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The Pats aren't perfect, but they're contenders again with Brady back

For a reason that even Tom Brady couldn't fathom, he entered the huddle in Monday night's season-opener against Buffalo down 11 with 5:32 left in the game and, eerily, predicted the future.

"Get your hats on,'' Brady said. "We're gonna score before the two-minute warning, get the ball back, then we're gonna score again and win this thing!''

New England -- maddeningly at times, ploddingly, using too much of the clock on five- and six-yard pass plays -- drove 81 yards to score on a Brady-to-Ben Watson touchdown pass to get within five ... with 2:06 left. They recovered a fumbled kickoff by the Bills, and scored the winner on another Brady-to-Watson touchdown with 50 seconds left, finishing off a scintillating 25-24 win (RECAP | BOX) in Brady's breathless return to football after 2008 knee surgery.

Brady could play 20 years in the NFL, and this game will go down as one of the five most memorable, Super Bowls included. It'll have to. After sputtering through five scoreless drives in his first seven possessions since shredding his knee on the same field 52 weeks earlier, Brady completed 11 of 13 passes for 112 yards and two touchdowns in five minutes. He targeted Randy Moss 16 times, completing 12. He targeted Wes Welker 16 times, completing 12. For the night, he was 39 of 53 for 378 yards, with the two touchdowns one interception -- a one-pawed miracle catch-and-touchdown-rumble by Bills defensive end Aaron Schobel.

Eerie. All of it. Why, Brady was asked leaving the stadium Monday night, did he say what he said in the huddle with 5:32 left? "I don't know,'' he said with a wide grin. "I just had a feeling.''

"He knew,'' said Moss, euphoric in the New England locker room. "He just knew. I'll prove it to you.'' With that, Moss called to center Dan Koppen. "Hey Kopes! C'mere.'' Koppen walked over. "What'd 12 say in the huddle with what, five-something left in the game?''

Said Koppen: "He said, 'We're gonna score before the two-minutes warning, we're gonna get the ball back somehow, and we're gonna win.'''

"See?'' Moss said. "He knew. When you got a guy like that, speaking like that, leading you like that, there ain't nothing for the other 10 of us to do but shut up and go out and make plays.''

The night left the Patriots with many problems to solve before traveling to play the Jets on a short week Sunday in East Rutherford. The offensive line allowed too many pressures and didn't clear the way for any consistent running game; New England's backs gained 3.2 yards per rush. Until the last Buffalo drive of the game, the Patriots' pass-rush was similarly anemic. Super Bowl favorites? The Patriots will be lucky to be the second wild card, playing the way they played for 55 minutes.

But champions, and teams trying to be champions again, walk into the huddle when it looks darkest and project confidence. That's what Brady did, and that's one reason why Moss and the rest of the players in New England's locker room are so glad to see him back after his knee injury.

"It wasn't pretty,'' said left tackle Matt Light. "But it was fun. And I'm glad we got our guy back.''

On the 81-yard drive, Brady overthrew Joey Galloway down the left side and had one pass dropped by Watson. Other than that, he had completions of four, 13, eight, 10, six, five, 10 and 18 yards before hitting Watson in stride at the goal line with the first touchdown pass. The two-point-conversion pass attempt was picked off in the end zone. Buffalo led, 24-19.

Buffalo's Leodis McKelvin made a controversial move on the ensuing kickoff, catching the ball while backpedaling near the goal line. "I'd do the same thing 100 times again,'' McKelvin said. "I thought the momentum might have taken me in the end zone, but I wasn't sure. So I had to take it out.''

Pierre Woods forced the fumble at about the Buffalo 30. Of all people, kicker Stephen Gostkowski dove into the pile to recover the fumble. Brady went to Moss for six yards, Welker for nine. And Brady threw a ball to Watson's back shoulder near the back of the end zone that Watson caught just before hitting turf. Perfect throw -- thrown only where his man could catch it. And a very good catch.

"I told him it was the best catch I've ever seen him make,'' Brady said.

The two-point conversion attempt was incomplete. Patriots, 25-24. Buffalo had plenty of time to get into field-goal position, 45 seconds and two timeouts left from the Bills' 21. But Derrick Burgess and Tully Banta-Cain got two of New England's four sacks, and the Patriots secured an unlikely -- no, ridiculous --victory.

Time will tell if the Patriots are really good and just escaped with one, or if they're just a member of the NFL pack. The latter's unlikely. This team has flaws, but this team also has Brady.

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