Yet as his team limped to an 8-9 record, barely making the wild-card round of the playoffs, there were games in which he missed target after target, looked lost, and in which a hungrier opponent from the jump poleaxed his team, and him. There he lay at 45, struggling beneath a pile of defensive linemen.

Watching, it was hard not to wonder: Why keep playing?

Why, Tom, after seven Super Bowls and three league M.V.P. awards and a narrative for the ages: the skinny, slow, middle-round draft pick climbs his way to a place on football’s Mount Rushmore, sits atop it, stays and stays. Why keep going?

Brady and the Buccaneers’ season ended badly: a 31-14 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

And yet … it was only two years ago when he won a Super Bowl, beating Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. The safe bet was that Brady would keep going, maybe even try to play until he was 50, perhaps for the San Francisco 49ers, his beloved boyhood team.

The fact that being on an N.F.L. team at a half-century years old seemed possible — that’s surely another sign of his greatness.

What memories he provided. There are far too many to recount here fully, but several stand out. Brady, in 2002, his second season and first as a starter, leading the Patriots over the St. Louis Rams in the Super Bowl on the wing of a last-minute drive.

Brady — or should we have called him Tom Houdini? — in the Super Bowl of 2017, forging an escape for the ages, overcoming a third-quarter score of 28-3 on the way to beating the Atlanta Falcons, 34-28.

Kurt Streeter

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