FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Tom Brady is entering his 15th season with the New England Patriots. He will turn 37 on Aug. 3.

Those numbers – 15 and 37 – are important when anyone starts to talk about No. 12.

They suggest that Brady, a two-time NFL Most Valuable Player, a three-time Super Bowl championship quarterback and a two-time Super Bowl MVP winner, is closer to the end of his career than the peak.

Not that you would ever get him to admit that.

Recently he told Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, “I feel better today than when I was 25 and I know that’s hard for people to believe, but I do.”

Some people don’t believe that.

This spring, another national writer, Sam Monson, wrote that Brady was no longer an elite quarterback. He pointed to declining statistics over the last two years as proof. And certainly, the 2013 statistics were among the worst of Brady’s career.

His quarterback rating of 87.3 was his lowest in a full season since 2006 (87.9). His completion rate of 60.5 was his lowest since 2003 (60.2). His yards-per-attempt of 6.92 was his lowest since 2006 (6.84). His 25 touchdown passes were the fewest in a full season since 2006 (24).

Then the Patriots drafted quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo out of Eastern Illinois in the second round in May and some took that as a sign that the Patriots were starting to consider life without Tom Terrific.

Brady understood. He knows that Bill Belichick is going to play the best players at every position, regardless of tenure or All-Pro resume.

So he goes about his job every day – to get better and to help the team win.

“There is a lot of work,” he said last week after the first practice of training camp, sweat still dripping off his nose. “I don’t think there is ever a day you can take off, especially with the limited amount of practices we have.

“You’ve got to make them all count.”

And that’s why many people, including me, believe Brady still has plenty left.

Yeah, his stats may never approach those of his MVP seasons in 2007 (when he threw for 4,806 yards and 50 touchdowns) and 2010 (when he threw 36 touchdowns and only four interceptions in 492 attempts) but that doesn’t mean he’s no longer among the best quarterbacks in the game. He wins games – his 148 career regular-season wins are third all-time – and he wins them dramatically. Last year he led the Patriots to five come-from-behind victories. He’s done that 43 times overall.

Maybe Brady is in decline. He’s never had the strongest arm and seemed to have particular trouble with the deep pass last year. And he will never outrun anyone. He was sacked 40 times last year, the most since 2001 (41).

But he can still pick a defense apart. And he can still deliver a strike into a tight spot.

Maybe Brady is in decline. But quarterbacks like Dan Marino, Joe Montana, John Elway, Brett Favre, Warren Moon and Fran Tarkenton were effective after they turned 35. And there’s Peyton Manning, of course. Last year, at 37, all he did was throw for 5,744 yards and a record 55 touchdowns, leading Denver to the Super Bowl.

Maybe Brady is in decline, but he doesn’t act that way.

At 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, Brady is only 12 pounds heavier than he was in his rookie season. He pushes his body physically; he tests himself mentally.

And he carries the chip. Always.

Ever since Brady was drafted by the Patriots with the 199th selection in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL draft, he has worked to prove everyone else wrong.

Chad Pennington went to the Jets in the first round and had a decent NFL career. But Hofstra’s Giovanni Carmazzi (San Francisco), Louisville’s Chris Redman (Baltimore), Tennessee’s Tee Martin (Pittsburgh), West Virginia’s Marc Bulger (New Orleans) and Texas State’s Spergon Wynn (Cleveland) all heard their names called before Brady.

That snub fueled Brady – who had to fight for the starting quarterback job at Michigan – for years. It pushed him past Drew Bledsoe. It pushed him to become one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history.

His success at a young age introduced him to the American public. Now he is as much a part of pop culture as he is of sports. He is married to Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen and they are seen in the society pages as often as he is in the sports pages. Recently he accompanied her to the World Cup finals.

But he takes nothing for granted – his fame, talent, career. As he told SI’s King, “There’s no entitlement in the NFL.”

Brady may recognize his football mortality. In speaking to the media Thursday, Brady made it clear that nothing has changed in the way he approaches a season.

“It goes pretty fast so I just think you appreciate it,” he said. “There are very few people who have the opportunity that I have and I’m very appreciative of it. You never know when the last (training camp) is going to be, so you just appreciate the moments that you have.

“Every year it’s something different. This could be your last training camp, you never know. So you’ve got to make it count and you can’t take anything for granted in the NFL. I try to do the best I can for this team and hope it leads to a great year.”

Teammates over the years have spoken about how much time he spends in the film room, the weight room and with the receivers.

At the first practice last week, he often made gestures and suggestions to the receivers – veterans and rookies – about how he wanted routes to be run. When Brady throws an incomplete pass – even in practice – he seethes.

“I think we have guys that compete at a high level in practice,” said defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, the only Patriot other than Brady to have played on New England’s last Super Bowl championship team 10 seasons ago. “I think that’s one of the biggest things that’s going to help us as a team is when we come out and you see Tom Brady competing and getting (ticked) off that he threw an incomplete pass.”

Brady wants to play into his 40s. He knows if he’s going to do that, he needs to get better.

“I don’t think you ever have it all figured out,” he said after Thursday’s practice. “You try to come out here and you work hard to put yourself in a good position and to compete, and when you get a chance to get your opportunity, you’ve got to go out and make it happen. It’s really everybody. There’s nobody that’s immune to it.”

Seconds later, he added, “This game is a very humbling game. You can’t ever think that you’ve got it all figured out. You’ve got to go out there and prove it every single day.”

Especially when people don’t think you can.

Mike Lowe can be reached at 791-6422 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MikeLowePPH