The first 24 snaps of Thursday's preseason opener against the Eagles did plenty to calm the collective nerves of New England's football fan base.
Quarterback Tom Brady made his first appearance since last year's regular-season opener and showed no ill effects from his offseason knee surgery. He finished 10-for-15 with two touchdown passes in roughly two quarters' worth of action. He left with 49 seconds to go in the opening half.
The final numbers didn't matter much, considering Brady left the field with his health intact, unlike last year when he needed help getting to the sidelines after tearing tendons in Week 1.
"It's a real small step for this whole team in a very long journey," Brady said. "We're on a mission this year and this is the first step. It's a small step, but it's a step in the right direction."
Since Brady went under the knife last year, Thursday's game at Lincoln Financial Field was the moment the Patriots had been waiting for with baited breath. First impressions are important and it appears, for now, Brady is on target to not only start the season opener, but pick up right where he left off in 2007, when he threw an NFL-record 50 touchdown passes.
The latter statement might seem like a stretch, but it's worth noting the Patriots still have the weapons to help Brady reclaim his magic touch -- namely Randy Moss and Wes Welker -- so the only major question is whether or not the two-time Super Bowl MVP can stay healthy.
"I didn't see him. I don't have eyes in the back of my head, but it sure felt like it back there," guard Logan Mankins said. "He was cool and calm as usual and he was hitting receivers, so it must have been the same old Tom."
Speaking of weapons, Brady utilized one of his new teammates on the opening drive when he connected with tight end Chris Baker on a 5-year touchdown pass, ending a drive that was assisted by Asante Samuel's pass interference play on a deep pass attempt to Moss.
The only negative was an interception later in the half on another deep pass attempt to Moss.
"I probably shouldn't have thrown it," Brady said.
Other than that, it's all systems go in New England as the franchise quarterback is back on the field and, for now, all is well.
"(The injury) is a thing of the past," Brady said. "That's '08. We're moving forward."
Brady's Backups Have Much To Prove
|Brady and K. O'Connell (Getty)|
--So, how about those backups? With Tom Brady back in the fold, the Patriots have reason to believe they're all set at the No. 1 quarterback position. Now, the only question is who'll back up Brady in case of an emergency.
When Brady went down in Week 1 last season, the Patriots turned to untested Matt Cassel, who surprised the entire league by winning 11 of his 15 starts to deliver the Patriots to the brink of a playoff berth. They ultimately fell short, but the fact they even got that far was considered by some to be a miracle given Brady's importance since 2001.
As of now, Kevin O'Connell -- a fourth-round draft pick in '08 -- appears to be the front-runner to back up Brady, but five-year veteran Andrew Walter will get his chance to win the job, too, since he was recently brought in to add some spice to the competition. O'Connell has been inconsistent thus far, so don't rule anything out.
Walter has limited experience but has been in the league for five years, so whatever wisdom he might have could put the Patriots at ease if they chose to hand him the keys to the No. 2 role.
O'Connell doesn't mind the competition.
"I put the most pressure on myself out of anybody just because I want to go out and do well and I hold myself to a high standard," O'Connell said. "I think it's just another chance to be in a competitive situation and be as successful as possible and learn from the things that come about in this game and apply them to the next."
The bottom line here is the Patriots need to sort this out before Week 1 because there's no telling what could happen once Brady takes the field for four quarters, not just 24 snaps like he did in Thursday's preseason game. All bets are off considering the unpredictable nature of surgically-repaired knees, so the Patriots need to prepare for the worst while subsequently hoping for the best.
Walter, meanwhile, needs to catch up quickly with camp heating up.
"It's a process. There is no question about it. There is still tons of work on my end. I need to get caught up on a lot of things," Walter said. "You can't eat the elephant all in one bite."
The cupboard's not exactly full this year and the chances of finding another Cassel is rare, so the Patriots better keep their fingers crossed and hope this backup competition is nothing more than a footnote by season's end.
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