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Brady, Patriots Ready to Play for Keeps

Carolina Panthers v New England Patriots

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is ready for the 2014 season.

Jimmy Garoppolo is ready to be his backup.

Not that Brady had anything to play for Friday night. He could have thrown 10 interceptions and it would have carried less impact in New England than Jackie Bradley Jr.'s bat in August.

Both of Brady's initial drives in New England's 30-7 preseason win over the Carolina Panthers at Gillette Stadium sputtered quickly and ended with punts.

Ryan Mallett stepped in for Brady with 5:33 left in the first quarter of the most-important-yet-still-meaningless preseason game of the year. It sent a quick jolt through just about everyone in the Patriots community.

Somewhere, that guy who thinks Brady is washed up, that guy who thinks Brady is not longer an elite QB, that guy who genuinely believes Brady lost his mojo after he met and married Gisele, that guy, that idiot, smiled.

Alas, the last gasp of the Ryan Mallett Clipboard Toting Era in Foxborough quickly fizzled. After one tepid possession and a field goal, Brady was back.

Tommy Franchise was much more effective and calm after replacing Mallett.

Yes, on this night in August of 2014 - Tom Freaking Brady actually replaced Freaking Ryan Mallett.

We've seen everything now (except a fourth Super Bowl ring).

The Patriots were actually trying on Friday night and it showed. On his first post-Mallett possession, Brady engineered a 12-play, 91-yard drive that consumed 7:24 of clock. It ended when No. 12 flipped a screen pass to a wide-open Shane Vereen about 5 yards downfield that Vereen turned it into a 40-yard touchdown. Interestingly, the Patriots did not have a tight end on the field when Vereen scored.

In another signal that Brady's all-in these days, he converted on a 3rd-and-1 with a sneak during that first touchdown drive. Perhaps that was a nod to Peyton Manning, who last week ran for 1 yard against San Francisco. Last season, Manning finished with -31 yards rushing, while Brady had 18. Another example of Brady's dominance over his long-time rival.

Brady's next drive was prolonged with he got Vereen open past the line of scrimmage for another conversion on a key 3rd-and-8. Stephen Gostkowski hammered a 60-yard field goal to put the Patriots first-teamers up 13-0 at the half.

Brady's first-half numbers were reminiscent of what you woul see during a regular season game against Buffalo: 13 for 17, 140 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs, a few Brady death stares and a diving first-down conversion.

The first drive of the second half was even better for us Bradyphiles. He connected with Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman and Vereen on a nearly flawless eight-play, 80-yard drive. Brady hit Edelman for consecutive plays of 18 and 35 yards, eventually setting up Vereen's horizontal, six-yard touchdown run. Vereen was originally ruled out of bounds on the play, but eventually Bill Belichick threw the big red flag.

Never doubt the Hoodie, unless he's coaching against the Giants in the Super Bowl.

Upon further review, the play was ruled a touchdown and Brady appeared at least 100 percent ready for this season. He pretty much toyed with the Panthers' starters, close to the same team that tortured him and the Patriots in a gut-wrenching 24-20 loss last season that ended with a Brady interception in the end zone.

On that game-ending play, the officials threw a flag for pass interference on Carolina and former BC linebacker Luke Kuechly. Ol' Luke had both arms wrapped around tight end Rob Gronkowski. But that flag was picked up and waived off after the officials ruled the ball would have been untouchable.

That may be the last time in Patriots' history a pass-interference flag is actually picked UP. There was flurry of yellow last night. The Patriots benefitted hugely from a dubious illegal-use-of-hands penalty on what would have been (at least in 2013) a failed 3rd-and-15 attempt on Brady's final scoring drive.

Given the way those pass interference and defensive holding flags will fly this season, Brady, Manning and Drew Brees may combine for 50,000 penalty-aided yards passing and 700 touchdowns.

Or something pretty damn close.

The first-team Patriots offensive that moved so effortlessly after Brady's initial drives did not have Gronk, who remains in cold storage until at least Week 1.

Vegas, take notes. The over may never be high enough this season.

Brady's Biological Clock has been, and will continue to be, the underlying theme with this team for the foreseeable future. Yes, Brady is 37. His days with the Patriots are numbered. He's probably down to his last 1,500 or so. While Brady remains so much in the present, he's been around long enough to where we can put his career in historic perspective. When he rallied the Patriots to beat the Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII, Carolina QB Cam Newton was a freshman in high school.

Garoppolo and Mallett continued their cute little tussle for the right to carry the train of Brady's cape. This was perhaps Mallett's last chance to demonstrate to the Patriots that he's worthy of retaining his place as the team's No. 2 quarterback. His lone first-half drive was aided by another one of those brand new defensive holding penalties. It ended with a Gostkowski 47-yard field goal. Garoppolo's first drive went much smoother but carried the same result. His second drive was terrific, ending with an 11-yard TD pass to Canton-bound Taylor McCuller.

Whether his backup is an untalented Mallett or an untested and underdeveloped Garoppolo, it's still all about Brady. Any citizen or resident alien of Patriots Nation knows that.

Relying on a rookie to lead this team is a nightmare scenario for another day. It's still August. Brady's preseason is over, even though the Patriots still have one more game to determine their final two or three roster spots.

For the rest of us, there's nothing but time, some college football and Rusney Castillo's debut to anticipate between now and Week 1.

But Tom Brady is definitely ready.

The rest of us . . .


The OBF column is written by award-winning journalist and Bay State native Bill Speros. Hit up Bill on his Obnoxious Boston Fan Facebook page, on Twitter @realOBF or at his
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. Thanks always for reading.

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