- Associated Press - Thursday, November 2, 2017

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) - 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, but Hoyer is clearly not a succession option for the franchise whenever Brady decides to conclude his Hall of Fame career.

“I don’t know what that means,” Brady said in reaction to Garoppolo’s trade in a radio interview with Westwood One on Monday night. “This is a week-to-week league. Things change so quickly from week to week, year to year.”

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.

Brady is also on track to set a new standard for 40-year-old quarterbacks. Since the 1970 merger, only three - Brett Favre, Warren Moon and Vinny Testaverde - have started at least 10 games after celebrating their 40th birthday.

Of that trio, Favre is the only one to win at least 10 games, going 12-4 with Minnesota in 2009. He’s also the only quarterback to win a playoff game at 40.

Brady tied Peyton Manning as the oldest quarterback to win a Super Bowl when he did it at age 39 in February. He would sit alone in the record books if he can do it at 40.

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. … Trying to predict that is not something that I think is easy. It’s not something that I try to do a lot of.”

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.”


For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL


Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/khightower

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