"And again with all due respect I think it's inappropriate to suggest that in Tom's career he's been anything but a great teammate, a great worker and has given us every single ounce of effort, blood, sweat and tears that he has in him," Belichick said at the Monday morning victor's news conference. "To insinuate that this year was somehow different, that this year he competed harder, did anything to a higher degree than he has in the past is insulting to the tremendous effort and leadership and competitiveness that he's shown for the 17 years that I've coached him. It's been like that every year, every day, every week, every practice. I don't care if it's in May, August or January -- Tom Brady gives us his best every time he steps on the field."
While that is probably true, Brady did internalize a lot of what happened during the suspension process. Patriots owner Robert Kraft also made some veiled references to the past two years when calling this victory "unequivocally the sweetest" of his five trophies. Amid the whirlwind, Brady's motivation and typical preparation got intertwined and nearly impossible to separate. That's what happens in a narrative-based sport. Sometimes the facts are blurred.
People who have tried to play in the NFL deep into their 30s and early 40s know that a person could not perform at Brady's level if he woke up one morning and decided, a few months before the season, that he would get into the best shape of his life and dominate just because he was upset with someone. Brady, like Yankees great Mariano Rivera or NHL legend Jaromír Jágr, turned his sport into a 365-day lifestyle with unimaginable maintenance and care. Motivation can only carry someone so far in a league where everyone is playing at the highest level.
This has been his plan for years.
As NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport noted on Sunday, Brady plans to play for another three to five years and could be in line for yet another contract extension in 2018. His level of play has made the team entirely comfortable to trade his heir apparent, Jimmy Garoppolo. They wouldn't do this without the assurance that they already have the hardest-working player in the NFL.
Some other notes from Belichick:
» He already feels behind all the other teams who saw their seasons end Jan. 1. "The NFL season, the calendar is what it is. As of today, and as great as today feels and as great as today is, in all honesty we're five weeks behind in the 2017 season to most teams in the league," he said.
» Belichick said he would work on changing the name of his boat to Seven Rings now that he has another to add to the collection.
» Belichick largely sidestepped a question about retirement. "My thoughts are...just my commitment to the team," Belichick said. "Again, this organization, what Mr. Kraft did, what he's done for me, what a great partner he's been, I just want to do the best I can for the great players and coaches I've had the privilege of working with. I'm not really thinking about last year, next year. I'm just trying to live in the moment and do the best I can for this football team."