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  • Tom Brady's season began with an offseason unlike any other. It didn't slow him down in his pursuit of a ninth Super Bowl appearance.
By Jenny Vrentas
January 29, 2019

Over the Patriots’ nearly two decades under Bill Belichick, every year has followed a similar pattern—from the questions and concerns of the offseason through a firm sense of identity and purpose as January approaches. This week The MMQB examines New England’s 2018 season in four parts, Tuesday through Friday, from the perspective of that now-familiar narrative, and what it means for the Patriots’ ninth Super Bowl appearance of the Brady-Belichick era. Part I: The Offseason.

• II: Conor Orr on why September is different in New England
III: Tim Rohan on the Patriots’ mastery of the midseason move

• IV: Jenny Vrentas on how the Patriots evolve for the stretch run

ATLANTA—Tom Brady was at what’s now a familiar perch for him, sitting at a numbered booth on Super Bowl media night with a forest of cameras in front of him. Reporters jostled for position to yell out questions over the uncomfortably loud crowd din that Brady even likened to Arrowhead Stadium. He hydrated from a massive stainless steel canteen; mused about a desire to learn Portuguese after he retires, which he still believes will not happen until he is 45; and when a personality congratulated him for making four straight Super Bowls, Brady interjected that it’s actually been three, but he crossed his fingers that a fourth will happen.

This all felt so routine that we’ve almost entirely forgotten that nearly a year ago, Brady was embarking on an offseason that was anything but routine for him.

A few days after the Patriots lost Super Bowl LII to the Eagles, he filmed a scene for his Tom vs. Time docuseries from his couch in Brookline, pondering whether he had the “conviction” to continue his professional football career.

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What followed was an offseason like none other Brady has had in the NFL. When the Patriots opened their voluntary offseason program, he was in Doha, Qatar, with his wife and two kids, representing the Best Buddies charity as a global ambassador. He attended the Monaco Grand Prix in Monte Carlo and went horseback riding with his family in Costa Rica. After his own words raised questions about his relationship with head coach Bill Belichick, and how long their partnership would last, he reported to Gillette Stadium for the only mandatory part of the offseason, the three-day minicamp in June. He wasn’t alone; tight end Rob Gronkowski, who spent the spring mulling retirement and was the subject of trade conversations between the Patriots and the Lions, also stayed away from the team until mini-camp, even forgoing a $250K workout bonus.

There are countless examples all around the NFL—players who switch teams, or who do their own things, or who don’t want to jeopardize an upcoming contract extension by getting injured in June—that show why the team offseason workouts are largely unessential. But Brady was a quarterback, and he’d always talked about how much he was getting accomplished during organized team activities, and as he said in the epilogue of Tom vs. Time last summer, “it’s been the first time where I’ve taken a little break.”

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From his perch on media night, we wondered: Did the way he spent his offseason play any role in getting him back to where he is now?

“I don’t think there is a strong correlation,” Brady said. “Had I been a part of the offseason, this team would have fought just as hard. We’ve got great leaders; even when I wasn’t there, I was totally confident that the team was doing everything it needed to do. They were ready to go; I was excited to start. This team has been about competition since training camp and going all the way through, so I’m just so happy we are still here and happy we get a chance to compete on the biggest stage.”

Brady veered off into the generic in his answer (though he did get a nice plug in there for the Patriots’ #stillhere rallying cry). The mob of Super Bowl media night is not an environment conducive to thoughtful conversation, nor could it be farther removed from an April conditioning session or May seven-on-seven drills. “That was so long ago,” says Patriots captain Matthew Slater, Brady’s teammate for a decade. “I have almost forgotten he wasn’t here.”

Brady talked often about how he owed extra time this offseason to his wife, Gisele, and three children, whose time with him is pinched during the football season. Meanwhile, he continued his own preparations with his body coach, Alex Guerrero, and throwing coach, Tom House. Says back-up Brian Hoyer, who took the starting QB reps in Brady’s absence last spring, “I mean, the guy has done it for 19 years. I don’t think it was really going to affect much.”

But perhaps it did affect something. Brady joked at the start of camp that he “found my conviction,” a nod to the confessional that had stunned even the crew in the room with him while they were filming. Before the epilogue to Tom vs. Time aired, the docuseries’ creator, Gotham Chopra, whom Brady had invited along for several of his offseason trips, made a prescient observation.

“It’s a completely different attitude coming into this season,” Chopra said then. “There’s a defiance almost, and I think this is something that’s fairly typical of Tom, at least as long as I have known him, and also just athletes in general, which is he’s kind of found an edge. And that edge is, coming off of last season, maybe it’s the loss, maybe it’s the age, maybe it’s just all the drama and stuff like that. He's like, ‘Oh, people don’t think I can do this now? Watch me.’ ”

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That’s certainly been the vibe of this season, and especially the playoffs. The morning after beating the Chargers in the divisional round, Brady shared a workout video set to the tune of 50 Cent’s “Many Men (Wish Death)”; after beating the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game, he posted a video that could best be described as a pimp walk to the team buses with Rob Gronkowski; and at the team’s sendoff pep rally in Foxborough, he led a “We’re still here!” chant, followed by an exaggerated microphone drop that was more like a hurl.

On media night, Brady mentioned that he already has his upcoming offseason planned out following Super Bowl LIII. He didn’t share what those plans were, and his hour-long session ended before there was a chance to ask a follow-up. Whatever he decides, who would bet against him being back here next year?

• Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

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