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dan shaughnessy

Tom Brady is better at 44 than he was at 24, and it’s amazing

Tom Brady torched the Falcons with five touchdown passes in a lopsided win Sunday.Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty

It’s the only thing we’re going to be talking about a week from now, so let’s get ahead of it and state the obvious: Tom Brady is coming to Foxborough Oct. 3 and it’s going to be the most in-your-face moment in the storied history of New England sports.

Bill Belichick was wrong. Bob Kraft was wrong. I certainly was wrong. Brady not only has left us and thrived — winning another Super Bowl last year while the Patriots didn’t make the playoffs — but he will return to Gillette Stadium as a 44-year-old professional athlete playing the best football of his career.


I give up. Bill and Bob have to give up, too. Brady in 2021 is better than he was in 2007 when the Patriots went 18-0. He is better than he was when he was on the Deflategate revenge tour. He is better than he was in his 20s or his 30s. In this, his 22nd NFL season, he is better than he has ever been.

He is Benjamin Button Brady: “Tommy,” to his parents, sisters, and high school teachers.

Who gets to do this? Jennifer Lopez maybe. Mick Jagger and Jack Nicholson perhaps were better in their 40s than they were in their 20s. Keith Richards can play forever.

But those are entertainers. Show people. Like bankers, doctors, real estate brokers, and venture capitalists, they can be better in their 40s than they were in their 20s. It simply doesn’t work that way for swimsuit models and competitive athletes. That’s why there’s a Senior Tour in golf. That’s why there is a masters division in swimming, running, boxing, and just about every other athletic event.

So Brady is the first. The only. Because of the way he takes care of himself and the way his sport has evolved, Brady is the first athlete in team sports history to be better at 44 than he was at 24 or 34. Babe Ruth couldn’t do it. Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and Michael Jordan couldn’t do it. Gordie Howe tried but couldn’t do it. It’s just Brady.


He threw five touchdown passes with zero interceptions in Tampa Bay’s 48-25 victory over Atlanta Sunday. And that came after he was Pro Football Focus’s Offensive Player of the Week for his four touchdown passes and 379 yards (32 of 50) in a Week 1 win over the Cowboys.

Tom Brady and the Bucs made it look easy on Sunday.Jason Behnken/Associated Press

If Brady lights up the Rams this weekend, he could come to Foxborough with a chance to be the first quarterback in NFL history to throw four or more touchdown passes in six consecutive regular-season games. Peyton Manning had a streak of five — when he was 28.

Meanwhile, the Buccaneers have scored 30 or more points in nine straight games (including playoffs), beating the Brady-Randy Moss Patriot team that had a streak of eight. That’s 44-year-old Brady beating 31-year-old Brady.

Belichick and Kraft must be out of their minds about this. Two years ago, they made a football decision that enough was enough. It was time to move on from Brady. He’d given them great work for two decades, but it was simply not smart business to reward him with a fat, long-term contract extension. Not when he was 42. Not after 20 seasons and a one-and-done in the 2019 playoff winter.


So they let him walk. They figured they would let another doofus team trade off Brady’s name and pay him for past performance. It would end badly for that team. The Patriots were willing to start over.

And they have. They took their lumps in the Cam Newton (7-9) season, then finally found The Next One in the first round of the 2021 draft. They have Mac Jones, and who doesn’t love the prospect of the next 10 years of Mac Jones under center?

But the Brady Monster is not going away. It’s only getting worse for Belichick and Kraft.

Sunday perfectly demonstrated the Patriot/Brady dynamic in 2021. From 1-4 p.m., we watched Belichick, Jones, and the Patriots plod to a 25-6 win over the Jets. Jones managed the game nicely, completing 22 of 30 passes for 186 yards and no touchdown passes.

And then, from 4-7 p.m., we watched Brady with another aerial dissection of an opponent. Quarterbacking perfection. Two of his touchdown tosses went to Rob Gronkowski, who is great again after quitting on New England.

Rob Gronkowski caught a pair of touchdown passes from Tom Brady on Sunday.Don Montague/Associated Press

It must kill Belichick and Kraft to watch this. Week after week. In two weeks of the 2021 NFL season, Brady has already thrown more touchdown passes (nine) than Newton threw in all of 2020 (eight). And Brady and the Super Bowl champion Buccaneers are coming to Foxborough a week from Sunday. There’s a chance that will be the night that Brady passes Drew Brees as the NFL’s career leader in passing yards.


Simply amazing.

Much of this is owed to the way Brady takes care of himself — avocado ice cream, TB12, and all that. Much of it is NFL rule changes that have morphed the sport into arena ball. In 2021, if you are a smart quarterback who knows how to read defenses, stay in the pocket, and get rid of the ball quickly, you can make football a no-contact sport for yourself.

Johnny Unitas and Dan Marino did not have this luxury. That’s why we’ve never seen a 44-year-old athlete play quarterback at this level.

The Who’s Pete Townsend wrote about it more than a half-century ago in “Pinball Wizard,” on an album called “Tommy.’’

Plays by intuition … ain’t got no distractions … can’t hear no buzzers and bells … don’t see no lights-a-flashin’ … plays by sense of smell … always gets a replay … never seen him fall.

Even on your favorite football field. He can beat your best.

There has never been anything like it. I wish Howard Cosell were here to talk about it on TV. I wish Will McDonough were here to explain it to us. I wish Ray Fitzgerald were here to write a Globe column about it.

I wish Belichick and Kraft had known, and signed Brady to a five-year deal two years ago. That way, Brady could still be doing this for the Patriots.

But nobody knew this was possible. Only Tommy Brady.


Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at Follow him @dan_shaughnessy.