Friday August 14th, 2009

The rest of the league was no doubt looking on, and you have to figure they were thinking roughly the same thing I was thinking Thursday night as I watched the most scrutinized first half of an NFL preseason game in recent memory:

SOB. As in Same Old Brady. As in, uh, oh, rest of the AFC.

Okay, you can finally exhale for the first time in about 11 months, Patriots Nation. Let it all out. The knee looks fine. And so does Tom Brady. New England's No. 12 didn't look like just another starting quarterback playing in his first action of the preseason at Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field. For the most part, he looked positively Brady-esque.

With apologies to Denny Green, he was who we thought he was. Still. And given the level of angst and anticipation that accompanied Brady's long road to recovery from last year's season-ending knee surgery, his 2009 debut rates as more than enough cause for celebration in New England.

Brady, playing longer than any of us expected, wasn't perfect against the Eagles in his first playing time since Kansas City safety Bernard Pollard became a household name last September. But there were times when he didn't look like he missed a day of football last season, let alone 99.3 percent of the entire year. In his four first-half possessions, he drove the Patriots to a pair of touchdowns, finishing a solid 10-of-15, for 100 yards, two touchdown passes and one interception. New England went four-and-out, touchdown, interception, touchdown in the first half, grabbing an impressive 21-6 lead on the Eagles.

Brady looked like he was moving well enough in the pocket on that repaired left knee of his, and just to prove it, he even scooted three yards for a key first down on third-and-1 from the Patriots 34, keeping New England's final scoring drive of the first half alive.

If you were wondering whether his accuracy would suddenly desert him over the long months of inactivity, you walked away convinced otherwise. Brady threw that one interception to Eagles cornerback Sheldon Brown on a deep ball to Moss, but he still wound up completing 66.7 percent of his passes. So what else is new?

And he also proved that his right arm is still capable of testing a defense deep, with Moss (3 catches for 54 yards), as always, his favorite downfield target. Only a pass interference call against Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel on the Patriots second drive kept Brady and Moss from hooking up on a 46-yard bomb.

Brady led the Patriots to nine first downs in the first half, six of them through the air. New England was four of five on third downs, and cashed in with touchdowns on both of red zone possessions. And maybe the best news of all? Brady wasn't sacked, and best I could tell, barely got breathed on by the Philly rush.

Oh, and don't overlook this fact: The Patriots, surprise, surprise, are pretty good again with Brady under center. When it was first string against first string in the first half, the team to beat in the AFC put a pretty good whipping on a team that many believe will be the team to beat in the NFC. Could we be in for a rematch -- and another Patriots-Eagles Super Bowl -- in Miami next February?

The bottom line after one week of the preseason schedule? Brady is Brady, the Patriots are stinking loaded (Julian Edelman is a big-play threat?), and the left knee that both bent and broke last year is back in first-class form. And all of New England is resting a little easier tonight.

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