FOXBOROUGH — Sure, it was an ugly start. Two stalled drives and two quick punts on your initial possessions isn't how any team wants to start.
It looked as though the Patriots might have been suffering through a bit of a post-Denver/no Rob Gronkowski hangover as the 66,829 mostly partisan fans at Gillette Stadium failed to make a dent on the noise meter.
But then it got better.
The offense woke up — and so did the crowd — as Tom Brady engineered back-to-back 80-yard scoring drives early in the second quarter to give the Patriots a 14-0 lead. The sullen stadium suddenly turned into a raucous party house.
And then it got ugly again. Real ugly.
After a botched rugby-style onside drop kick by Nate Ebner, the Eagles rattled off 35 straight points en route to a 35-28 victory Sunday afternoon-evening.
Brady, who has engineered countless comebacks, couldn't pull out another one — though he did account for two late touchdowns and was trying for a tying one before the final drive stalled.
It was all part of a mixed bag of a day for Brady, who threw for 312 yards (his 71st 300-yard effort, third all time behind Peyton Manning and Drew Brees) and three touchdowns but took 56 attempts to get there. He also had two costly interceptions, including one that was brought back 99 yards to give the Eagles a 21-14 lead they would never relinquish. It was a crushing 14-point swing, as the Patriots were poised to take the lead.
Facing a third-and-goal at the 5, Brady tried to fit one into Danny Amendola at the goal line. Amendola wasn't sure if he got a hand on it, but safety Walter Thurmond sure did. It bounced off Thurmond's hands and into Malcolm Jenkins's, and he was off to the races, not stopping until he reached the end zone.
"[That] was bad quarterbacking,'' Brady said. "The team trusts you to put the ball in your hands and make good decisions with it, and that was a terrible decision. So it's unfortunate because those cost you the game, and I've got to do a better job. I mean, a 99-, 100-yard interception return, that's about as bad as you can do for a quarterback."
After falling behind, 28-14, Brady had the Patriots rolling toward the end zone and sent a jolt through the crowd — and the Eagles — with one of his most memorable plays of the season and maybe his career.
Facing another third down, Brady faked as though he was audibling at the line. The direct snap went to James White in the backfield, who went left and lateraled to Amendola. The receiver looked up and found a wide-open Brady down the right sideline. Brady caught it in stride and stepped out of bounds after a 36-yard gain.
The place erupted, and it had the feel of a momentum-changing play. The joy from Brady's first reception since a 23-yarder from Kevin Faulk in 2001 was short-lived, however.
Brady went deep for Brandon LaFell on the very next play, and Byron Maxwell picked it off in the end zone. That turned out to be more of a momentum-changer.
"I kind of scanned the field, and we didn't have much,'' said Brady, who now has 31 TD passes to become the fourth player in league history with six seasons of at least 30 scoring strikes. "I was actually trying to throw it away, and I didn't throw it far enough . . . It was just a dumb play. There was really not much chance of a completion, so I should've just probably thrown it out of the back of the end zone or found someone else to throw it to. We would've kicked 3 points. It was just a bad play. . . . That's my fault.''
Though many had headed for the exits at 35-14, Brady led a pair of fourth-quarter scoring drives to keep it exciting before the final drive stalled.
When asked if the plethora of injuries to his top weapons had finally taken its toll, Brady, who said he needs to "get rid of the ball quicker,'' refused to use that excuse.
"You'd love to have everybody healthy," he said. "I think every team would love that at this point, but it's just not the reality, so it's tough. You've got to find ways to adjust, and we do plenty of good things. I think tonight there were just some critical errors that it really came down to. Just a disappointing night, but we've got to figure out how to win a game next week.''
Eagles vs. Patriots: Postgame Analysis
The Boston Globe’s NFL writer Ben Volin gives his analysis of the Patriots 28-35 loss against the Eagles.