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Tom Brady picks up 7th championship and he’s not going away anytime soon

Even at 43, Brady is still close enough to the top of his game that he’ll be a problem for the Bears and anyone else in the NFC for at least another year — maybe more.

Tom Brady played in his 10th Super Bowl and already has the league record for rings.
Tom Brady played in his 10th Super Bowl and already has the league record for rings.
Ben Liebenberg via AP

The end was supposed to be years ago for Tom Brady — even the greatest coach in NFL history thought so, as Bill Belichick and the Patriots made plans to move on without him.

But in reality, it was Brady who moved on. The Patriots stayed stuck.

Brady made that point before he ever took the field for Super Bowl LV, and the Buccaneers’ 31-9 win over the Chiefs hammered it home. At 43, he sprinted onto the field before the game and screamed, “Let’s go,” with all the vigor of a man half his age.

That was just the start of the show.

Brady was ultra-efficient, completing 21 of 29 passes for 201 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions for a 125.8 passer rating. It was the ninth-highest rating in Super Bowl history, and Brady won game MVP honors for the fifth time. No one else has more than three.

It was the most impressive and, to Brady, most important championship of his career. Not only did he end all doubts about whether he could win without Belichick, but he further fortified a legacy that Patrick Mahomes will spend the rest of his career chasing.

“I’m not making any comparisons,” Brady said when asked if this championship meant more than the other six.

Sure.

Mahomes should never be counted out — except, it seems, when Brady has him on the ropes going into the fourth quarter — but seven rings is daunting.

Brady has now won one every three years. If Mahomes matches that pace, and he’s the only player in the NFL who can even dream of it, he’ll have to play until 43 to catch him.

Brady has weathered his inevitable — we thought — decline better than any quarterback in NFL history, and nobody smirked when he mused about playing past 45. In fact, in places like Green Bay, Los Angeles and Chicago, they probably winced. They’d be crazy to bet that this was his last Super Bowl.

“[I’m] coming back,” Brady said. “You guys know that.”

At 11-5 in their first year together, Brady and the Bucs are just getting started. Free agents were already trying to claw their way to Tampa Bay last offseason, and they’ll be even more incentivized coming off a Super Bowl run.

This is nothing like Peyton Manning just trying to survive his final season with the Broncos at 39 or the Saints doing everything to mask that 41-year-old Drew Brees was out of gas this season. This is not someone putting the final touches on his career.

There’s no smoke and mirrors with Brady. He’s still got it.

Why would anyone walk away after the season he just had? Brady put up some of the best numbers of his career: a 102.2 passer rating (sixth out of 21 seasons), 4,633 yards (fifth), 65.7% completions (sixth) and 40 touchdowns (second). Other than the completion percentage, the Bears have never had a quarterback hit those marks.

The only time this season when Brady even remotely looked too old was when he forgot what down it was at the end of a 20-19 loss to the Bears in October.

The last decade of Brady’s career, starting at 34, would have been Hall of Fame-worthy on its own. He played 156 of 160 games, missing time only for an NFL suspension, and made eight Pro Bowls while winning three Super Bowls. He averaged 32 touchdowns and nine interceptions in that span.

Not only have the Bears never had a quarterback put together that kind of season, they’ll have an extremely tough time finding one who can do it in 2021 to give them any shot of overtaking the defending champs — a team they’re slated to visit next season, by the way.

Carson Wentz, after leading the NFL in interceptions, isn’t going to put them on Brady’s level. Ryan Fitzpatrick, looking for his ninth team in 17 seasons, doesn’t get them there. Sticking with Mitch Trubisky or Nick Foles — or the ultimate disappointment of both — isn’t the answer, either.

Meanwhile, Brady has everything he needs to push for at least one more ring. The Bucs had one of the best offensive lines in the game and a star-studded group of skill players.

Brady won’t be hobbling around at that point, hoping no one notices all he can throw are screen passes and dump-offs. The way he played Sunday, and for the totality of the season, showed he’s well equipped to keep fighting off retirement.

He’ll still be a problem for the Bears, and the rest of the NFL, for at least another year.