ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Spackle.
It’s used to cover up cracks, holes, mistakes. Tom Brady is human spackle for the Patriots, the ultimate quarterback coverall to mask deficiencies, poor fits, and unsightly appearances.
The Patriots and coach Bill Belichick had to slather a lot of Brady greatness on this offensive effort to patch together a 23-21 come-from-behind, season-opening victory over the Buffalo Bills Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
TB12, who completed 29 of 52 passes for 288 yards with two touchdowns and one interception, had to cover up for a group of young pass catchers who were not quite ready for prime time. That allowed the Patriots to win their season-opener for the 10th straight season.
Saint Thomas of Foxborough saved the Patriots from themselves and a sinful season-opening defeat, engineering a 12-play, 49-yard drive that set up Stephen Gostkowski’s winning 35-yard field goal with five seconds left.
Brady completed all seven of his passes on the final drive, including a crucial third-and-8 bullet to Danny Amendola from the Buffalo 39 that put the Patriots in field goal range for the Escape from Western New York.
“You expect that from 12,” said running back Shane Vereen, who had the first 100-yard rushing game of his career and added seven receptions for 58 yards. “He steps up when you have to in the big situations. That’s why he’s our leader.”
They say youth is wasted on the young. But when it comes to the Patriots’ offense, youth looked like a waste of Brady’s talent Sunday. He looked like he was trying to teach calculus to kids who just learned their multiplication tables.
Outside of Amendola, who toughed out a groin injury to catch 10 balls for 104 yards, Brady didn’t look like he was in the same book, never mind on the same page, with his new receivers and tight ends, the rest of whom are rookies.
“I think we have a long way to go,” said Brady. “We got a lot of work ahead of us. We got to prove it week in and week out. I’m glad we started with a win. Winning feels a [heck] of a lot better than losing, so . . . I didn’t think our execution was flawless by any stretch. We made a lot of mistakes. We’ve got to do a lot better.”
The question that frames any discussion of the Patriots is whether they are doing everything they can to maximize the transcendent talent of Brady while they still have it. Or is he football’s Atlas, asked to carry the weight of the franchise on his shoulders?
In Tom They Trust to hide any flaws or flawed decisions.
The Patriots had scored 30 points or more against Buffalo in six straight games. The Bills were the Patriots’ preferred football foils.
The Patriots were lucky to get out of town with 23 points and a win.
New England didn’t score a touchdown in the second half. The two touchdown drives the Patriots had in the first half were a combined 48 yards, both set up by fumbles forced by Kyle Arrington. They ended in TD passes of 9 yards and 8 yards to Julian Edelman, who just happens to be the leading receiver from last year who was active Sunday.
Contrast Brady’s offensive patch job with Peyton Manning painting an offensive fresco by tying the NFL record for touchdown passes in a game (seven) in Denver’s 49-27 victory over Baltimore in the NFL kickoff spectacle last Thursday. Two of those TD tosses went to Brady’s old BFF (best football friend), Wes Welker.
There was a lot of preseason hype and hope about rookie receivers Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson, and Josh Boyce and instant cult hero tight end Zach Sudfeld.
But to paraphrase the famous football philosopher Duane Charles Parcells, don’t go putting these guys in Canton yet.
Dobson didn’t play because of a hamstring injury. The other three combined for four catches for 42 yards — all belonging to Thompkins — on 17 targets. That’s less than 25 percent of the passes their way being completed.
Unfamiliarity with Brady bred an unrecognizable offense.
Brady’s second-quarter interception was on the hands of Sudfeld, literally. The rookie was tardy coming out of his break and the ball bounced off his hands and into the hands of Buffalo cornerback Justin Rogers at the Patriots’ 37.
Two plays later, E.J. Manuel threw his first career touchdown pass, finding fellow rookie Robert Woods from 18 yards out to cut the Patriots’ lead to 17-14 with 34 seconds left before the half.
Brady was asked if the offense being out of synch was a result of all the new pieces.
“Yeah, this is our first opportunity [in a regular-season game], so things are a lot different on the game field,” said Brady. “You got to build confidence in each other and go out there and make the plays if you can. It was a good experience, a good learning experience. All of these games are going to be tough. This was as tough as you’re going to make it — down to the last play.”
The Patriots won because Brady was Brady when it mattered most, and the new-look Bills (new coach Doug Marrone and new quarterback Manuel) were still the Bills with dropped balls and criminal clock management.
This was the type of victory the Patriots can get away with during the early part of their schedule, which is like the soft opening of a restaurant. There is time to get the presentation and the service down before bad reviews really hurt business.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski will be back, giving Brady another trusted weapon. Tom Terrific will work with the youngsters.
If Brady has proven anything it’s that he’ll make it with whomever. It’s just that the Patriots shouldn’t have to make him work this hard to do it.Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.