USA TODAY Sports breaks down the top highlights from Week 2.
USA TODAY Sports
NEW ORLEANS — One bad game for Tom Brady and the New England Patriots was simply that.
It wasn’t the beginning of the end for the greatest quarterback to play the game, or confirmation that there’s no life after 40 in the NFL. It wasn’t karmic payback for the Patriots’ considerable success, or a changing of the guard.
It was one bad game. Followed, as it almost always is with Brady and the Patriots, by a very good one that restored order to the NFL.
Ten days after being routed by the Kansas City Chiefs — “It felt like a year,” Brady said — the Super Bowl champs needed all of one quarter Sunday against the New Orleans Saints to show everyone how ridiculous the reports of their demise were.
Brady threw for three touchdowns in the first quarter, the first time he’s done that in his career, and got reacquainted with old buddy Rob Gronkowski on a 53-yard score. By halftime, Brady had already thrown for more yards (302) and had more completions (19) than he did in the entire opener. He finished 30 of 39 for 447 yards and a passer rating of 139.6.
“The NFL’s tough, man. Every game is tough, every quarter is tough, every play is tough, and you can’t take it for granted,” Brady said after New England’s 36-20 win. “In order to win, you’ve got to go out and compete as hard as you can on every play. We did a good job of that today.”
Granted, Brady and the Patriots were facing the Saints, which isn’t exactly a fair fight. New Orleans’ defense has been awful the last few years — historically bad, in fact, allowing the most touchdown passes for one season (45) in NFL history two years ago — and it doesn’t look as if this season is going to be any different.
The Saints couldn’t get the Patriots off the field — even when it appeared they did. Twice in the third quarter, New Orleans appeared to pick Brady off, only to have the play wiped out by defensive penalties.
Still, it’s one thing to have opportunities and another to make them pay. And oh, did Brady make the Saints pay. Don’t let the score fool you. This game was lopsided from the first possession on, and the score could have been even worse had the Patriots not ground out most of the second half to take time off the clock.
Not that this result should have surprised anyone.
Since 2003, the Patriots are 42-7 after a regular-season loss. The last time people tried to write Brady and the Patriots off, after they got blown out by Kansas City in Week 4 in 2014, they won their next seven games — by an average of more than 16 points, no less — and finished the season with their fourth Super Bowl title.
“I’m not sure,” Brady said when asked how he and the Patriots keep the losses from snowballing when other teams let the sting carry from game to the next. (Talking to you, Cleveland Browns and Chicago Bears.)
“There’s definitely a level of critiquing you do when you do lose that you don’t really do if you win,” Brady said. “Our coaches were all over us this week. They want us to get it right, and they want us to get it right right now.”
More: Week 2 injuries: Gronk says he’s OK after hurting groin
Much was made during the preseason of the Patriots not appearing to all be on the same page just yet. While that’s understandable, given the personnel changes and injuries, it’s not an acceptable excuse. Not for this team, anyway. Brady said after the Chiefs loss that New England needed “to be better in a lot of areas, starting with our attitude and competitiveness,” and he included himself in the criticism.
That wasn’t just a sound bite, either, but a message Brady and the other veterans made sure was echoed throughout the week in the locker room, the weight room, the cafeteria — probably even in the players’ parking lot.
“Guys who play here have grown accustomed to how we play: Playing the whole game and finishing,” safety Devin McCourty said. “You just want to send a message so you’re telling everybody … making sure that everybody got the message.”
If anyone was still unclear, they weren’t after the first possession.
Brady went at the Saints from the opening snap, moving the Patriots 75 yards in 10 plays. He threw to four different receivers and converted two third downs before connecting with Rex Burkhead on a 19-yard scoring pass.
It was the second drive, though, that ought to put the rest of the league on notice. Facing third-and-6 from his own 47, Brady held the ball for what seemed like forever. With the pocket all but gone, he finally spotted Gronkowski open down the right sideline and let fly.
It was his Gronkowski’s first touchdown since Oct. 30 of last year.
“He’s a tough guy to tackle in the open field,” Brady said with a smile. “That was a big play in the game, and we need some more plays like that.”
Much is made of Brady’s fanaticism about his diet — he says he’s never had coffee or a strawberry — and workout regimen, and with good reason. You don’t play past your 40th birthday on talent alone. But what sets Brady apart, and what should scare the hell out of the rest of the NFL, is his relentless competitiveness. This was a brilliant performance and it still wasn’t good enough.
“We left some things out there,” he said.
There will come a day when Brady is no longer Brady, when the game will have passed him by. When a bad game is more than just one bad game.
But that day is not here yet and, as his performance Sunday showed, it’s still a long way off.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour
PHOTOS: Week 2 NFL action