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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

Brady: uneven game, odd season

FOXBOROUGH -- Could be a bursa sac. Could be tendinitis. Could be bone chips. Could be gout, bubonic plague, or pharyngitis of the elbow for all we know. But clearly Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has a wounded right wing.

"Honestly, it's nothing," Brady said after yesterday's uneven performance in a 23-16 win over the Jets. "Man, it's my throwing elbow. Keep asking. You'll keep getting that same answer."

It's been a strange year for Brady thus far. In Week 1, he was completely outplayed by Drew Bledsoe and we know that comes with a lot of personal baggage. In Week 2, Brady was far better than the vaunted Donovan McNabb. Yesterday, he was outgunned by Vinny Testaverde, but still came away as the winning quarterback.

Want proof that statistics lie? Testaverde completed 10 more passes than Brady. Testaverde's fourth-quarter touchdown pass put him ahead of Johnny Unitas in career passing yardage. As relevant stats go, that's like the one about a man who drowns in 3 feet of water. We know what our eyes tell us and Vinny is no Johnny U.

The Patriots won yesterday because Brady gave them a quality start. He kept the ball in the ballpark and let the Jets get themselves out. He did not lose the game and these days that's good enough. But it should be noted that the winning points were supplied by rookie defensive back Asante Samuel, who picked off a Testaverde pass (color blind Vinny always has had trouble in this area) and took it 55 yards to the house for a 23-9 fourth-quarter lead. It was fitting that a young man wearing the late Ron Burton's No. 22 would make the biggest play on the first Sunday after the death of the first, and most saintly, Patriot.

Jet games in Foxborough are almost always memorable. New York had won five straight here since losing Tuna Bowl I in 1997. One of those victories was two years ago when Mo Lewis made the hit on Bledsoe that changed the course of Patriots history. Last year the Jets thrashed New England here in December. Yesterday was Brady's chance to beat the Jets for the first time at home.

He got the job done, but not without some rough moments.

Twice in the first half Brady got the Patriots inside the 10-yard line but failed to score a touchdown. On one occasion, he badly overthrew a wide-open Troy Brown in the end zone. On another occasion, he was sacked and had his helmet ripped off by Dewayne Robertson. Brady sat on the bench, shaking his right elbow after the play.

On the Patriots' next series, he took a snap in shotgun formation, dropped back, then fumbled ("the ball just went the wrong way") as he started to draw his hand back to throw. He recovered his own fumble on the New England 3-yard line.

In the second half, Chester McGlockton, another Jet behemoth, got his right paw on the football just as Brady was at the end of his windup, ready to snap the ball forward. The Jets recovered the fumble. Patriots coach Bill Belichick dropped the beanbag on the play, hoping to erase the fumble and turn it into an incomplete pass, but Walt Coleman was not on hand. The officials on the scene weren't biting this time.

Brady was sacked five times for minus-34 yards, four times in the first half. He completed only 15 of 25 passes for 181 yards and did not throw a touchdown pass or an interception. He did, however, run for a touchdown.

He was booed midway through the final period after throwing three straight incompletions, the last of which was almost intercepted.

"That was just about execution," he said. "The plays were there to be made. We just didn't do it."

But there were plenty of highlights, too. Brady made some good throws and carved up the Jets with a seven-play, 73-yard drive capped by his touchdown.

"I kind of pumped and fell into the end zone," he said with a smile. "It wasn't a very graceful run . . . I don't like running a whole lot."

Asked to characterize the play of his QB, Belichick said, "I thought he made some big plays when we needed 'em. I'm sure there's a couple [of throws] he'd like back. We missed a couple of opportunities."

The biggest miss was the first-quarter pass that sailed over Brown's head in the end zone. New England settled for a field goal.

"Just a bad throw," said Brady. "I had him open. I tried to be too cute with the throw and threw it too high."

Brady's dad greeted him at his locker when he came out of the shower and the two examined the quarterback's right elbow after their initial greeting.

Injuries are becoming a big story with this Patriots team. They've lost a high-profile defensive player to a bone break in each of the first three games. Some of it's bad luck. Some of it's just football.

It's difficult to say how much Brady's elbow is affecting his performance. He won't make excuses. He knows many of his teammates are playing in more pain.

The coach certainly isn't going to give anything away. Asked if Brady's elbow is OK, Belichick said, "I don't think he missed any time. Yes."

There you have it. Brady is OK. He didn't miss any time.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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