all the preparation that leads up to it and the competition that's involved there with other coaches, players, teams, and so forth. Yeah, it was great to talk about those and think back and reflect on some of the great moments that we've shared together and how much hard work and the other part of the experiences that went into those moments – not just the result of the play, or a game, or even a season, but all of the things that you think about. I mean, those things don't just happen. There's miles and miles and miles that are covered before you actually get that final yard, or few yards, or whatever it is that determines games, and ultimately seasons.
"So, yeah, it was tremendous. It was great. It was great to be with Tom. It was great to be with the other studio guests, as well, because it's a very, very special group and they all have something in their own personal great history to share that we can all – and I can – learn from."
It was a similar situation on Saturday night, when a vintage Brady performance helped power a critical 24-17 win over the Bills. When asked about Brady's tenacity and leadership, Belichick said:
"Yeah, Tom's a great competitor. He's had tremendous success through his career and made some big plays today when we really needed them. So, he made a lot of good decisions. There were times when they had pressure, he did a good job of getting the ball out and he hit some big plays."
It all may not seem like much, but two years ago around this time, amid reports of a "lingering sadness" permeating the halls of Gillette Stadium, Brady was filming a docuseries that showed the hoops he had to jump through just to get his pregame massage from Alex Guerrero. After the Super Bowl loss to the Eagles, there was some uncertainty (or at least lots of speculation) about Brady's future, in a spring spent wondering whether or not Rob Gronkowski would return and whether the QB would refuse to play if his tight end was traded. Even after winning the Super Bowl last year, the following months were spent wondering why the Patriots were so reluctant to sign Brady beyond 2019, perhaps an indication that a mutual split would come at the end of the year.
While the exact details of Brady's future aren't set in stone just yet, it's at least worth acknowledging that unlike in other periods of recent history, everything appears to be hunky-dory in the land of Brady, Belichick, and the New England Patriots.
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