MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. - Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t there some concern midway through training camp that Tom Brady was, well, off his game? He was throwing zigs when people were looking for zags, or something like that.
I am here to report there is nothing to worry about.
There might be some concerns about the 2011 New England Patriots , but quarterbacking is not going to be one of them, at least not as long as No. 12 keeps showing up.
He was the Tom Brady of legend at Sun Life Stadium last night, throwing for a career-high 517 yards as the Patriots opened the season with a 38-24 victory over the Miami Dolphins .
“Those guys executed well and made some catches,’’ said Brady, whose postgame attire signified either a) a man-crush on Johnny Cash or b) a starring role in yet another “Men In Black’’ sequel. “There were a lot of tough looks out there, and they made the plays.’’
You don’t think the coach was going to make a fuss about this team-record performance, do you? I mean, get a grip.
“It tells you a lot about the whole team,’’ said Bill Belichick. “It was no one-man band out there. We had a lot of contributions from everybody.’’
There were many signature moments, starting with the very first offensive sequence of the season. Miami had won the toss, and Chad Henne took the Dolphins to the house, orchestrating a 12-play, 84-yard drive culminating in a perfectly executed quarterback draw on third and goal at the 9.
The crowd of 66,860 was dazed, amazed, and quite animated. It really was a beautiful drive.
The euphoria lasted 3:28 on the game clock, which is how long it took Brady to get his team into the end zone for a tying touchdown. After a defensive holding penalty wiped out an incomplete pass intended for Wes Welker, Brady hit Matthew Slater for 46 yards to introduce himself to the Miami secondary.
The torture session had begun.
Brady completed 32 passes in 48 attempts to eight receivers. Five Patriots caught passes of 23 yards or more. But only Welker now can go to his grave knowing that once upon a time he collaborated on the maximum touchdown pass allowed - 99 1/2 yards, give or take a centimeter.
That it came as the second part of a classic juxtaposition made it even juicier. For, with the Patriots leading, 31-17, with just over six minutes to play, the resilient Dolphins drove for a first down at the New England 10. A touchdown would have made it a legit game. An apparent TD pass to Davone Bess was reversed, leaving the Dolphins with fourth and goal at the 1.
But offensive coordinator Brian Daboll outsmarted himself, calling for a fade to the left corner of the end zone for wide receiver Brian Hartline. The Henne pass was a no-hoper, and the ball went over to the Patriots on downs.
Twenty years ago every team in the league would have tried to punch out some yards to give the QB some, you know, “breathing room.’’ But that’s not the way the game is played nowadays. Brady lined up in the shotgun, took a look at the defense, made a call, and the rest, as they say, was (New England) history.
“I wouldn’t say I knew that I would go 99 yards,’’ said Welker. “But I knew when I saw the coverage there was a strong possibility I was getting the ball.’’
Brady hit Welker somewhere around the 18 or 19. Welker had a step on cornerback Benny Sapp, and now the world was going to see just how much of his old giddy-up he had regained some 20 months after suffering a debilitating knee injury. Sapp was forced to make the desperation tackle try after a few strides, and when he missed, Welker pranced the remaining 75 yards or so to the end zone. Talk about yards after the catch.
Those 99 yards boosted Welker to a gaudy total of 160. He was joined as a 100-yard man by second-year tight end Aaron Hernandez, who racked up 103 on seven catches, frequently displaying his way-above-average running ability. But was he any more impressive than fellow second-year tight end Rob Gronkowski (six catches, 86 yards)? That would be a no.
And what was this nonsense about Deion Branch failing to catch a pass in the preseason? He checked in with seven catches for 93 yards.
There was a lot of talk about the Patriots’ chosen tempo, which ranged from normal to “Is this legal?’’ If only Josh Beckett threw a pitch half as quickly after receiving the ball as Brady did when the previous play was completed.
“There’s a fine line between putting pressure on the defense and playing out of control,’’ Brady said. “I felt at times we did both. We did have some problems out there. At times they adjusted to it.’’
But there were plenty of times they did not. Let’s table a one-play, 99 1/2-yard touchdown “drive’’ consuming 13 seconds as an aberration, shall we? But how about the other four touchdown marches. Are you ready?
6 plays, 78 yards: 3:28
7 plays, 65 yards: 2:54
10 plays, 73 yards: 4:06
8 plays, 78 yards: 3:26
That’s not exactly grinding it out.
What a football-loving nation saw last night was a style of offensive play that cannot be duplicated by many other QBs. That was a great player at the top of his game.
“I’ve played with a lot of good quarterbacks,’’ said veteran guard Brian Waters. “But I’ve never played with a great one before.’’
Geez, Brian, I guess we’re kinda spoiled. It may have added up to 517 yards, but it looked like maybe 25 other games he’s played in the last 10 years.
It’s just reassuring to know he still has it.Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.