Tom Brady doesn't do mediocre.
That's not what all those long rehab sessions and months of preparing for his return to the NFL were about. So while Brady's performance was pedestrian for much of Monday night's season opener, when the spotlight was at its most intense, he lived up to the advance billing.
It seemed to take forever, though.
A year after being sidelined with torn knee ligaments, Brady resembled a rusty game manager more than the invincible record-setting quarterback who guided the Patriots to a perfect 2007 regular season. Yet, he threw two touchdown passes in the final 2:06 as New England beat the Buffalo Bills 25-24.
Brady needed help in the form of Leodis McKelvin's fumble on a kickoff return after the Patriots pulled within five points.
Placekicker Stephen Gostkowski, of all people, recovered at the Buffalo 31. Brady needed three plays before hitting Benjamin Watson over the middle for the decisive 16-yard touchdown with 50 seconds to go.
Just 1:16 earlier, he found Watson on a similar play for an 18-yard score. It was vintage Brady, who threw for a record 50 TDs two years ago in leading New England to a perfect record.
Trent Edwards outperformed Brady for much of the game and threw for two scores. A 10-yard screen pass TD to Fred Jackson put Buffalo ahead 24-13 with 5:32 to go -- even though its new spotlight-grabber, Terrell Owens, barely caused a ripple. Owens had two catches for 46 yards, then refused to speak about it after the game.
Still, these are the Patriots, who have not lost a regular-season game with Brady at quarterback since Dec. 10, 2006. And they still have all those threats in the passing game, from Randy Moss (12 catches, 141 yards) to Wes Welker (12, 93) to tight end Watson (6, 77, two TDs).
Although Brady had those impressive stats, he never looked deep and struggled to convert key plays until the final moments. Perhaps that big hit he took on his shoulder from Albert Haynesworth2 1/2 weeks ago limited Brady.
And maybe his team was uncomfortable in the throwback red uniforms or being introduced as the Boston Patriots for the first of the NFL's tribute games to the old AFL. Something wasn't right in Foxborough—until the end.
"It has nothing to do with his layoff," Moss said. "I think it's just first-game jitters. I'm not making an excuse, we just had to settle down and get to playing football the way we know how."
Buffalo's other touchdown was an 11-yard reception by Shawn Nelson. Rian Lindell added a 40-yard field goal.
Gostkowski had field goals of 20 and 28 yards, but only one extra point because the Patriots failed on two 2-point tries after their late touchdowns.
Fred Jackson, filling in for suspended starting RB Marshawn Lynch, had 57 yards rushing and 83 receiving for Buffalo.
Bills LB Paul Posluszny broke his arm and DE Chris Kelsay hurt his knee.
Patriots LB Jerod Mayo, the 2008 Defensive Rookie of the year, injured his right knee.