Commentary

Brady, Pats squeak by Bills

Originally Published: September 15, 2009
By Howard Bryant | ESPNBoston.com

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The key to fate lies in the seemingly unrelated pieces. Everyone must play their part. Leodis McKelvin caught the kickoff in his own end zone, first deciding not to run out into the field. Then, in a sudden reversal, he burst out of the end zone and collided with fate.

Tom Brady, by his own admission, wasn't even paying attention to the biggest decision of the night, the one that gave him new life. His head was down, his mind somewhere else.

The Buffalo Bills had a surprising lead, 24-19, with only 2:06 left on the clock. Maybe, had McKelvin taken a knee for the touchback, the night stops right there, and not only do the New England Patriots lose Monday night, but the narrative of the evening takes a detour toward the minutiae of how the Patriots' defense lost virtually every important battle of the evening, of how Bills defensive end Aaron Schobel exposed the Patriots' offensive line, of how maybe the young Bills should be taken a bit more seriously.

And that is the difference with the club of which Tom Brady is a charter member, those in the millionth-percentile, the ones for whom the various components converge to produce a performance that 68,756 at Gillette Stadium won't soon forget.

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
AP Photo/Steven SenneTom Brady finished the game with 378 yards passing.
For the first 55 minutes Monday, Brady looked liked a quarterback who hadn't played a regular-season football game in a year and a full 60-minute game since the dreaded 17-14 loss to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl more than 18 months ago.

The short passes sailed high and too hard. He did not attempt a pass over 20 yards until the desperate hour, when the Patriots trailed by 11 points with 5:25 remaining ... and that attempt -- to Joey Galloway -- sailed harmlessly out of bounds, not even close.

The timing was off, as he feared before the game it would be. The potential magic moment -- the fourth-down attempts -- resulted in failure. Even his first touchdown pass of the season -- to embattled tight end Benjamin Watson with 2:06 remaining -- appeared to be little more than cosmetic. The moment, on this night, had passed.

Then McKelvin raced out of the end zone.

Then safety Brandon Meriweather crunched McKelvin's bones with the first hit.

Then Pierre Woods stripped McKelvin of the football -- and the kicker, of all people, Stephen Gostkowski, burrowed into the pile and recovered the ball.

Then Brady heard the roar.

"I wasn't paying attention. I thought we stopped them and then I heard the crowd," Brady said, adding that he and doubt spent no time together. "Not for me. Not at all. I just felt ... if we could get down the field before that two-minute warning, it's going to put a lot of pressure on them."

And by the time the game was over, and the Patriots had won, 25-24, Brady had rewritten an evening of frustration. The inexcusable soft interception-turned-touchdown by Schobel (on a misdirection screen pass) lost all of its importance, as did every moment in the game when Brady looked uncomfortable, the Patriots' offense inefficient.

"We were just off in the first half. The plays that we needed to make, we missed. We had third-down chances that we missed. We had two fourth downs that we missed," Brady said. "We had two chances in the red area and ended up 0-for-2 in the red area. The interception. Those things really get you behind the eight ball with just a couple of seconds left, and sometimes it goes like that, but we came back and won. Being down 11 with five and half minutes left, it's a pretty special victory."

By then, with the lead, for the first time in the game, Brady had looked as he did the last time he touched the ball in that infamous Super Bowl, driving downfield past the Giants for a pressure score. He looked like the Hall of Fame cinch he is.

Two touchdown passes in the final two minutes, six seconds.

Fifty-three pass attempts, 39 completions, 378 yards, 15-fourth quarter points.

Another opponent trying to figure out how it all went wrong.

"I know he had to be nervous, but you can never tell with this guy. Nothing he does is ever a shocker," new addition cornerback Shawn Springs said. "When they say 'hard work pays off,' he symbolizes that. There are no coincidences with Tom Brady."

For his part, Brady was not a singular act as much as he was the headliner. On the penultimate drive, down 11 points, Brady took the ball from the 19 and resisted impatience and greed, completing four straight short passes -- two to 12-catch receiver Wes Welker -- to move the ball into Buffalo territory.

Then he went for the home run to Galloway and missed before hitting Randy Moss (12 catches, 141 yards) and Kevin Faulk short again. The Bills played a two-deep zone as the Patriots marched, and Watson beat safety Bryan Scott along the seam for an 18-yard touchdown.

After the fumble, sensing blood, Brady was perfect on his three attempts, the final one hitting Watson in the seam again, surrounded by three Bills, but with enough space to be open.

"He ran two great routes," Brady said of Watson. "The first was an incredible route, great protection. And the second one was an incredible catch. It was the same play. Same coverage, and the safety really squeezed him on that one, but he recognized it. I told him it was the best catch I'd ever seen him make."

On the final two drives, Brady finished 12-for-14 for 112 yards and two touchdowns.

"A lot of composure. A lot of great throws," Watson said. "A lot of confidence, and he would say we as an offense have a lot to work on. ... In six years, I've seen him do it plenty of times."

And as a dreary evening suddenly came together, coalescing around an illuminant Brady, the Patriots acknowledged that they made their own magic, and it was fun to win. But great teams cannot live on magic alone, which is, after all, an illusion.

"That was as close as it gets," Brady said. "There were a lot of situational plays that we needed at the end that we made, and had we not made them, we probably would not have won."

Howard Bryant is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN the Magazine. He is the author of "Juicing the Game: Drugs, Power and the Fight for the Soul of Major League Baseball" and of "Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston." He can be reached at Howard.Bryant@espn3.com or followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/hbryant42.

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