NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS quarterback Brian Hoyer (2) stands by as starting quarterback Tom Brady (12) passes the ball during an NFL football practice on Wednesday in Foxborough, Mass. The Patriots have signed former 49ers quarterback Hoyer to be Brady’s backup.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS quarterback Brian Hoyer (2) stands by as starting quarterback Tom Brady (12) passes the ball during an NFL football practice on Wednesday in Foxborough, Mass. The Patriots have signed former 49ers quarterback Hoyer to be Brady’s backup.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass.

When Patriots owner Robert Kraft was asked earlier this year how long he thought Tom Brady could continue to play quarterback in the NFL, Kraft said he could envision Brady playing into his 50s.

It was a prediction that even Brady chuckled at after celebrating his 40th birthday in August.

“He said the 50s? I don’t think I’ve even said the 50s,” Brady said. “I’ve never thought about not playing. At least until my mid-40s, I said, so that’s a pretty good goal in and of itself, and then we’ll see when I get there.”

While the end is still be to be determined, what’s not up for debate is the faith the Patriots have in Brady as he navigates the uncertain waters of being a 40-year-old NFL quarterback.

But it also shines more of a spotlight on him as New England (6-2) eyes a return to the Super Bowl in the second half of the 2017 season.

That was crystallized with the surprise Halloween trade of Brady’s backup Jimmy Garoppolo to San Francisco. That followed the preseason trade of Jacoby Brissett, breaking up what Patriots coach Bill Belichick said he believed had been “the best quarterback situation in the league” over the past 2 1/2 seasons.

New England added former Brady backup Brian Hoyer to fill the job again.

So far this season, Brady has mostly gotten the better of Father Time. Though he’s taken more hits than he did a season ago (he’s already been sacked 21 times and hit 43 times), he has passing numbers similar to ones he put up during his MVP seasons in 2007 and 2010

Eight games into 2017, he has completed 67 percent of his passes for 2,541 yards, 16 touchdowns and two interceptions.

Asked if Brady has exceeded his expectations to this point this season, Belichick said at a certain point every player’s prospects are looked at only in “year-to-year” segments.

“So the expectations aren’t over a long period of time and a longer window like they are with a player coming into the league,” Belichick said. “When you get players that have reached a certain point, then it’s their ability to maintain.”

For now, at least, the Patriots seem comfortable putting their offensive fortunes in a 40-year-old signal caller that hasn’t missed a start due to injury since he sustained a knee injury in the 2008 season opener.

“In my mind this is all about this season and us trying to win,” Brady said. “I’m trying to do the best I can do for our team, like I always do. I am going to bring it every single day like I’ve tried to do for the last 18 years.”


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