By Mary Paoletti
FOXBORO -- When Tom Brady took the field Thursday night he was sounding off before the play clock even started. But of course he was vocal. A communicative Brady is a successful Brady, and the Patriots quarterback was 15-20 for 187 yards in the first two preseason games. He'd scored on all but one of his six drives.
Yet the St. Louis Rams -- 2009's 31st-ranked team in points allowed -- weren't giving up any early ground to Tom Terrific. His first three drives were startlingly brief. Third down and short? Huge problem. Punter Zoltan Mesko got more action than a high school prom king.
Here's a breakdown.
First drive: Wes Welker, Randy Moss and Sammy Morris went pass-rush-pass for just nine yards. Coach Bill Belichick declined to go aggressive on the fourth-and-one and brought Mesko out for a boot. Not a terrible idea, as it's good plus-50 practice for the young punter.
Second drive: Brady opened with a sweet short curl right to Brandon Tate for 10 yards and a first down. Things got ugly on third-and-2. The right side broke down on Brady and he got happy feet in the pocket. Rams defensive end Chris Long dove after the QB's left leg and forced Brady to hop out of the way. He had nowhere else to go. Fred Robbins ended up with a 13-yard sack, just the second time T.B.'s been taken down this preseason, at the New England 21.
Third drive: Skip the two unmemorable short runs up the middle by Kevin Faulk. Bottom line? The Patriots were again looking at a third-and-short. Brady looked left but Bradley Fletcher applied pressure and handled the usually slippery Moss. The ball dropped between the wideout's hands. Incomplete.
Time for a regroup. As the St. Louis offense took the field, Brady took a seat on the bench, forearms on his knees, and bowed his head in conversation with quarterbacks coach Bill O'Brien. To Brady's right, Welker held conference with wide receivers coach Chad O'Shea.
Whatever they talked about certainly paid off. Eventually. Though not on the . . .
Fourth drive: More reps for Morris. Short ones. Time for a third-and-3! Brady faked a handoff and tried to throw long and left to Tate on the sideline. Incomplete.
And then, finally . . .
Five drive: This was the money drive. After struggling through two quarters of stifled offense, Brady got his touchdown on five plays at the end of the first half. In just two minutes, the Patriots drove 80 yards by doing the things they do best: Brady-to-Welker for 39 yards, Brady-to-Alge Crumpler for 24 more, then a short little handoff to Morris on the first-and-10. The scoring play? Well, that was something completely new. And bizarre. On second-and-six, New England's QB found Gronkowski 13 yards from the end zone. Rams linebacker James Laurinatis made a dive at Gronk's left ankle and grabbed hold. All it took was a one-footed triple-hop and a dive across the goal line to get those six points. Yeah, that was all.
Was Brady finally happy as he headed into the half? Not even close. But that's the quarterback we expected to see.
And that Brady is the one we saw in the second half. Brady spit-shined New England's offense after the break to tally better-than-respectable final numbers. In 30 snaps that stretched into the fourth quarter, Brady went 18-22 for 273 yards, three touchdowns, and zero interceptions.
It was a solid effort, just not enough to earn New England a win.
"We weren't complimenting each other well,'' he said.
"In the end it comes down to losing a game and nobody ever feels good about that. I don't think that will ever be accepted by our head coach."
Bill Belichick's postgame was -- to put it gently -- brief. But where the head coach couldn't find a single silver lining in the loss, the quarterback could.
"We all have a lot to take from it. I certainly didn't play perfect out there and there are some things I need to do better and it's really early. It's really early,'' Brady smiled. "It's the third preseason game.'
"Coach really challenged us at halftime to come out and play a lot tougher than we were playing and I thought offensively we came out and did a couple good things."
A couple good things; a bright side here and another there. It was "Aww, shucks" Tom. He looked steadily into reporters eyes with every reply and kept it light. He deprecated himself ("I'm so slow I can't get away from anybody") and commended his teammates ("[Alge Crumpler] has been a really great addition for us").
He said everything a veteran quarterback is supposed to say.
"I think what you take from it is, 'OK, guys, we dug ourselves a hole here. How are we going to get out of it?' And whatever we've done in the first half, let's put it behind us and move on.''
The Patriots have about a week to do so. On September 2, New England travels to face the Giants in its final preseason game. Brady doesn't seem worried. You can rebound by quarter, by half, or by week. You just have to do it.
"You can dwell on all the bad stuff that happened and go out and lay an egg in the second half but I thought we responded and we're going to continue to need to do that."
Mary Paoletti can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Mary on Twitter at http://twitter.com/Mary_Paoletti