The Tom Brady Revenge Tour pulls into Buffalo Sunday, as the Patriots’ quarterback looks to continue what has so far been a remarkable return from his four-game suspension.
With the Deflategate saga finally behind him after serving the punishment handed down by commissioner Roger Goodell for his alleged involvement in a scheme to use underinflated footballs in the 2014 AFC Championship Game, Brady has looked as good as ever. In fact, he might be playing the best football of his career, which is saying something for a 39-year-old with four Super Bowl championships and a host of NFL records to his credit.
There is no doubt that Brady is extraordinarily motivated to prove Goodell was both misguided and heavy-handed in delivering the harsh penalty, and anyone who has seen the veteran quarterback over the years knows there is a gargantuan chip on his shoulder. Even if Brady himself won’t admit to being more driven by the suspension.
“My motivation is just to play well for my teammates and for my coaches and for my family,” Brady said last week. “That’s enough motivation for me. I want to go out there and do a good job because I know how hard my teammates work. I know how hard my coaches work to put me in a position [to succeed]. They all trust me to do the right thing when I’m out on the field, and I don’t ever want to let them down. That’s where my motivation comes from.”
Brady still seethes over being suspended, and there is zero doubt that a big part of that motivation is over and above any loyalty to his coaches and teammates. One of the fiercest competitors in any sport and any era, Brady absolutely remains defiant about his treatment and would like nothing more than to raise another Vince Lombardi Trophy skyward as the ultimate payback against Goodell.
His numbers have been downright extraordinary since being reinstated. In winning all three starts, Brady has completed 75.2 percent of his passes, has eight touchdown throws and zero interceptions, and has a rating of 132.6 — more than 35 points better than his career rating of 96.8.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen him better,” Bills coach Rex Ryan said of Brady. “I mean, he’s played in the league for 17 years, 18 years, something like that. You know obviously he puts the work in and everything else and it’s just a real credit to him. Like I keep thinking if I stay in this conference long enough, that maybe that dude will retire, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon.”
Ryan has been chasing Brady and Patriots coach Bill Belichick since he took over as the Jets coach in 2009 and he has mostly failed. In six years as a coach for the Jets and now in his second year with the Bills, Ryan is 4-11 against Brady. His biggest win came in the 2010 playoffs, when the Jets won, 28-21, to advance to the AFC Championship Game. Other than that, it’s been mostly misery.
And if Brady plays Sunday like he has the last three weeks, this could be another long day for Ryan. Add in the Bills could be without Pro Bowl running back LeSean McCoy, who is doubtful with a hamstring injury, and the task becomes that much more daunting.
Even Ryan knows there won’t be any carryover from last week’s shutout win over the Patriots on the road.
“We were the best team that day, and obviously there were circumstances,” he said. “It’s brand-new circumstances, and obviously, players are different.”
Then again, he won’t be completely without hope, thanks to his days with the Jets.
“You can go back to when I got beat 45-3 by them (in 2010),” Ryan said. “Well, it never meant anything the following time you played them.”
No, it didn’t. The Jets pulled off one of the most shocking upsets in franchise history when Mark Sanchez beat Brady on the road in the divisional round of the playoffs.
Brady has managed quite well since then, having been to two more Super Bowls and winning his fourth title. Ryan hasn’t been back to the playoffs since.
And if Brady has it his way, there will be plenty more postseason appearances. Despite being at an age when most quarterbacks — even the great ones — have retired, Brady has no plans to walk away.
“I’m having a lot of fun right now so it’s been nice just coming back and being a part of our team winning and it’s fun,” Brady said. “I don’t know why anyone would not choose to continue to do that if they had the opportunity. Hopefully I can keep doing it. I try to take good care of myself. It’s a very challenging sport and it’s a very physical sport. That’s what I commit my life to so hopefully I can keep it going.”
Brady once talked about playing until the age of 40. He has since pushed that back to 45. The way he’s playing now, he might just get there.