Tom Brady gets better with age
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady completes a pass in the first quarter against the New York Jets on Thanksgiving night. (reuters)
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - For Tom Brady, 35 might be the new 25.
The Patriots quarterback is riding one of the best five-game stretches of his career in terms of victories, statistical production and ball security. As such, he has helped resurrect a team that was in a four-way tie in the AFC East with a 3-3 record that included a trio of shaky, uncharacteristic losses.
Now, the Pats (8-3) have the third-best record in the conference and a chance to win their 10th division title of Brady's tenure, and he has an opportunity to become the fifth player in history to win a third MVP award. But that's for later. The more recent past is the reason for the team's success.
During the Pats' five-game winning streak - the ninth time Brady has won at least five straight regular-season games - the quarterback has completed 114 of 178 passes (64.0 percent) for 1,454 yards, 14 touchdowns and no interceptions. It's the second time in his career he's won five in a row without throwing a pick.
The 35-year-old is playing with a level of efficiency that has carried throughout the offense, which has a league-low eight turnovers. Brady has 24 touchdowns to three interceptions, and his interception percentage (0.7) is the best mark of his career.
"Tom has done a great job of it and has always made that a high priority of his personal execution as a quarterback," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "He handles the ball on virtually every play. Even if he hands it off, there's still a certain degree of ballhandling and ball security involved up until the point he gives it to somebody else. He works hard at that, he works hard at his mechanics, his technique and certainly decision making. He does a very good job at all those things."
While there's always speculation and doubt over how long a player can continue to perform at a high level, particularly as it relates to their physical ability, Brady has shown this season, and more specifically over the past five games, that he's still one of the game's elite players at its most important position.
Brady has always been viewed as an intelligent player with excellent decision-making ability, but the argument could be made that it's even more important now that he's in a later stage in his career, which is true regardless of whether he plays another 10 years like he has sometimes said.
Brady also has two children with a third on the way, a mansion that's worthy of its own zip code in California, and a wife who has become one of the world's most recognizable figures. Yet, the quarterback hasn't slipped on the field. And this could be the most impressive five-game stretch of his football life, at least limited to the regular season. At minimum, it belongs in the same discussion as his late run in 2010, when he won his second MVP, or just about any five-game pocket in 2007.
This might most closely resemble that stretch in 2010, though, when he reformed an offense that swapped Randy Moss for Deion Branch while bringing along rookies Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Brady worked without either of his tight ends at full strength during the current five-game run, and left guard Logan Mankins has also missed his share of time.
Maybe it is Brady's best stretch, but he doesn't judge success in five-game, regular-season increments. It's all about building from here and peaking in the postseason.
If that's the case, then he'll take it, and when asked Monday on WEEI if he felt this was the best run of his career, Brady responded, "I hope so, and I hope I'm getting better and better and making more improvements. I think that's what our coaches expect of myself, and that's what they expect from every player, is to keep getting better. There's certainly no reason why you shouldn't.
"You should make your improvements. You should learn from your mistakes. I think our team has done a really good job of that."