Many ducks in rain
Brady takes beating from hungry Titans
FOXBOROUGH -- Tom Brady came out slinging in the rain, but thanks to his leaky offensive line, he seemed destined to leave in a sling.
Brady survived, but it's not a comforting feeling for fans to be fearing for The Franchise's safety.
Last night's game, won by Tennessee, 27-24, started with a steady rain falling at Gillette Stadium, which thinned the crowd, but during the nearly two quarters he played, Brady saw a steady torrent of Titans in his face. Although he was sacked just twice, No. 12 had his head on a swivel.
"At times we blocked, at times they did a good job coming and getting a lot of pass rush," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. "I think you can say that about every part of the game."
Brady, who was relieved -- maybe rescued -- by Matt Cassel with 3:22 remaining in the first half, finished 10 of 19 for 145 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions, and staked the Patriots to a 17-7 halftime lead. It was a far cry from the exhibition opener against Tampa Bay, when Brady played just two series.
On both of his picks, Brady had to pick himself off the ground after nearly getting buried.
The first, which came on the Patriots' first possession, led to the Titans' only points of the half. Looking to connect with Donte' Stallworth, who was making his Patriots debut and caught Brady's first pass, Brady instead found Tennessee cornerback Cortland Finnegan, who returned the errant throw 51 yards for a touchdown to give Tennessee a 7-0 lead with 12:17 left in the quarter. Titans defensive lineman Kyle Vanden Bosch broke free and crushed Brady as he threw.
Brady bounced back on the next possession, and it took him just 2:15 to do so. On third and 11 from the Tennessee 28, he escaped the pocket and found another of his new targets, Wes Welker, for a touchdown.
Brady's counterpart, Vince Young, was also under duress during his one-half stint. Young, who was making his 2007 preseason debut after being suspended for Tennessee's opener for eschewing the team hotel for his own bed, was sacked four times, as the Patriots' defense kept the Titans in check.
With Young in the game, the Patriots held the Titans to 99 total yards in the first half.
"I think we took some positive steps in the right direction, but we're far from where we want to be," said Patriots cornerback Ellis Hobbs. "I think we did a great job of executing the game plan and containing [Young] . . . And we made sure that he did not take over the game with his legs."
The 2006 NFL Rookie of the Year was just 5 of 17 for 102 yards and four carries for 9 yards.
Young had a turnover of his own, when he botched a handoff with fullback Ahmard Hall in the first quarter. Jarvis Green recovered the fumble, giving New England the ball at the Titans' 23. Heath Evans finished the drive, rumbling in from 2 yards to give New England a 14-7 lead.
Fans across New England held their breath in the second quarter when Brady was intercepted again. This time he threw the ball into the arms of safety Lamont Thompson as he was body-slammed to the turf by Antwan Odom. Brady was slow to get up.
"It's never fun to see your quarterback taking hits like that," said Stallworth. "But he's a tough guy."
Young wasn't safe either. Patriots safety Rodney Harrison, who missed all of the playoffs after receiver Bobby Wade, who is now with Minnesota, chopped him down during the teams' regular-season finale last year, certainly remembered the Titans. Harrison got a measure of revenge, blasting Young with a forearm shiver during a second-quarter sack.
On the next possession -- Brady's last -- he drove New England to a field goal. Stephen Gostkowski, who had missed a 33-yard attempt earlier, drilled a 32-yarder.
Tennessee tied the score at 17 in the third quarter. Backup quarterback Kerry Collins hit Roydell Williams with a 15-yard touchdown pass on Tennessee's first possession and John Vaughn connected on a 31-yard field goal with 3:43 left in the quarter.
Tennessee took the lead, 24-17, early in the fourth on a nine-play, 50-yard drive that culminated in a 4-yard TD run by Dontrell Moore. The Patriots tied it on a Matt Gutierrez-led drive. Gutierrez, who replaced Cassel in the fourth quarter, scored on a 2-yard run on fourth down.
Tennessee, led by third-string quarterback Tim Rattay, got the winning score with 1:45 to go on a 22-yard field goal by Vaughn.
The game followed the pattern of last year's second exhibition contest for the Patriots, which was also at Gillette. In that game, a 30-3 victory over the Arizona Cardinals, Brady played the first two quarters and led the Patriots to 13 points, finishing 15 of 20 for 149 yards with no TDs and no interceptions. Last night, Belichick said he wanted Brady to get about 40 plays. That was almost too much.
New Patriots receiver Randy Moss likes to tell his quarterbacks to "chuck it deep," but all Brady could do last night was chuck and duck, until he was safe on the sidelines with Moss.
Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at email@example.com.