In his first go-around with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after 20 years as a Patriot, Tom Brady put together the greatest season by a quarterback in franchise history. His 40 touchdown passes in the regular season were a team record, by a full seven touchdowns, and his seven scoring tosses in the postseason make him the Bucs' career leader. His 102.2 passer rating is another franchise record, and his leadership, on top of those accomplishments, is widely considered one of the main reasons the Buccaneers are back in the Super Bowl for the first time in 18 years.
And he might just be getting started.
That's a bold statement to make about a 43-year-old quarterback, but Brady seems intent on playing on and continuing his career trajectory on an ever-upward path. He and the Bucs accomplished all of the above, and vanquished teams in the playoffs with far better team-quarterback continuity, despite having no offseason program or preseason games in which to develop and grow together. Next year, presumably, Brady will have much more time to prepare with his teammates, and he thinks that will lead to even bigger things.
"I got to the pros and wanted to be a consistent, dependable player and every year just tried to improve my game a little bit," said Brady on Wednesday, four days before Super Bowl LV against the Kansas City Chiefs. "Going to have to keep improving it. As long as I'm playing, I want to improve and get better. I think next year is going to be a lot better than this year. I feel like I'll be in a much better place mentally. I'm going to train a lot better; physically next year I'll be in a better place. I know as soon as this game ends, we're on to next season. We'll get ready for this [game], then start thinking about next year."
The Buccaneers signed Brady to a two-year deal in March, but that might not be enough to keep him in Tampa for the remainder of his career. He said on Monday that he would consider playing past the age of 45. At this particular moment, Tampa Bay fans are most concerned about Brady finishing the 2020 job and bringing home the Lombardi Trophy (or, in this case, keeping it from leaving home!). Still, it's another whole level of dreaming to consider an extended run for the G.O.A.T in Tampa – at least through 2021 and hopefully beyond – and the possibility for additional shots at the title.
"I think it's going to be hard to walk away whenever I decide to walk away because it's been a huge part of my life for a long time," said Brady. "I love thinking about it. Football, to me, is much more than a sport. There's the physical element, there's the mental approach – how you're going to get the job done – and there's the emotional part. All of those things I've found ways to evolve at different times so that I could maximize my potential. I think for an individual player like myself, as a quarterback, it's never about what I do, it's really about what we do. Because so much of it is being on the same page with my teammates – with the receivers, the tight ends, the offensive line, the coaches."
That's the exciting part. Brady and company managed to gradually get on page throughout the 2020 season and were able to hit their stride at the end, which is why the team is in the Super Bowl. They could be even more potent with months to work together before the games actually begin. In particular, Brady and Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich would have a lot of time to tinker around in the shop together.
"When you work together for a long period of time, you begin to see the game very similar," said Brady. "When he's watching film he thinks, 'Oh, this is what Tom would like,' and vice versa. It's taken some time to get there because we didn't have a lot of the things that we normally have with football [this offseason]. Over the last couple of months we've certainly executed a little bit better. That's a credit to all of the coaches, all of the players who have really worked hard to get us to the point where we're at, which is six days to go and one game left and it's for everything. So I'm excited to see what we can come up with for Sunday."
Yes, Brady is focused on the Super Bowl, and will be until next week, when it's time to turn the page, one way or another. Maybe next year can be even better, but there's one more task at hand.
"It's not about me, Tom Brady, it's about us, the Bucs, and what we can accomplish," he said. "We've just got to go finish the deal. It's been a great year thus far. I've learned a lot about myself, learned a lot about my teammates. But we've got a chance now to accomplish the ultimate goal and we're four quarters away. It's going to take a great effort. We're playing a great team – another team that I think has a lot of those things and they're doing it the right way and it's going to be a great challenge."