FOXBORO - A point has been reached in Tom Brady's career where the word "age," either spoken or unspoken, can't be avoided.
The future Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback of the New England Patriots will be 37 years old when the next season begins, and that's an age few quarterbacks reach without a significant decline in their abilities, if not a full-scale erosion.
It's been debated from one end of the country to the other whether Brady is actually in that decline entering his 15th NFL season. Some argue yes. Others, like Patriots' offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, argue that Brady is still capable of improvement.
What does Brady think?
"I always try to be the same," he said Monday at Gillette Stadium. "I think I've tried to be pretty consistent for a long period of time. So that's great motivation for me, to be the same caliber of player that I've always been for this team, and for the team to always depend on me. I don't have a lot of worries that they'll have to worry about me."
Brady spoke after an on-field ceremony celebrating the 26 winners of the 2014 Myra Kraft Community MVP Awards that split $200,000 provided by the Patriots Charitable Foundation. None of the award winners hailed from The Sun Chronicle's coverage area.
One of the unavoidable topics for the veteran signal-caller was what adjustments he has to make as an accommodation to advancing age.
"The thing that I've learned over the years is that you've got to pay the price in advance," he said. "You just can't run out on the field and expect things to be better without putting the time in, and extra effort. I try to be really consistent and dependable for our guys, and I think that's what the quarterback position needs to be."
But as Brady indicated, that's been a consistent theme to his preparation since he entered the league, and not necessarily a late-career adjustment.
"There's always ways to find improvement, because football's not an individual sport," he said. "It's not like you're a golfer or tennis player. You're always working with lots of other guys. So it's not necessarily just my improvement, but how my improvement relates to the rest of the team. And we all change from year to year. The strengths of our team change every year, based on who's out there, who's playing, what schemes are working. You always try to play to the strengths of your team. So the more strengths that we have, the tougher we'll be to defend."
Brady said he has always tried to keep thinking a couple of steps ahead as he prepares for new challenges.
"I think I try to keep everything coordinated and get all the guys understanding what I'm looking for out of them, so that we can all anticipate what we're going to do," he said. "Football is a very anticipatory sport. The more reactive you are, the harder it's going to be for you. So we're going to try to dictate the things that we want to do on offense, whether that's tempo, or that's plays or routes or route combinations. It's all of us all being on the same page in order to really efficiently and effectively do that on a consistent basis."
Consistency has been a hallmark of Brady's career in more ways than one.
"That's very true," he said. "I've been lucky to be in the same offensive system my whole career, and coached by the same coach. There's nobody I'd rather play for, Mr. Kraft, and no other coach I'd rather play for than Coach Belichick. I think we've got the greatest chance to win every year, and that's a really important part of playing the game. That's why we're out here working hard.
"What they demand of us and the expectations that they have for us are pretty high," he added. "I don't think there's any time that we come out of a meeting thinking, 'Man, we're great. We've got everything figured out.' It's really a time of year where you're going to make a lot of mistakes, you're going to give great effort and you're going to fail. You've got to gain trust in each other and become more consistent and dependable so that when you're out there on the field you can trust the guys that you're playing with."
There's been a lot of debate lately over whether Brady is still an "elite" quarterback in the NFL, but Brady seemed to dismiss the importance of that status by putting it in the perspective of the team.
"When you're part of this program, whatever individual achievements or goals that you may have for yourself, those always come in second to what the team is doing," he said. "People pay to watch games on TV because there's a scoreboard. I think that's what it's all about. If there was no scoreboard, then people wouldn't tune in and watch. I think that's what it's all about.
"So there's only one stat that matters and that's because the competition in the NFL is very high, extremely high, on a daily basis," he added. "I think winning games is the most important thing, certainly for this organization. When you come here you learn that pretty quickly, that whatever matters to you as an individual, it's far distant from what the team goals are. And the team goals are one thing - to score more points than the other team."