By Barry M. Bloom
DENVER -- The New England Patriots are nine games through another National Football League season, and with Tom Brady, their irrepressible 40-year-old quarterback still at the helm, they would seem to be favorites again to win another Super Bowl.
After pummeling the Broncos, 41-16, at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on Sunday evening, they are 7-2, tied with the Steelers for the best record in the AFC.
The Patriots have already won five Super Bowls under Brady and are poised to win a sixth. With Brady in his 17th season, this football club appears to be invincible. He's doing what no one at the position has ever accomplished, continuing to play at a championship level long after the calendar says he should be tending to the garden or old football wounds.
"Yeah, you know I try to help people along with the things that I do that make me feel good," said Brady, who completed 25 of 34 passes to nine different receivers, for 266 yards and three touchdowns. "I do really love the game. I love practicing and playing. I love being with my teammates and working hard. So, it is fun for me and I plan on doing it for a long time."
Among quarterback greats, Terry Bradshaw won four Super Bowls with the Steelers during the 1970s but was gone at 35. Joe Montana, who did the same with the 49ers a decade later, retired at 38. Steve Young and Troy Aikman, who combined to win four Super Bowls as starting quarterback, were 38 and 34, respectively, before leaving the game. Payton Manning was so beaten up at 39, he played half the 2015 season for the Broncos, won the Super Bowl and then headed off into the sunset.
Brady's durability is formidable. And at this point, there's no end on the horizon. He's won four Super Bowl MVPs and two league regular season MVPs. And with Super Bowl LII slated for Feb. 4 at new U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, there's still plenty of room on Brady's shelf to add more hardware.
Thus far, he's played in seven and reached legendary status earlier this year when his team trailed the Falcons, 28-3, and came roaring back to win in the first overtime period of Super Bowl history.
John Elway, now in charge of Denver football operations, played in five Super Bowls for the Broncos, winning the last two back-to-back before retiring at 38 in 1998. Elway is a big Brady fan.
"He's an absolute stud," Elway said. "I like his competitive nature. I like everything about Tom Brady -- his toughness, the way he's been able to win in a bunch of different situations there. I just have a great deal of respect for Tom."
Undoubtedly, the great Elway wasn't happy watching Brady and the Patriots pick apart his now 3-6 Broncos on Sunday night as New England sped out to a 27-9 halftime lead.
The game started inauspiciously enough for the Patriots, who went three and out on their first offensive series, only to recover the ensuing punt when Isaiah McKenzie fumbled away the kick and New England recovered on Denver's 24-yard line. Two plays later, Brady hit running back Rex Burkhead with a 14-yard touchdown pass, and New England was off to the races.
Brady completed seven of his first eight passes on his way to a 12-for-16, 136-yard, two touchdown display in the opening 30 minutes. The first half ended just as it began, Brady hitting tight end Dwayne Allen with an 11-yard strike just before the clock ran out.
The Patriots sped off the field mile high, and the rest of the game was just a holding pattern as Brady rolled up the score.
"That was a big drive," Brady said. "They still had a couple of timeouts, so we used the rushing game to run down the clock. Dwayne made a great catch on that touchdown and everybody contributed on that drive. That was big going into halftime."
Brady is an anomaly in his own sport, but there have been outliers in others. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was still playing at a championship level for the Lakers when he retired from the NBA at 41. Ray Bourque won an elusive Stanley Cup in 2001 after he was traded by his beloved Bruins to the Avalanche. He skated around the ice hoisting the long sought after Cup and then retired from the NHL at 40. In Major League Baseball, Nolan Ryan was 46 when he won his 324th game and struck out his all-time record 5,714th batter just before his right elbow finally prevented him from continuing.
Right now, there's no telling what might stop Brady.
"He's just great, but it's kind of been the same thing since Day 1 when I first got here," said Rob Gronkowski, the New England tight end who caught four of Brady's passes on Sunday night for 74 yards. "Nothing's changed with him. He's always fired up. He's always pressing hard. He's always in the meetings. He's always on top of his game. It's just great. It keeps you going, too.
"A guy like him leads us the whole way, especially at the point he is in his lifetime, too."
All the way, perhaps, to another Super Bowl victory.
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Barry M. Bloom has covered professional sports since 1976 and is a national reporter for MLB.com. He has covered the NFL on and off and 11 Super Bowls since then and has always been partial to Montana as the best money quarterback he's ever seen. Now, that title may be owned by Brady.