Tom Brady's knee injury is in the past. His next contract is in the future.
For now, the NFL's 2007 MVP is focusing on something more important: Correcting mistakes like the one that got him flattened by a 272-pound defensive end.
"If I make a poor play, I never have thought, 'Well, I wonder if it was because of my injury last year?"' Brady said Tuesday. "I think, 'Well, I've got to make improvements,' just like every year where things don't really go your way."
They didn't go his way last Thursday night as the New England Patriots suffered a 7-6 preseason loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
Brady called a draw play that required right tackle Nick Kaczur to let Cincinnati left end Robert Geathers rush at Brady while Fred Taylor ran up the middle with the ball. But Brady held the ball to pass and Geathers slammed him hard to the ground on his left side.
"There are times when you have poor communication and sometimes you don't notice it because the ball doesn't go that way," Brady said. "I think in a situation like the other night, you really do notice it. Within our team, we know what happens. Those are the corrections you've got to make."
Midway through the first quarter of last year's regular-season opener, Brady's year ended when he suffered torn left knee ligaments on a hit by Kansas City's Bernard Pollard.
But Brady has participated in every practice and walkthrough in training camp and played a total of three quarters in the first two exhibition games. He could get his most playing time of the preseason Friday night at the Washington Redskins.
The old job feels the same.
"It feels pretty normal," Brady said. "You don't all of a sudden forget how to play the game. Brett Favre just came out of retirement and he starts three days later."
For seven seasons, Brady's presence was automatic. He started 128 straight games -- including the playoffs -- from the third game of 2001 through the first game in 2008.
He's had two contracts -- his first as a sixth-round draft choice in 2000 and a six-year, $60 million deal as a two-time Super Bowl MVP in 2005 that expires after the 2010 season.
Two other quarterbacks, Eli Manning and Philip Rivers, recently surpassed that.
"I've thought about it and I just want to go out and have a great year," he said. "Believe me, nothing is guaranteed. That's what I learned last year. You don't know if you'll be out here next week or the following week so I think the most important thing is to focus on this week and the more prepared you are for this week, the less chance you'll have to play poorly or to have an injury."
Rivers signed a six-year, $93 million contract extension through 2015 with the San Diego Chargers on Monday. He's guaranteed $38 million.
Ten days earlier, Manning signed a six-year, $97 million extension with $35 million guaranteed with the New York Giants, making him the NFL's highest paid player.
"It's great for those players. They've worked hard to deserve those," Brady said. "Any time a guy gets a contract, it's a pretty cool thing. I've had that experience a couple times."
His sights may be set on this season, but what if the Patriots approach him about an extension? Would he wait until after the season to discuss that?
"If someone wants to pay you more money? I mean, I think we're all probably underpaid, don't you think?" he joked. "I mean, we all wish we were paid more, but that's not the reality. We're focused on this. I'm focused on this year."
A foot problem limited Brady last summer and he didn't play in any of the four 2008 exhibition games before hurting his knee. He's had plenty of activity getting ready for this season after surgery and rehabilitation.
"I know how comfortable I am" on the field, Brady said. "I don't lose sleep over it."
What about fans and reporters who still wonder if his knee will hold up?
He takes that scrutiny in stride.
"There's not much that bothers me these days. I've got pretty thick skin," said Brady, the husband of supermodel Gisele Bundchen and a frequent target of paparazzi. "It's just part of being in this position and I totally understand why it would be an issue. But for me, it's really not."
He even said after not getting hit in his first exhibition game that he wished it had happened.
"I wouldn't take that too literally," Brady said. "Hopefully, (it is) not under those circumstances where I'm making poor calls or anything like that, but part of playing quarterback is taking those hits and getting up.
"We're trying, working hard so that doesn't become an issue. But ones that we can prevent -- like the other night -- I'd certainly like to prevent those."
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)