Wearing throwback jerseys and with Tom Brady back throwing, it was like old times for the New England Patriots.
Playing his first game since suffering a season-ending knee injury in last year's opener, Brady fired two touchdown passes to tight end Benjamin Watson in 76 seconds late in the fourth quarter to rally the Patriots past the Buffalo Bills 25-24 on Monday night.
"That is not how we drew it up, but we will take it," Brady said. "We did a lot of things poorly, but we got the win."
Trailing by 11 points, Brady led the Patriots on an 81-yard march that culminated in a 18-yard TD toss to Watson that cut the deficit to 24-19 with 2:06 left in the fourth.
On the ensuing kickoff, Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski recovered Leodis McKelvin's fumble at Buffalo's 31 and Brady completed the comeback with a 16-yard TD pass to Watson with 50 seconds remaining.
"I chose to bring it out because that is me," said McKelvin, who coughed up the ball on the previous kickoff, too.
"If I had that choice, probably 100 times, I would do it again. Next time I get the opportunity, I just got to do my job and make sure I hold onto the ball."
"Two-minute drives always are fun for a quarterback — spread it out, the pass rush gets a little tired, you get a feel for the coverage — you just have to be patient," Brady explained. "I'm glad it's over, glad we're moving on."
Brady equalled a career high with 39 completions on 59 pass attempts for 378 yards, including 12 of 14 for 112 yards on the last two possessions.
"I felt good all night, we were just off," he said. "We recovered with just a few seconds left.
"Sometimes it happens like that. It is a pretty special victory."
Brady's favourite targets, Randy Moss and Wes Welker, led all receivers with 12 catches apiece for 141 and 93 yards, respectively.
Watson had six receptions worth 77 yards and, of course, two majors.
"We have a real competitive locker room, a real competitive team," Brady said. "When you're in a situation like we were, it is when you really have to step it up.
"It takes every guy on the field to step it up. Hopefully, we will continue to do that."
Two for Terrell
Terrell Owens, signed with considerable fanfare to a $6.5-million US contract on March 7, finished with two catches for 46 yards in his debut with the Bills.
Monday's outcome was identical to Buffalo's infamous Monday night collapse on Oct. 8, 2007, when Owens and the Dallas Cowboys scored nine points in the final 20 seconds to beat the Bills 25-24.
'Just first-game jitters'
Bills quarterback Trent Edwards completed 15 of 25 passes for 212 yards, including touchdowns to running back Fred Jackson and rookie tight end Shawn Nelson.
Defensive end Aaron Schobel intercepted Brady and rumbled 26 yards to account for Buffalo's other touchdown.
"The interception was a really bad play," Brady said. "You cannot do that."
Edwards outperformed Brady for most of the contest, extending Buffalo's lead to 24-13 with a 10-yard TD pass to Jackson with 5:32 left in the fourth quarter.
But Brady, sidelined a full season with torn knee ligaments, shook off the rust in crunch time to remain unbeaten in regular-season play since Dec. 10, 2006.
"It has nothing to do with his layoff," Moss said. "I think it was 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."
The dramatic comeback also extended New England's winning streak over Buffalo to 12 games, dating back to Sept. 7, 2003.
"I wanted to shut everybody up that says we aren't a good football team," Bills safety Donte Whitner said. "We had an opportunity and we let it go."