The Patriots are waiting for his return, too. But while
There has been a feeling watching the Patriots early this season that they are hanging on by their fingernails, surviving and advancing through a series of clunkers, waiting for the holes in their roster and in their attack to be stitched up and for the seamlessness to arrive. Maybe it will never come, not even when Gronkowski finally returns. Still, the Patriots were able to stun the New Orleans Saints 30-27 on Sunday not with dazzling talent but with relentless resourcefulness. They ran for two touchdowns. They played defense. Brady's brilliance took over in the waning seconds. The result, oddly, seemed even more exhilarating to the Patriots than some of their more machine-like efforts of old.
"Sorry if you had to rewrite some of those stories there at the end," coach Bill Belichick bubbled. "What a football game. I feel like that took about five years off my life."
It certainly didn't do wonders for Saints general manager Mickey Loomis, who silently stared at the ground and shook his head slightly to himself on a long, quiet elevator ride as the game ended. Most galling for the Saints was that, after rallying from a 17-7 halftime deficit, they could not get even one first down on either of two drives that might have closed things out, after the Patriots failed on a fourth-down attempt deep in their own territory and after a Brady interception, both with less than three minutes to play.
For those holds, Brady can thank his defense -- and for shutting out Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, who entered the game as the league's receptions leader, he can thank cornerback
Brady's security blankets have been snatched away -- Wes Welker to Peyton Manning's embrace in Denver, Gronkowski and
"I have confidence in those guys," Brady said. "We're just working hard every day to try to get better. We're certainly not perfect out there. We're definitely just grinding. We're just trying to get better every day in practice and every game. These situations that come up and we're learning from them."
It's still taking some getting used to. At least half the fans who packed Gillette Stadium flooded the exits after Belichick tried to convert on fourth-and-6 from his own 24-yard line when the Saints led by only one.
It's hard to blame them. They haven't been used to having a defense that can hold off an elite offense on three straight plays. Belichick often talks about playing complementary football, and Brady echoed the necessity for it this week. After so many years of relying on Brady, sometimes to the exclusion of everything else, the Patriots are leaning hard on the rest of their team, while the passing game that has defined their Super Bowl era is remade on the fly. Defensive players would not agree Sunday, but this -- keeping a top-flight offense at bay while their own offense is struggling -- was an important moment for them. They held Brees to just 17 completions, his season low by nine.
It can be jarring to see New England cobble together victories like this, particularly because the injuries keep coming, including those to Talib, Amendola and
And after watching Brady recover from one of his worst games last week in a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, pulling one more victory off the trash heap, is there any doubt the Patriots will be a factor in January?
"It's Brady," cornerback
It is. And he's enough for now.