Monday, September 14, 2009

With help from Bills, Brady leads comeback win

by Jeff Goodman

FOXBORO, Mass. - Eventually, it became vintage Tom Brady — and vintage Buffalo Bills.

After nearly 55 minutes of Brady looking nothing like the Brady of old and the Bills on the verge of finally coming out on top against the Patriots, reality struck.

Brady, in his first meaningful game action in more than a year, walked into the huddle Monday night with 5:25 remaining and New England down 24-13.

"He came off the sideline," Patriots receiver Randy Moss said. "And said, 'We're going to win the game.' "

It didn't matter that Brady had struggled — no matter what the numbers say — for the first three-plus quarters.

It didn't matter that there was a year-long layoff after the knee injury he sustained last Sept. 7 midway through the first quarter against the Kansas City Chiefs in the season opener.

Brady finds a way to win — and he did it yet again.

After the 25-24 victory, he's now a remarkable 102-27 in his career.

"It's good to be on the other side of it," said a laughing New England running back Fred Taylor, who came over in the offseason after spending his entire 11-year career with the Jacksonville Jaguars. "Much better."

Whether it was rust or, as Moss suggested, nerves, Brady and the Patriots struggled to score in the first half. Buffalo led 14-10 entering the third quarter.

"It had nothing to do with his layoff," Moss said. "I think it was just first-game jitters."

There were dropped balls by Moss, Wes Welker and Ben Watson — and numerous inaccurate passes by Brady.

Nerves might have played a part, but so did 12 months away from a game that counted.

But luckily for Brady, 32, it was the star-crossed Bills on the other side of the field — a team that had lost seven straight overall to their division rival and 11 consecutive games at Gillette Stadium.

Brady needed some help to make his comeback a success — and he got it from Buffalo kickoff returner Leodis McKelvin, who coughed up the ball immediately after Brady led New England to an 11-play, 81-yard drive that cut the deficit to 24-19 with 2:06 left.

McKelvin opted to take the ball out of the end zone, was hit by Brandon Meriweather and stripped by Pierre Woods and New England kicker Stephen Gostkowski somehow ended up with the ball.

Then Brady went to work — again.

In the game's waning moments, you couldn't tell the difference between the Brady who had been considered the NFL's premier player before the knee injury and the one who led New England to its final two touchdown drives.

He had that swagger back.

Watson hauled in a perfect pass from Brady to bring the Patriots within a score — and then made a spectacular catch near the back of the end zone with 50 seconds remaining.

It was the 29th time Brady has led New England to a win after a fourth-quarter deficit or tie.

"I felt good all night," Brady said. "We were just off in the first half."

Brady's numbers were deceiving: 39 of 53 for 378 yards with two touchdowns and an interception (which DE Aaron Schobel returned for a TD). Sometimes the numbers do lie.

"I'm just glad it's over," Brady said. "We got a win and we'll take it."

If Brady's return to the NFL was the main event, Terrell Owens' debut for the Bills was the undercard. Owens saw the ball thrown his way just once in the first half, finished with two catches for 46 yards and was virtually a non-factor for most of the game.

T.O. wound up the loser while Brady was the winner.

No surprise there.

However, despite the late-game heroics, it'll take some time and patience for Brady to shake off the rust from a year's hiatus. He didn't take a shot deep down the field the entire game, and his feel in the pocket wasn't what it has been over his career.

But luckily for Brady, the NFL schedule-makers were kind and handed him the Bills on the evening of his return.

"I don't think it was what people expected to see," Moss said of the game.

That depends whether they watched the first 55 or the final five minutes.


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