January 12

Steve Solloway: Time passes and Brady stands tall

At 36, the Patriots’ quarterback has nothing to prove but his passion is unrelenting.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Tom Brady glances at the play clock, telling him when he must take the snap. He also pays attention to the game clock.

What he ignores is the ticking of his personal clock.

Brady is 36 years old and ever closer to the end of his Hall of Fame career with the New England Patriots. Not that anyone knows when the end will come.

Tom Brady’s twilight outshines the sun for most players. The Patriots beat the Indianapolis Colts 43-22 in an AFC divisional playoff game Saturday night and Brady didn’t throw a touchdown pass. For only the second time in Brady’s career has this happened in a game when the Patriots scored more than 40 points. This one was won on the legs of LeGarrette Blount (four rushing touchdowns) and Stevan Ridley (two TDs).

Yet Tom Brady was the winning quarterback. He has 18 playoff wins. His hero, Joe Montana, is next with 16. No active quarterback comes close.

I write this not as a eulogy to 11 years of playoff success for Brady but as an appreciation of one man’s realization of potential and promise. When some of us were trying to reconcile Drew Bledsoe’s demotion and Brady’s ascendancy in 2001, someone left a message on my office phone.

Don’t worry about Tom Brady, said the caller, who mentioned he was a friend of the Brady family and passing through Maine. I’ve known Tom, said the voice. The Patriots will be in good hands.

Over the years I kept hoping the man with the sureness in his voice would call again, if only to say I-told-you-so. But then, that’s probably not something a Brady family member or friend would do.

His body clock ticks but Brady’s not listening. He has rarely allowed himself to look in the rearview mirror. His world is today, not yesterday or tomorrow. No player on the Patriots is older. No one is left from the first Super Bowl won in 2001 but Brady, Coach Bill Belichick and the owner, Robert Kraft.

Brady is the old man on a young football team. There are glimpses of the boyish enthusiasm but you see the resolve of a veteran more.

I asked a colleague who has seen far more of Brady than me: What can’t he do as well now versus 14 years ago? What are his liabilities?

Well, Brady is slow afoot, but always was. He doesn’t have the arm strength to throw 40 or 50 yards downfield consistently and accurately. Yet he and Danny Amendola hooked up on a 53-yard reception Saturday, setting up a touchdown. Brady’s ability to pick apart secondaries has never been questioned.

He is still Tom Brady. Maybe hungrier for his fourth Super Bowl victory than he was for his second or third. Not because he needs to add to Hall of Fame credentials but because his competitive nature wants it. Get the fourth and he’ll want a fifth. The passage of time limits the odds of more Super Bowl victories and Brady does understand that.

We live in a world of change but Brady is the constant. He has handed off to more running backs than you can remember without visiting the Patriots’ website. From Ridley and Blount this season to J.R. Redmond, Patrick Pass and the tragic Robert Edwards, who tried to come back from the torn-up knee he got from running in beach sand at the Pro Bowl. Antowain Smith and Kevin Faulk and Corey Dillon and Cedric Cobbs. Mike Cloud and Kyle Eckel.

Wide receivers? From Julian Edelman and Amendola to David Patten and David Givens. P.K. Sam and Bethel Johnson. Randy Moss and Jabar Gaffney and Donte Stallworth.

He has played cards and joked with the men who backed him up at quarterback, from Ryan Mallett to Kevin O’Connell to Matt Cassell and Matt Gutierrez and Doug Flutie and Vinny Testaverde and Kliff Kingsbury and Damon Huard.

Brady started his career taking snaps from Damien Woody, switching to Dan Koppen, Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell. Matt Light and Stephen Neal and Joe Andruzzi and Billy Yates worked in the trenches protecting him. You could hold a week of trivia nights and not get to all the names of the men who were Brady teammates.

Brady endures. The Patriots are in the playoffs again; 11 times in the past 12 years. Look for his flaws and failings at age 36 if you must.

Just understand the clock ticks down on a Hall of Fame career. Brady may not be listening but you should.

Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

ssolloway@pressherald.com

Twitter: SteveSolloway

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