This is not how quarterbacks are supposed to age. Frankly, this isn’t how human beings are supposed to age. Tom Brady, at 44 years old, in his 22nd year in the NFL, is better now than he was five years ago. In fact, he’s better now than he was fifteen years ago.
There is more zip on Brady’s fastball, and he’s more accurate down the field. In Tampa Bay, he’s playing with precision that had faded during his final years with the New England Patriots.
Those last couple of Patriots teams won with Brady, but these Tampa Bay Buccaneers are winning because of Brady. Through two weeks, he has thrown for 655 yards and nine touchdowns. With the NFL moving to a 17-game schedule, all the traditional records are now in play. Touchdown passes in a season, passing yards in a season, whatever, they’re all up for grabs.
The record for touchdowns in a season stands at 55, set by Peyton Manning in 2013 with the Denver Broncos. Brady is already up to nine. Average a touch over three touchdown passes a game from here on out – and this season the Bucs’ schedule is hardly a gauntlet – and the record is Brady’s.
What we’ve seen through two weeks is the idealized version of a partnership between Brady and his head coach, Bruce Arians. It took time for things to gel when Brady got to Tampa. The quarterback and his coach had to synthesize two contrasting styles. Brady, a quick-release, timing passer, bought in to Arians’ look-then-chuck approach. After eight weeks of stuttering play to kick-off last season, things clicked. Since then, the Bucs have roasted everyone.
By the second-half of last season, the Bucs offense was fully operational. Tack on the best run defense in the league and a hellacious pass-rush and it’s little wonder they won the Super Bowl.
Now, the defending champs are even better. They brought all 22 starters back from last season’s championship team, and sprinkled some extra sugar on the margins.
The Bucs have ripped off nine consecutive wins, scoring 30-plus points in each of them – an NFL record. The only close contenders for that record? The 2007 and 2011 Patriots, both marshaled by, you guessed it, Tom Brady.
What Brady has done – and continues to do – goes beyond impressive. Think about this: when Manning moved to Denver in the then-biggest free-agent acquisition in league history, the Broncos turned everything over to the future Hall of Famer. They installed his offense. The team learned his verbiage and his playbook, not the reverse. They even brought in Manning’s handpicked center, despite the fact that Jeff Saturday was well and truly cooked.
Brady’s move to Tampa was a little different. On the personnel side, Brady flexed all of his Tom Bleeping Brady muscle to push the Bucs to bring Rob Gronkowski out of retirement and to sign Antonio Brown. The Bucs even handed an all-access pass to Alex Guerrero, Brady’s doctor who is not a doctor, and was a source of friction in New England.
On the field, though, Brady acquiesced to Arians and the Bucs’ coaching staff. He picked the Bucs so that he could play with receivers Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Cameron Brate, and one of the most gifted offensive lines in the league. He picked the Bucs so that he could push the ball vertically more often, and try something new. He ran Arians’ no-risk-it, no-biscuit system even as skeptics pointed to the team’s early struggles – what with Brady being the wrong side of 40 and having come from an offense built around getting the ball out to receivers quickly that he had helped create in New England. Neither the quarterback nor coach flinched.
The results speak for themselves.
Through two weeks of the new season, nobody – not Patrick Mahomes or Russell Wilson or Kyler Murray or Aaron Rodgers – has come close to Brady. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, he ranks 10th in the league in intended air yards, a measure of how far he’s trying to throw the ball on each dropback. That’s a good number; it’s wild for a 44-year-old at an age when throwing long becomes difficult. It becomes mind-blowing when you consider that he is third in the league in average time to throw – averaging 2.4 seconds per dropback.
This isn’t Brady getting the ball out because he needs to, he’s getting the ball out in a hurry because he wants to. Because he knows where he’s going with the ball. Because he knows each play the opposing defense makes – because he’s seen every defensive play in the book. Best to get on with it now than wait around.
In comparison, Mahomes, the most talented quarterback in the league, is throwing shorter on average than Brady and taking almost half a second longer to make those throws.
Brady has never been a good runner (although his footwork is excellent), so he doesn’t have the Wilson-Mahomes-Rodgers luxury of moving to extend plays and buy time until his receivers come open. He has to solve it now. And he has, with impressive results: against the Falcons, he completed passes to 10 different receivers on the way to his five-touchdown day.
Brady, of course, is not doing this in isolation: you couldn’t ask for a better supporting cast to help a quarterback age gracefully. Yet it doesn’t feel like Brady is aging at all.
In one of the most bonkers facts in the history of sports, Brady is now on pace to throw more touchdown passes in his 40s than in his 20s – a figure he’s likely to hit by week eight of this season.
And Brady isn’t done yet. The touchdown record? A final MVP award? Back-to-back Super Bowl titles? They don’t look out of the question. The quarterback has even started to tease that he will play until he’s 50, which has surely forced New York Jets fans to close their curtains and sit in dark contemplation.
Eventually the future will arrive. Eventually, the decks will be cleared for Mahomes and Herbert, Jackson and Allen, to chase all of the records, to compete for all the titles. But not yet. Tom Brady still has plenty to say.