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Quarterback story a sore subject here

By Mike Reiss
Globe Staff / August 29, 2009

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LANDOVER, Md. - In the visiting locker room late last night, all that was left at Tom Brady’s stall were a few green towels, a roll of athletic tape on a shelf, and a pair of scissors on the floor. There was no sign of the Patriots quarterback.

In the third preseason game, which is often called the dress rehearsal because starters play into the second half, Brady remained backstage during the final 30 minutes of action. By the time reporters entered the locker room following the Patriots’ 27-24 victory over the Redskins, he had exited stage left.

And once again, New England football fans hold their breath with Brady and an injury.

This time it was his throwing shoulder, which was jammed to the turf by defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth late in the second quarter. Haynesworth isn’t called Big Al for nothing. He’s 6 feet 6 inches and 350 pounds, a significant force delivered to a right shoulder that Patriots followers have hoped will lead the team back to prominence.

“I didn’t see it, but guys on the sideline said Haynesworth got into him pretty decently,’’ running back Fred Taylor said.

It was Brady’s last play of the night.

He was stretching his shoulder and later chatted with quarterbacks coach Bill O’Brien on the bench at the start of the second half before heading to the locker room, reason to believe Brady’s departure was more cautionary in nature. The team simply announced that Brady had a sore shoulder, and coach Bill Belichick shed no light in his postgame briefing.

The unexpected turn of events served as a reminder of how quickly things can change, not that the New England faithful needed any refresher course after last year’s season opener. Brady had looked ready for prime time last night, connecting with receiver Randy Moss for two touchdowns and looking as comfortable as he’s been in the pocket this preseason.

Yet while the rest of the starters played into the third quarter, it was second-year quarterback Kevin O’Connell under center for the start of the final 30 minutes. O’Connell was told he would enter at some point in the third quarter. It turns out it was earlier than designed.

“I haven’t seen him, but I sure hope he’s all right,’’ O’Connell said of Brady. “He looked real good out there.’’

Without Brady, the Patriots didn’t look as sharp on offense. O’Connell fired two interceptions that were turned into touchdowns on the Redskins’ ensuing drives.

He was hard on himself for the second pick, when he rolled out to his right from the New England 29 and tried to fire a pass to receiver Sam Aiken along the sideline. Cornerback Kevin Barnes undercut the route.

“That’s the one I’d really like to have back, I forced it,’’ he said. “Third down, I was just trying to make a play, and I have to learn from that.’’

The first interception came on a pass up the left side to tight end Chris Baker that was tipped by linebacker Rocky McIntosh and intercepted by safety LaRon Landry.

O’Connell finished 3 of 10 for 18 yards, a performance that won’t generate much confidence among those who consider - based on Brady’s absence for the second half last night - what life might be like if Brady’s shoulder injury is serious. Five-year veteran Andrew Walter played sparingly late in the fourth quarter.

A cause for concern?

Not at this point, as last year serves as a reminder that it’s not always best to judge preseason action. Matt Cassel looked so shaky at times last summer, he appeared in danger of losing a roster spot. Now, he’s a $63 million man in Kansas City.

Mike Reiss can be reached at mreiss@globe.com.

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