If anyone was expecting Tom Brady’s skills to diminish after he turned 44 years old and began his 22nd NFL season … well, that person would be a fool.
If such a person exists, however, they are in for some bad news. It isn’t happening. Better hope 45 is when the cliff comes for TB12. Don’t bet on it though.
Brady kicked off the NFL season Thursday by throwing for 379 yards and four touchdowns as Tampa Bay defeated Dallas 31-29. That includes a surgical game-winning final-minute drive capped by a Ryan Succop 36-yard field goal.
It wasn’t just the physical talent that defies age that propelled Brady. It was everything else as well, a three-hour highlight reel of how a guy who isn’t the strongest thrower or fastest runner is the greatest winner the game has ever known.
The experience to decipher just about everything the Cowboys threw at him. The smarts to figure out solutions on the fly. The confidence to know when to prop up teammates following mistakes and keep them in the game.
It was all there.
Consider the sublime 11-yard touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski where Gronk went from dropping back to block, drawing a Dallas blitz, to sprinting into an open space on a mismatch.
“No, that was not the design,” Brady said. Brady and Gronk just checked into the play when they saw the defensive setup.
“We’ve played together for a long time,” Brady said on NBC. “Part of playing together with someone for a long time, we have a few tools in the tool box.”
Then there was going back to Chris Godwin for a critical 24-yard pass on the final drive (which may have been offensive pass interference), even though Godwin had fumbled the possession before when the Bucs were about to deliver a knockout blow. No need to freeze out a guy after a mistake. Godwin is too talented and reliable for that.
“It definitely helps me knowing my QB is not going to lose faith in me,” Godwin said.
It was how when Dallas took the lead but left 1:24 remaining, the ending to the game felt like a foregone conclusion. Of course Tampa Bay was going to win.
“I think in tight ball games we have a ton of confidence,” Bucs coach Bruce Arians said. “The confidence is real. It’s earned.”
It was Brady’s 49th career game-winning drive.
It was Brady’s 36th four-touchdown game.
“Been playing a long time,” Brady said. “That’s a lot of football.”
He isn’t slowing up. The arm still looked strong. His internal clock helps avoid sacks in a more reliable manner than quick feet. He has the entire team still believing in him.
“It's amazing,” Godwin said. “You have the ultimate confidence that 1) he's going to get us in the right play and 2) he’s going to go to the right guy.”
That included nine comlpetions and two touchdowns to old friend Gronk. That included five catches for 121 yards and a touchdown to Antonio Brown, who Brady has worked for years to have on his team. It was Leonard Fournette and Gio Bernard and Mike Evans. It was Brady doing whatever he wanted.
“I have confidence in all those guys,” Brady said. “I've been here 18 months now. I’ve had a lot of time [with them].”
And it was Brady spending most of his postgame news conference talking about all the mistakes, turnovers, penalties and errors that “need to be cleaned up.” He knows you can’t get away with those in January and February.
Make no mistake, he was happy with the victory. A year ago, in his Tampa debut, the Bucs lost at New Orleans and Brady didn’t look great.
“[That] sucked,” Brady said.
It was possible to wonder then if post-New England Brady wasn’t going to continue running the league.
“Came a long way in 365 days,” Brady smiled.
That included a seventh Super Bowl. No one wins, or loses, a Lombardi Trophy on opening night, but no one would be surprised if Brady is there at the end again.
Forty-four years old, 22 seasons deep now, and this is just the same old, same old.
“The margin of error is thin in the NFL,” Brady said. “One or two plays, that's the way the game goes.”
It’s just he tends to make those plays. Still.