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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

Tom Brady should be the NFL’s MVP

Tom Brady passed for three touchdowns on Sunday vs. the Dolphins.Jim davis/Globe Staff

“Nothing changes on New Year’s Day.”

— U2

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — This brand new year is working out pretty well for Tom Brady thus far.

Two thousand and seventeen will be the year when Brady turns 40. It will be the year when he has a chance to play quarterback in a record seventh Super Bowl and perhaps win his fifth. It will be the year in which he is named NFL Most Valuable Player for the third time.

Brady’s Happy New Year got off to a near-perfect start Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium when he threw three more touchdown passes in a 35-14 rout of the playoff-bound (really) Miami Dolphins. The victory avenged New England’s silly and costly season-ending loss to the Fish last January and completed Brady’s résumé for his 15th full season as New England’s starting quarterback.

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Let the record show that in the controversial campaign in which Brady was forced to serve a commissioner-mandated/court-upheld, four-game suspension, QB12 came back with a vengeance. He led the Patriots to 11 wins in 12 games, throwing 28 touchdown passes with only two interceptions. There can be no more discussion about Matt Ryan, Ezekiel Elliott, Dak Prescott, Derek Carr, or anybody else for league MVP. It won’t be announced until the night before the Super Bowl, but it should be obvious to all the hot-takers by now that Brady is The One. We could recite his ridiculous pinball numbers all day long, so here’s another one: Brady threw an NFL-record 254 passes on the road this year with zero interceptions. Another record.

With the Patriots leading, 27-14, and eight minutes left on the clock Sunday, the snowbirds and New England transplants at Hard Rock chanted, “M-V-P, M-V-P’’ as Brady lined up behind center for the Patriots’ final touchdown drive.

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This is not something you hear for a visiting player at many stadiums, arenas, or ballparks. I think some of the local fans actually joined the chorus. It’s like the tired old Greatest Of All Time argument. Even down here, they know that Brady’s The One.

Brady and coach Bill Belichick — the Bill Russell and Red Auerbach of this century — were in generous moods after the holiday festival in southern Florida. The Hoodie feted his squad as a “very physically and mentally tough team, no question,’’ while Brady called Dante Scarnecchia “the best offensive line coach in the NFL,’’ and repeatedly reminded us that “we worked pretty hard to get to this position.’’

It is an enviable perch. Going a perfect 8-0 on the road, the Patriots are 14-2, secure in the knowledge that they won’t have to hit the road until they go to Houston at the end of the month for Super Bowl 51. They get a week off before the playoffs, then will undoubtedly play in their sixth consecutive conference championship game. This is the sixth time in the Brady-Belichick era that the Patriots have earned the top seed, and they have made it to the Super Bowl in four of the previous five instances.

Brady never says much about what the Deflategate fallout has been like for him personally. He’s quicker than ever to deflect all individual credit and attention. He’s never really talked about what it was like to be forced to watch the first four games. The closest he came to a verbal defense of his role in the Deflategate debacle came when he appeared in a Foot Locker commercial and cleverly discussed the unfairness of any punishment for “something that never even happened!’’

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But the whole experience had to hurt. By any measurement, it’s clear Brady took the fall for Belichick’s Spygate prior and the Kraft-fueled Deflategate intransigence that triggered unreasonable sanctions from the commissioner of football. The only thing Brady could do was suffer in silence and then come back and play better than ever. And that he has done.

I thought I heard something between the lines Sunday when Brady was asked about the mental toughness of these Patriots. The query was largely about short weeks and injuries and airplane delays and crappy footing in Miami. Brady began his answer with, “We’ve proven that we can deal with a lot of things over the course of the year . . . ”

Not really. The Patriots had to deal with a few tough road games (Arizona, Pittsburgh, Denver), played a half-season without Dion Lewis, and lost Rob Gronkowski at midseason. But they have been largely healthy, faced few elite quarterbacks, and played almost zero good offenses.

It is Tom Brady who had to deal with a lot of things this year. He had to spend time in court. He had to share snaps with another quarterback. He had to spend a month away from his team. He had to worry about his reputation. He had to magically reverse the aging process that gets everybody else on the planet.

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And now he’s coming for Roger Goodell and NFL America, in perfect position to unleash his silent fury on the one who punished him and anyone foolish enough to have doubted him. Brady has a good chance to be named MVP on Feb. 4 and move past Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana with his fifth Super Bowl win the next night. Which would make 2017 a very good year indeed.


Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Shaughnessy.