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Dan Shaughnessy

QB started slow, but finished fast

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / September 15, 2009

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FOXBOROUGH - It was as if he never left.

Tom Brady last night threw two touchdown passes in the final 2:06 to rally the Boston Patriots from an 11-point deficit for a 25-24 opening night win at the Razor.

Knee? No problem. Shoulder? No problem. Brady completed 39 of 53 passes for 378 yards. In the second half he was 26 of 31. On the final drive, he was 3 for 3, needing only 66 seconds to take the Patriots into the end zone and the victory column. It was the best comeback concert since Elvis played the International in Vegas in 1969.

Things looked bleak with 5:32 left to play and Buffalo leading, 24-13. At that juncture, Brady had zero TD passes and one interception, which went for a touchdown. Fans weren’t chanting “We Want Cassel!’’, but this was not what everybody had in mind when the 2009 schedule was released last spring. Some Patriots fans actually went for the exits. Big mistake. Elvis was still in the building.

In just over three minutes Brady drove the Patriots 81 yards, connecting with Ben Watson for an 18-yard TD over the middle to cut the lead to 24-19.

Then came a bonehead kickoff return and fumble by Buffalo’s Leodis McKelvin. That was it for the Bills. Brady made mincemeat of Buffalo again in the final drive.

Pass to Randy Moss.

Pass to Wes Welker.

Pass to Watson. Great catch.

Touchdown.

Victory.

“It was an emotional game,’’ Brady said. “We had three timeouts with 5:34 left and I figured if we could take it down the field before the two-minute warning, it would put a lot of pressure on them. We’ve played pretty good situational football here for a long time.’’

Yes they have.

Brady hadn’t played in a game that mattered in 53 weeks. He hadn’t played in the fourth quarter of a real game since a little event we know as Super Bowl XLII back in February of 2008.

Since history was derailed in Glendale, Ariz., Brady had gotten married, announced the upcoming birth of his second child, undergone reconstructive surgery on his left knee, appeared on “Entourage,’’ and been the source of more rumor and speculation than the assembled masses at the Video Music Awards. The only thing he hadn’t done was announce that he’s running for the US Senate . . . and play four quarters of a meaningful football game.

Last night he was back on the Gillette grid, wearing eye black, starring on “Monday Night Football,’’ and reminding us why we care about every step he takes and every breath he makes.

Wearing retro uniform No. 12, including the Pat Patriot helmet made famous by Babe Parilli (He wore No. 15), Brady took charge in his return game. He got off to a slow start, was sacked once, and scrambled once for 9 yards, looking like Tim Wakefield covering first base in Chicago. But most of the time, he shredded the Bills.

“I’m glad we made the plays we made at the end of the game,’’ said coach Bill Belichick. “This was kind of like going back to ’01.’’

Game officials and cheerleaders (think “High School Musical’’) joined in the retro theme, but not Belichick. He wore his New England Patriot gray hoodie with cutoff sleeves - a look that was invented in this century.

(Aside: I wonder if any of Belichick’s young fans think the Buffalo franchise was named for New England’s coach? The Cleveland Browns, after all, were named after Paul Brown. Why not the Buffalo Bills after Bill Belichick?)

Most of the Patriots seemed to be carrying the retro theme too far. For too much of the night, they played like the Patriots of the late 1960s (11-30-1 over three seasons). Made you want to “throw back’’ the first game of this season.

This even included Brady at times. In the first quarter he completed 4 of 8 passes for a puny 29 yards. He was sacked once. Moss and Welker each dropped a pass, but Brady was not sharp. He made a couple of wild pitches, one in the direction of Kevin Faulk, another aimed at Laurence Maroney. The Patriots failed to convert on a fourth and 1 when Maroney was stoned by the Buffalo defense. Where was the old QB sneak, we wondered?

The sloppy stuff continued late in the second. With the score tied, 7-7, Brady executed a play-action fake on first and 10 from his 35, then feathered a soft pass in the direction of Sammy Morris. Bills end Aaron Schobel (Brady Kryptonite) got a paw on the ball, batted it in the air, cradled it, then ran 26 yards for a touchdown.

“Those things really get you behind the eight ball,’’ said Brady. “Sometimes it goes like that. We didn’t play very well in the first half.’’

That’s the way it went until the final 5 1/2 minutes. And when Trent Edwards threw a touchdown pass to Fred Jackson with 5:32 left to make it 24-13, it looked like the game was lost. For sure.

Enter Brady. Stage right. Eighty-one yards in 11 plays over 3:26. Textbook stuff.

“Two-minute drives are always fun for a quarterback,’’ said Brady. “You start getting a really good feel for the coverage. The first drive was a 3 1/2-minute drive so we had some time.’’

The world was back on its axis. It was the old Tom Brady you’ve come to know and love.

“We should have played like that earlier in the game,’’ said Belichick.

“I’m glad it’s over,’’ said Brady. “We’ll take it and move on and learn from it.’’

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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