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tara sullivan

By any measure, Tom Brady’s first year in Tampa was a season in the sun

With his characteristic work ethic and leadership, Tom Brady took a team to the playoffs again.
With his characteristic work ethic and leadership, Tom Brady took a team to the playoffs again.Jeff Bottari/Associated Press

Absent the cowardice of Eagles coach Doug Pederson, the conversation in the wake of Washington’s unlikely division-clinching Sunday night win would be so different. Pederson’s tank job continues to overshadow Washington’s victory, all but swallowing inspirational story lines such as coach Ron Rivera’s season-long battle with cancer or quarterback Alex Smith’s return from the near-amputation of a leg.

There was one more attention-grabbing moment that got overshadowed, too, the one where standout Washington defensive end Chase Young skipped off the field in Philadelphia and declared, “Tom Brady, I’m coming. I want Tom. I want Tom.”

Even if most of us missed it, you can rest assured one person most certainly did not.

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Tom Brady.

New Englanders who are fluent in the language of Brady aggrievance know what that means: Bad news for the Washington Football Team.

How many times did the Patriots benefit from the way the 199th pick of the 2000 NFL Draft used any perceived slight to fuel his competitive fire? Getting called out by a player who was born just a year before that fateful draft night will only stoke Brady’s inferno.

Yet no matter what Brady does in Saturday’s prime-time Super Wild Card playoff game, the story he authored this season with the Buccaneers already marks him a victor. He proved he still had plenty of football left in his tank, even if his old bosses in New England didn’t seem to think so.

Just look at the numbers, the ones beyond Tampa Bay’s 11-5 record versus New England’s 7-9 mark, the ones that have the Buccaneers as the No. 5 seed in the NFC playoffs and the Patriots sitting at home during the postseason for the first time in 12 years, the ones that have Brady winning at least 11 games for his 11th straight year while the Patriots finally relinquished an 11-year grip on the AFC East.

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With four touchdown passes in the regular-season finale against the Falcons, Brady finished tied for second in the NFL with 40 TD throws. He threw for 4,633 yards, completing 65.7 percent of his passes. The 40 TDs came against 12 interceptions, and he had a passer rating of 102.2. The 40 TDs were his most since 2007, and the 4,633 yards the most he’s had since 2015.

And then look at his age: 43.

Tom Brady warms up before the first half of a game against Atlanta last month.
Tom Brady warms up before the first half of a game against Atlanta last month.John Bazemore/Associated Press

Brady is the first 40-year-old quarterback in the history of the NFL to hit 40 TDs and just the fifth to throw that many twice, joining Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, and Dan Marino. He’s only the second to throw 40 TDs for different teams, joining Manning, who did it for Indianapolis and Denver.

Brady broke his own record for passing yards in a season for a QB 40 or older (4,577) and broke Brett Favre’s mark for most TD passes (33) by a player 40 or older.

Brady’s 17,622 passing yards since turning 40 are the most in NFL history, more than doubling second-place Warren Moon. Brady’s 125 touchdown passes since turning 40 also lap the second-place Brees (51), just as his 47 wins do to Brees and Favre, tied for second with 17.

Brady remains one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks.

So Bill Belichick never should have let him leave, right?

Not so fast. Rather than this being a case of the Patriots being wrong to let Brady go, it’s a case of Brady being right that it was time for him to leave.

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For any lingering resentment that Brady got out of Dodge just as the foundation of a mighty dynasty was crumbling, it was patently obvious the Patriots weren’t prepared to reload the weapons around him. In other words, those jaw-dropping numbers were never going to be posted had Brady stayed in New England. The transitive property doesn’t work that way in football, and though Brady surely would have done more with N’Keal Harry, Damiere Byrd, and Jakobi Meyers than Cam Newton did (the Patriots offense finished 27th out of 32 teams), the die had been cast on the end of the dynasty.

Instead, in joining the likes of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, in pushing for the addition of old friends Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Brown, Brady turned in a season that should make every football head turn in amazement, make every football fan nod in approval.

Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski have enjoyed a reunion this season.
Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski have enjoyed a reunion this season.Doug Murray/Associated Press

He was fantastic. He flourished with the change of scenery, laughing a few weeks ago that he wouldn’t be “caught dead” living in the Northeast again, not as he lounged on the new multimillion-dollar yacht he has moored off the coast of Florida while the fools up North were digging out of the snow.

Brady’s contentment was evident elsewhere than in the weather report. Sure, he took a risk in wielding power in a way that could have backfired had Gronk and Brown been awful, but that never really materialized. But he also wielded influence, and that lifted the entire franchise.

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“His leadership is beyond anything I’ve ever seen; Peyton Manning is the only thing close,” Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians told reporters before the final regular-season game. “It’s a never-ending thing with him — the perfectionist — to get everything right in practice.

“Also, his calmness on the sideline in games when we’re not winning, [saying], ‘We’re going to win.’ Those type of things. You put those in a bottle and you make a bunch of money.”

His legendary work ethic and attention to detail helped the Buccaneers to their first playoff appearance in 13 years. When Arians lauded Brady’s work with the younger players, it made it clear Brady’s increasing unwillingness to do that in New England wasn’t because of a dislike for the likes of Harry, but for the fact that Harry et al were supposed to be his top options rather than the support staff to better, more experienced weapons like Julian Edelman.

Now, he gets to start another playoff run, a first step toward a potential seventh Super Bowl title. Already the all-time postseason leader in starts (41), completions (1,025), passing yards (11,388), passing TDs (73), and championships, he is aiming for more.

Chase Young may be coming for him, but Tom Brady is coming at history. I wouldn’t bet against him.


Tara Sullivan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at tara.sullivan@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Globe_Tara.