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(Monday, September 14th)
Final Score: New England 25, Buffalo 24
Foxboro, MA (Sports Network) - Tom Brady didn't resemble his record-breaking form of two years ago but did conjure up two fourth-quarter touchdown drives in his return to meaningful NFL action, leading the Patriots to a 25-24 comeback win over the Bills in an entertaining season opener between the AFC East rivals.
Though inconsistent for three quarters, Brady hit Benjamin Watson for a pair of TDs in the waning minutes, the last a 16-yard strike occurring with 50 seconds remaining in the game after Buffalo's Leodis McKelvin fumbled a kickoff return.
Brady returned to regular-season action for the first time since suffering reported tears of his left ACL and MCL in the season opener last season. The perennial Pro Bowl QB finished with 378 yards and two scores on 39-of-53 throws, also tossing an interception that was returned for a touchdown by Aaron Schobel.
"There's plenty of things that we need to improve on and learn from," Brady said. "We made enough plays at the end...We're excited we won."
Randy Moss had 12 catches for 141 yards, Wes Welker also hauled in 12 for 93, and Watson had six for 77 and two TDs for New England (1-0), which missed out on the playoffs last year despite an 11-5 record behind backup signal-caller Matt Cassel.
Fred Jackson, starting in place of the suspended Marshawn Lynch, caught five balls for 83 yards and a touchdown and picked up 57 more on 15 carries for Buffalo (1-0), which finished 7-9 last year for the third year in a row. This marked their 12th straight loss to the Patriots.
Trent Edwards threw for two scores and 212 yards on 15-of-25 attempts, orchestrating an offense that fired coordinator Turk Schonert less than two weeks ago.
Alex Van Pelt took over the reins of the offense and had the Patriots guessing all night despite ineffective outputs from offseason acquisition Terrell Owens (two catches, 46 yards) and fellow receiver Lee Evans (three grabs, 25 yards).
Down 24-13 late in the game, Brady took the Patriots right down the field. It took 11 plays and nearly 3 1/2 minutes to do so, hitting Watson in the middle of the end zone from 18 yards out with 2:06 remaining. The two-point conversion attempt failed, keeping it a two-possession game.
McKelvin took the ensuing kickoff out of the end zone and right up the gut. He went untouched until his own 30 yard-line but was popped and stripped of the ball, which New England recovered at the Buffalo 31.
"We got the fumble out on the previous kickoff, we just didn't get it," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said. "It's a situation where you're behind you're always looking to pull the ball out. It was a head's up play."
Two quick completions brought the ball to the 16, and Brady hit Watson in roughly the same spot as a minute before, this time with a defender draped over him. Replay confirmed the go-ahead score with 50 ticks left, though the Pats again missed the two-point try.
Two sacks of Edwards in the closing seconds helped New England survive the opener, as unsuccessful last-second lateral attempts from the Bills ended any chance of a miracle ending.
"I'm obviously very frustrated," Edwards said. "To come up one point short is pretty disappointing right now."
New England had the ball in enemy territory in its first two possessions but came up with no points. Laurence Maroney was stuffed on 4th-and-1 on the opening drive, and Stephen Gostkowski missed a 41-yard field goal attempt the next time the Patriots had the ball.
Buffalo's no-huddle offense, sparked by back-to-back big plays from Jackson, marched down the field following the missed kick. On the sixth play of the drive from the New England 11, Shawn Nelson was left open in the flat on a play-action roll out and dove into the end zone for the game's first score.
Three third-down conversions on a 14-play, 72-yard march in the second quarter helped New England tie the game on newcomer Fred Taylor's one-yard draw to paydirt with 6:22 remaining in the opening half.
On the first play of New England's next drive, Buffalo regained the lead on a terrific play by Schobel. Brady looked as if he was trying to throw the ball away, but Schobel plucked the ball out of the air with one hand and out-ran the New England lineman for the go-ahead, 26-yard defensive score.
Gostkowski's 20-yard field goal made it 14-10 at halftime.
A near seven-minute drive for the Patriots went for naught early in the third quarter, as Brady threw behind Welker on 4th-and-2 from the Buffalo 36 to turn the ball over on downs.
Owens and Derek Schouman hauled in passes of 27 and 16 yards, respectively, on the ensuing drive, setting up Rian Lindell's 40-yard field goal to go up 17-10 with 2:32 left in the third.
After a 28-yard boot from Gostkowski early in the fourth, Buffalo held the ball for the next six minutes, culminated in Jackson's 10-yard TD grab off a screen pass with 5:32 left for a seemingly comfortable 24-13 score.
Both teams, long with the referees, wore throw-back jerseys in commemoration of the AFL's 50th anniversary...It was Moss' 60th career 100-yard receiving game...Both teams lost young linebacker's early in the game, with Buffalo losing Paul Posluszny with an arm injury and the Patriots' Jerod Mayo injuring his knee. Bills defensive end Chris Kelsay also left early with a knee injury. There was no word immediately after the game as to the extent of the injuries...The Patriots held a 16-plus-minute advantage in time of possession...Maroney led the Pats running attack with 32 yards on 10 carries.
09/15 03:06:31 ET