FOXBOROUGH — For 23 snaps and almost exactly 30 minutes of real time, Tom Brady was back on the field for the Patriots, directing the offense over two drives in mostly above-average fashion during his exhibition debut.
Thanks to an interception he threw on the Patriots’ first drive, Brady’s night against the Philadelphia Eagles was nearly uninterrupted. Aside from a rushing attempt and a sack, Brady checked off almost every available statistic in the brief time he was out there, which ended at Gillette Stadium before the second quarter began.
Most importantly, he returned to the Patriots’ sideline unscathed.
Brady sat out the team’s exhibition opener at Washington, but had practiced against the Redskins prior to last week’s game. Even though the Patriots participated in joint practices for the second week in a row, this time with the Eagles, the plan was to get Brady some game snaps this week and next, since he’ll possibly sit out the finale against the Giants.
He didn’t wait long to get out there on Friday, with the Patriots winning the coin toss and taking the ball. For the first time since Jan. 11, when the Patriots beat the Colts in an AFC divisional-round playoff game, Brady was facing an opponent at Gillette Stadium, although this game didn’t count for anything, and the specifics will be long forgotten.
Good thing, because the first drive ended with Brady throwing an interception that was returned 77 yards for a touchdown by Eagles cornerback Cary Williams.
Aside from that, Brady was pretty efficient. He finished 8-for-10 passing for 81 yards, completing throws to four holdovers from last season: Julian Edelman, Shane Vereen, Danny Amendola, and Kenbrell Thompkins.
That quartet combined for 264 receptions last season (playoffs included), or 63 percent of Brady’s completions. A year later, and the chemistry built between Brady and those four was apparent. He was 3 for 3 throwing to Thompkins, 2 for 2 to Edelman, 2 for 2 to Vereen, and 1 for 2 to Amendola.
Brady’s only pass attempt to someone new didn’t end well. On the 10th snap of the first series (the Patriots were called for one earlier penalty on the drive), Brady tried to hit tight end Steve Maneri, a former Patriots offensive lineman who had re-signed with the team just five days before.
Lined up to the left of Brady, Maneri ran 10 yards downfield before breaking. As he was turning around to look for the ball, Williams — the player who didn’t back down after calling the Patriots “cheaters” in a recent radio interview — was making an easy interception, and running back what would be a 77-yard return for a touchdown. It was an obvious miscommunication between quarterback and receiver, with Brady throwing to the spot where he thought Maneri would be. Except he wasn’t there.
Brady tried to tackle Williams near the Philadelphia sideline, with the defensive back jumping over the diving quarterback to evade the tackle.
The interception meant that Brady would be sent right back out for a second offensive drive. He was 4 for 6 on the first drive; in addition to the interception, Brady overthrew Amendola on a deep ball from midfield.
During the second drive, Brady was perfect, going 4 for 4. A defensive holding call nullified an incompletion on the play that saw Brady face the most pressure in his limited appearance. With Connor Barwin coming in hard from Brady’s left, the quarterback spun away from the Eagles outside linebacker before getting sacked.
Two snaps later, Brady hit Vereen in stride in the right flat for a 12-yard gain. He went back to Vereen on the next play, lofting a screen pass to the left side that went for 9 yards.
Another deep ball from Brady didn’t result in a completion, although Edelman did catch the ball out of bounds. But Eagles cornerback Curtis Marsh was penalized for pass interference, wiping out the incompletion. An unsportsmanlike penalty on coach Bill Belichick on the same play pushed the Patriots back to the 26-yard line. Edelman and Brady then hooked up for a 9-yard gain, clearing the way for the prettiest play Brady made on Friday.
On third and 14 from the 15, Brady looked left and whipped a ball to the back shoulder of Thompkins, who turned at the last minute and caught the ball near the goal line. He fell forward for a touchdown, which was confirmed by video review. Marsh was again in coverage, and seemed to be the defensive back that Brady and the offense wanted to target on that second drive.
The 15-yard touchdown pass was Brady’s longest completion of the game. It was also his final play. When the Patriots forced a three-and-out by the Eagles late in the first quarter, rookie Jimmy Garoppolo entered the game, turning Brady into a sideline spectator.Michael Whitmer can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeWhitmer.