Brady, Patriots Come Back to Stun Buffalo in Season Opener

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 15, 2009

FOXBOROUGH, Mass., Sept. 14 -- Tom Brady's return from last season's knee injury wasn't quite seamless. The three-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown, and he and the New England Patriots faced a late 11-point deficit against the Buffalo Bills.

But then Brady summoned the old magic, throwing a pair of touchdown passes to tight end Benjamin Watson as the Patriots rallied to beat the Bills, 25-24, in dramatic fashion in their season opener Monday night. "That's not exactly how you draw them up," Patriots Coach Bill Belichick said. "But we'll take the result."

Brady and Watson teamed for touchdowns of 18 yards with 2 minutes 6 seconds to play and 16 yards with 50 seconds left. In between, the Bills' Leodis McKelvin lost a fumble on a kickoff.

The Bills had led 24-13 on a touchdown pass from quarterback Trent Edwards to tailback Fred Jackson with just more than 5 1/2 minutes remaining.

"We didn't come to play a close game," Bills Coach Dick Jauron said. "We came to win a game. We're just disappointed."

Brady completed 39 of 53 passes for 378 yards. Wide receiver Randy Moss had 12 catches for 141 yards, and fellow wideout Wes Welker had a dozen catches for 93 yards. Tailback Fred Taylor ran for a touchdown in his first game with the Patriots, and kicker Stephen Gostkowski connected on a pair of field goals and made the recovery on McKelvin's fumbled kickoff.

"We made enough plays in the end," Brady said. "We're gonna learn from it, and we're excited to win. . . . I felt good all night. We were just off in the first half."

The Bills lost despite getting two touchdown passes by Edwards and defensive end Aaron Schobel's second-quarter touchdown on a return of an interception. Wide receiver Terrell Owens had two catches for 46 yards in his Bills debut, and refused to speak to reporters afterward.

There was plenty of anticipation for this game, with Brady coming back from the knee injury that cost him almost all of last season. He was hurt in the season's opening game and underwent reconstructive surgery, then had to overcome an ensuing staph infection.

Brady's knee seemed to hold up fine during the preseason but he hurt his right shoulder when he was slammed to the turf by Washington Redskins defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth in the Patriots' third preseason game. Brady sat out the preseason finale.

The question was whether Brady and Patriots could pick up right where they left off in the 2007 season. Brady, Moss and the rest of the New England offense rewrote portions of the NFL's record book that season, and the Patriots took an unbeaten record into the Super Bowl before being upset by the New York Giants. Minus Brady last season, the Patriots still were good, going 11-5 with Matt Cassel at quarterback. But they weren't dominant. They missed the playoffs, and got rid of their safety net by trading Cassel to the Kansas City Chiefs.

The early returns Monday seemed a bit unsettling to those gathered at Gillette Stadium. New England's first three drives ended with a failed fourth-down try, a missed field goal and a third-down sack by Schobel. By then, the Bills had a 7-0 lead.

The Buffalo offense had plenty of issues entering this game. The Bills had fired their offensive coordinator, Turk Schonert, and released their would-be starter at left tackle, Langston Walker, during the preseason. Owens had described the club's no-huddle offensive approach in less-than-admiring terms, and the Bills were playing Monday without suspended tailback Marshawn Lynch.

But Edwards got the Bills in the end zone first, flipping an 11-yard touchdown pass to rookie tight end Shawn Nelson in the first quarter. The Patriots finally got going on their fourth possession and got even in the second quarter, with Taylor scoring a one-yard touchdown.

The Patriots got the ball back after a punt and Brady tried to throw a first-down screen pass to tailback Sammy Morris. But Schobel made a leaping, one-handed interception, then raced 26 yards to the end zone. The Patriots regrouped and moved to the Bills 2-yard line in the final seconds of the first half but had to settle for Gostkowski's 20-yard field goal and trailed 14-10 at intermission.

The frustrations continued for the Patriots in the third quarter when Brady threw incomplete toward Welker on a fourth-and-two gamble from the Bills 36. Owens finally got his first catch late in the third quarter en route to a Bills' field goal, a 40-yarder by place kicker Rian Lindell, that upped their lead to 17-10.

The Patriots responded with a 28-yard field goal by Gostkowski. But the Bills, aided by a roughing-the-passer penalty on linebacker Adalius Thomas, had a reply, with Edwards finding Jackson for a 10-yard touchdown. The outcome seemed all but sealed, but Brady apparently sensed otherwise.

"When Tom came in that huddle with 5:32 left and said, 'Come on guys, let's get it going. We're gonna win this game,' " Moss said, "everything was positive from there."

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