THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Bob Ryan

Team’s outlook a lot healthier

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By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / August 14, 2009

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PHILADELPHIA - The Boys in Vegas like the Patriots a lot.

“We’ll see you in Miami,’’ is what they’re saying. Sounds good.

They must like what Coach Bill and director of player personnel Nick Caserio have done in the offseason. Fred Taylor. Leigh Bodden. Joey Galloway. Greg Lewis. Chris Baker. Derrick Burgess. Shawn Springs. They don’t even seem to mind the fact that Matt Cassell is now in Kansas City.

Weak humor, right? Sorry. Writers need exhibition season, too.

So, yes, there is another reason for the high expectations for the 2009 New England Patriots.

Tom Brady is back. Last seen taking a snap in NFL competition Sept. 7 of last year, he played four series against the Eagles last night, which is four series more than he did in last year’s exhibition season, when he sat out the whole thing in a carryover from the foot injury that hampered him in Super Bowl XLII.

There was a lot more good than bad. He threw two touchdown passes, both to Baker, an ex-Jet. He threw a bad interception. He sneaked for a first down. He looked calm and confident. He was back doing what he loves, and the Patriots were better off for it.

“There’s no place I’d rather be,’’ he said. “This is the place where I have the most fun.’’

This promises to be far from a humdrum exhibition season for the Patriots, because the truth is that Brady is not the only new player of note. The Patriots have undergone an interesting roster shake-up at some positions, most notably in the secondary, where the search to replace Asante Samuel continues; at running back, where Taylor has been imported as an adjunct to the injury-plagued Laurence Maroney (who has basically been a colossal tease); and at tight end, where Baker has arrived to replace, or at least push, Benjamin Watson, who enters his sixth season as an “athletic’’ partial achiever.

Baker paid an early dividend, catching a 4-yard touchdown pass from Brady on the team’s second possession, and a 9-yard TD pass on the fourth. It seems like a long time since a tight end was a major part of the Patriots’ offense, doesn’t it?

“Obviously, I was pretty excited,’’ Baker said. “I didn’t get to the end zone last year.’’

He got there twice in the first half last night, and the quarterback said the new guy can take all the credit he wants. “He made a couple of challenging reads,’’ Brady declared.

It took Brady a possession to get rolling. Following a Philly three-and-out to start the game, he took his first snap with 13:20 remaining in the first quarter, the ball on the Patriots’ 30. His first completion was a 6-yard quickie to rookie wide receiver Julian Edelman, who would later put a little juice into the Patriots’ evening by returning a Sav Rocca punt 75 yards for a touchdown. Edelman is a seventh-round pick from Kent State, and he got a lot of playing time, both as a wideout and a return man.

Brady’s first drive ended on an incompletion intended for Galloway, but things picked up when he and the Patriots got the ball back with 10:50 left in the opening quarter. Things were almost too easy, as the key play in what would turn out to be six-play, 77-yard touchdown drive was a pass-interference call on - you’ll love this - Samuel, who was covering Randy Moss on a deep pattern up the right sideline. Brady thought he had Moss after a pump fake, but No. 81 dropped the ball, only to receive the welcome news that Samuel had been called for interference that was, to be polite, pretty bogus.

That put the ball at the 18, and five plays later Brady was hooking up with Baker, who was alone in the end zone.

The bummer possession was Brady’s third. He simply underthrew Moss on the left sideline. It did not appear that he stepped fully into the pass, and it definitely did not appear that Moss did his due diligence in trying to prevent the INT, either. He had to know that Sheldon Brown was in position to make the catch, but he offered no resistance. Perhaps he and Brady will be discussing the matter.

The numbers revealed that Brady was 10 for 15 for 100 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. Oh, and one successful 3-yard QB sneak for a first down. But it has never been about gaudy numbers for Brady. It has been about being a winning presence. That was the case before Sept. 7, 2008, and that was the case last night. The score was 21-6, Patriots, at the half, and Brady had a lot to do with that.

Coach Bill was not exactly giddy with excitement. We gave it a shot, but the media was universally unsuccessful in eliciting any kind of rave review from the mentor.

“I can probably say the same thing about every player,’’ Belichick observed. “There were some good things, and some things that we need to sharpen up on. I say that for everybody, including Tom.’’

But Tom Brady, of course, isn’t just anybody, and the fact is that his value to the team transcends that of just about anyone else. Just seeing Tom Brady out there doing some Tom Brady things made this otherwise routine exhibition a worthwhile event.

Remember, Brady has not played a real, honest-to-goodness football game in 11 months. Practice, even a Belichick practice, isn’t enough.

“Practices are scripted,’’ Brady pointed out. “Games are certainly not.’’

So the comeback is officially underway. Well, almost. Brady didn’t really take a hit.

“A little, on the quarterback sneak,’’ he said. “I was saying, ‘I want someone to come and blast me,’ just to get the anxiousness out of the way. Maybe next week.’’

So far, so good. Now let’s hope he was able to get out of bed this morning.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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