FOXBOROUGH — If his 25-snap performance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Friday night is any indication, Tom Brady’s knee is A-OK.
And his arm isn’t too shabby either.
Wearing a brace on the most attention-getting left knee in New England, Brady played two series against Tampa Bay, overcoming two costly penalties on the first to lead the offense into the end zone.
It was the first touchdown in the Patriots’ 25-21 win over the Buccaneers, ending what Bill Belichick called “a real good week for us.”
Tampa Bay and the Patriots held full-pads joint practices Tuesday and Wednesday and then had a half-speed walkthrough Thursday. It was the sixth time since 2010 that New England has shared training camp time with another team, and Belichick is very much a fan of what he’s seen his team get out of those practices.
He was not a fan, however, of any discussion into the scare from Wednesday afternoon, when Brady was on the ground for several moments clutching his left knee after getting tangled up with Nate Solder and Adrian Clayborn; he did not finish the practice.
“We’re so far past that; we’re way beyond that,” Belichick said when the topic of Brady’s knee was broached.
Though he started and played the first quarter, Brady did not talk to reporters after the game.
Brady’s second drive was not as successful as the first, ending with his only incompletion on the night, a third-and-7 pass intended for Danny Amendola.
But there is no denying it was another successful preseason night for Brady and the Patriots’ new-look offense.
Starting the first drive at the New England 20, Brady faced third and 4 and found Shane Vereen on a flare route; Vereen, open when he caught the pass, ended up gaining 16 yards.
Three plays later, fullback James Develin, who spent most of last year on the practice squad, got the ball on third-and-1, converting with a 2-yard gain. But Logan Mankins was whistled for unnecessary roughness after the play, pushing New England back inside its territory.
The Patriots had to overcome another penalty after a first-down catch by Julian Edelman, this time after Ryan Wendell was whistled for a false start. The hole got bigger when a screen for Vereen resulted in a 1-yard loss.
Vereen carried for 5 yards, then Amendola kept things alive, his yards after the catch getting the first down on third and long.
From the Bucs’ 39, Stevan Ridley carried for 4 yards, rookie Josh Boyce’s first career reception was for 5 yards, and Develin converted again on third-and-1.
Brady flashed his stellar accuracy on back-to-back plays. Amendola lined up in the left slot and ran a post route to the end zone. Brady placed the ball perfectly, just over the heads of pursuing Bucs Ahmad Black and Mason Foster, and into Amendola’s waiting hands for the 26-yard touchdown.
And then, since the Patriots love to practice every possible scenario in the preseason, they went for 2. Brady looked to fast-rising rookie tight end Zach Sudfeld in the back of the end zone; Foster and Mark Barron had Sudfeld covered but Brady sneaked the pass in there, and New England was up, 8-0.
“Brady is Brady. He is a good quarterback, phenomenal,” Tampa Bay safety Dashon Goldson said. “He knows what he is doing. He is a smart football player . . . You definitely want to go out there and compete every time, especially when you go against a team [of this caliber]. It gets the best out of you. It was great practicing against them.”
Brady completed passes to LeGarrette Blount and Amendola on his second drive before the incompletion to Amendola on third down.
He finished 11 for 12 for 107 yards and the touchdown, ceding the offense to Ryan Mallett, whose night was cut short a week earlier when he took a blow to the chest.
Mallett finished out the first half, going 12 for 20 overall. But he went 8 for 12 over the final two drives, both of which were played with the no-huddle.
He went three-and-out on his first possession, but New England got a 39-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski at the end of his second, helped by a 15-yard personal foul penalty on the Bucs’ Black.
Mallett made short work of his next trip out: 23-yard pass to Aaron Dobson, 12-yard pass to Edelman, incompletion to Vereen, 18-yard catch-and-run by Vereen, and then a 22-yard touchdown pass to Sudfeld, who almost lost the ball but pulled it back in, appearing to knock the wind out of himself, landing in the end zone chest-down and gripping the ball.
“Man, guys make good plays,” Mallett said of Sudfeld’s reception. “I had all the time in the world to make the throw and Zach made a good play on the touchdown. Shane had a couple good plays; those guys made me look good.”
The throw to Sudfeld was into tight space, and Mallett smiled, saying “guys aren’t always going to be wide open. Zach went up and got it and he made a really good play.”
The Patriots’ final drive of the half ended with Gostkowski hitting the right upright on a 50-yard field goal attempt that began as a 35-yard field goal but penalties to Michael Hoomanawanui (holding) and Chris McDonald (false start) pushed him back.
“It felt good to get back there and throw it, man. I had all day back there with the guys blocking, so I was just trying to get the ball to our receivers,” Mallett said. “I missed a few easy ones, but we’ll hit those.”
After going 1 for 3 against the Eagles, Gostkowski has started the preseason 2 for 5.
Tim Tebow played the entire second half and his numbers were less than sparkling: 1 for 7 for minus-1 yard and an interception.
The Patriots’ only points of the second half, which proved to be the winning score, came from rookie Logan Ryan, who had a 53-yard interception return of Mike Glennon in the third quarter.