FOXBOROUGH — Remember that helicopter play in Super Bowl XXXII, when John Elway dived headfirst for a first down, was hit in midair by a pair of defenders, and spun 180 degrees, landing with his feet toward the goal line?
What’s the one word that comes to mind when we think of that Elway, who led those Broncos to victory? Old.
Tom Brady is older.
These days, Brady doesn’t look to run like Elway did on that memorable play. But at 38, Brady is reaching the age where a quarterback’s skills and statistics should be slipping, if history is an accurate indicator. And yet Brady’s start this season just might bring history into play, in terms of his numbers and season goals.
If the Patriots go back to back and win Super Bowl 50 on Feb. 7, 2016, Brady would be the second-oldest starting quarterback to win the big game, behind only Elway, who won his two titles at ages 37 and 38.
Brady is trying to do the same thing.
How is he doing it, at such an advanced football age?
“I try to do my best to prepare myself year-round for the marathon of an NFL football season, so I have a routine that works for me,” Brady said. “I’ve opened up about that in the past, but it’s a process, and it’s a cumulative effect of a lot of different things.
“I’m excited to feel the way I feel, and hopefully I can keep contributing for a long, long time.”
Forget age. What Brady has done through two games hasn’t been done often, by any quarterback. He completed 38 of 59 passes for 466 yards and three touchdowns in last Sunday’s win at Buffalo. The attempts and yards were both the second most of Brady’s career, which is now in its 16th season and includes 240 games, playoffs included.
|Last 16 games||Season high|
Those numbers against the Bills followed a season opener that saw Brady go 25 of 32 for 288 yards and four touchdowns against the Steelers. Through two games, Brady has yet to throw an interception; he did lose a fumble against the Bills.
Taking his two-game statistics and applying the averages to a 16-game season, Brady would grab every significant NFL record for a quarterback. He’s on pace for 504 completions, 728 attempts, 6,032 yards, and 56 touchdowns. All those would break league records: Drew Brees completed 468 passes in 2011, Matthew Stafford had 727 attempts in 2012, and Peyton Manning threw for 5,477 yards and 55 TDs in 2013.
In fact, Manning in 2013 marks the only other time in NFL history that a quarterback has thrown for at least 750 passing yards, seven touchdowns, and no interceptions through the first two games.
We’re a long way from Brady threatening those records, because it’s only a small sample size. But with a full complement of running backs, receivers, and tight ends to throw to, he doesn’t appear to be showing his age. If anything . . .
“He’s the best for a reason,” said defensive end Rob Ninkovich, who has been Brady’s teammate since 2009. “It’s all the little things that he does that makes him so good.”
Brady has shared some of those off-the-field habits in recent years. He’s in bed early. He has a year-round diet. Treats include an avocado-based ice cream. It’s all meant to keep his body in the best possible shape, in order to play for many more seasons, well into his 40s.
That off-field attention to detail, coupled with his focus on football during the season, has left quite an impression on a number of his teammates and coaches, who have different ways of saying pretty much the same thing.
“He works harder than the day before,” receiver Danny Amendola said. “He’s continuing to improve. Obviously he gets everyone else around him better, which is what a team needs.”
Said Bill Belichick, the only head coach Brady has played for in the NFL: “Tom works really hard, he takes great care of himself, and he works really hard physically to be ready to go. I have great respect for the way he competes off the field in terms of his preparation physically and as far as knowing our opponents and the game plans and all of that. That’s a big part of it.”
And finally, 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 spends a huge chunk of time getting himself prepared and ready to do the things that he wants to do.”
Which is what, exactly? Brady is on record saying he’d like to play a number of additional years. He is under contract with the Patriots through the 2017 season — when he’ll be 40 — and has reworked his deal multiple times since being drafted in the sixth round in 2000, taking less in certain cases so the team has more money to spend for players around him.
Still, it’s rare for a quarterback at 38 to have the kind of prolonged success Brady has shown these first two weeks. Warren Moon passed for 4,264 yards in 1994 at age 38. Brett Favre threw for 4,155 yards as a 38-year-old in 2007, the same year Brady was winning his first of two NFL MVP awards.
Elway only threw for 2,806 yards as a 38-year-old. But in the season after the helicopter Super Bowl, he had the Broncos right back in the big game. He won again, then called it a career.
Even if Brady and the Patriots go back to back for a second time, don’t expect the same decision from this quarterback. There is more he wants to do on the field, and he is taking the steps he feels are necessary to allow his body to do it.
“Football is something I love to do, and I want to do it for a long time,” Brady said. “So you’ve got to take a different approach than what’s been taken in the past, or else you’ll probably get the same results as everybody else.
“I’m just trying to be the best I can be. I love playing quarterback for this team. Hopefully, I can do it for a very long time.”