A recap of a season opener that seemed to turn every prediction and expectation on its head--
Tom Brady in the throwback uniform means it now requires that much less imagination to picture him coming in to Super Bowl XX instead of Tony Eason.
And while he ultimately put in a performance far beyond Eason's in this game, it seemed the spirit of the ham-handed signal-caller from back in the day was haunting Brady in the early going on the Monday Night big stage.
In fairness, it wasn't just Brady that seemed overtaken by the spirit of the hapless Patsies of yore. Right away in the first quarter, I watched Wes Welker fumble passes (seriously, when does that EVER happen?), Brady fail to complete timing passes in the flat to Kevin Faulk, and Stephen Gostkowski miss a field goal.
In the second quarter, I watched Brady get picked off and taken to the house just when they'd tied the score and earned a key defensive stop, then be frustrated at the end zone on his next drive, settling for a field goal and a four-point deficit at the half.
Jerod Mayo left the game with about four minutes to go in the first quarter, with what was reportedly a hyperextension of his right knee. He walked a few steps after it happened and left the field under his own power and Peter King reported on Twitter that it "didn't look horrible," but I was having flashbacks to last year nonetheless.Mayo is the key to the new-look Patriots defense, and I hope we won't be robbed of seeing him play this year.
Bright spots from these messy two quarters: Laurence Maroney looked good on a few of his runs, including a kickoff return to open the first quarter. Lee Bodden defied an attempt at a long pass by the Bills after the Patriots tied the score in the second quarter with sheer barbarity, sending the ball tumbling out of Lee Evans' hands. At least twice, Brady hit Randy Moss for long gains; Moss continues to defy logic with how open he gets.
The offense continued to stall at times as the second half opened. Maroney achieved a first down on a nice second effort on the opening Patriots drive of the third quarter, but was caught out in the backfield for a loss on the next play. Most of the game had felt like that so far --a few steps forward, a few more back.
Another nice long completion to Randy Moss a few plays later had the ESPN broadcast booth awash in drool, but another attempt to Moss on 3rd and 2 was blown wide open by the Bills, a ball flew in and out of Welker's still inexplicably buttery hands on an attempted fourth down conversion on the play, and that was the end of that.
In the end, though, the defense is going to take the real criticism after this one; on the next series, TO made his first reception of the night, apparently having been missed streaking toward the middle of the field by the Patriots secondary. The defense then pushed the Bills back to a third and 20 on a sack of Lee Evans, only to let the Bills back within field goal range - and almost to a first down! - on the next snap. 17-10 Buffalo.
After that, Fred Jackson seemed to pick up where he left off in last year's Wind Bowl, running all over the Patriots, "like he knows he's out of a job in 3 weeks, [taking] too many hits," as Will Carroll tweeted. A roughing-the-passer call on Adalius Thomas set up another Bills touchdown, and suddenly the Patriots were looking at two scores back with a little more than five minutes left to play.
Brady fumed on the sidelines. I fumed on my couch. This was not how the triumphant return was supposed to go.
And that's when he seemed to really come alive.
A few minutes after Brady stood frozen in rage watching the Bills celebrate another score, he fired a whistling bullet down the middle of the field for a touchdown to Benjamin Watson.
I'm torn, even in retrospect, between wanting to say I had confidence in Brady the whole time, and the plain fact that I really didn't, if only because it's not realistic to think the pieces will fall into place every time. We can't just take the comebacks for granted--we can't just expect them.
But then came a stroke of luck. Brandon Meriweather stripped the ball on the next kickoff, and none other than Stephen Gostkowski recovered it in Buffalo territory.
Brady's eyes were snapping in the huddle as he took the field again. His jaw was set, but not clenched, in that way he has of looking both relaxed and honed in at moments like this.
The final drive was quick and businesslike--Brady completed to Moss, then Welker for a first down, and then Watson again in the back of the end zone.
Zip, zip, zip. Ball game.
Dick Jauron made this face:
Gillette Stadium went nuts.
And like it or not, America, the legend of Brady grows.