Brady on the run means Patriots are back

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots felt like kids again.

"Billy [O'Brien] thought we could try to sneak it," Tom Brady said.

"Tommy Boy," Randy Moss said, "started it off with that quarterback sneak on the first touchdown, and that's what really got us started."

The play, and the one before it, were symbolic of where New England is after four weeks.

The Patriots are feeling spry after two straight victories that should remind everyone they still have it. New England held on to win a fabulous contest that wasn't decided until the Ravens were stopped on fourth down at the Patriots' 14-yard line.

Patriots playcaller Billy O'Brien told Tommy Boy Brady to go ahead and punch the ball into the end zone himself in the second quarter, a plunge that Moss referred to as the tone-setter in Sunday afternoon's 27-21 victory over the Baltimore Ravens.

The win certainly wasn't child's play, but what we saw Sunday was the steadying of a franchise underpinned by its star quarterback's reconstructed left knee.

Brady led the Patriots on long drives (14 plays for a touchdown, 15 plays for a field goal) and short drives (two six-play drives for touchdowns). He ran it (another scramble went 7 yards for a first down) and threw it: 21-of-32 for 258 yards and one touchdown, his first of the season to Randy Moss.

The knee, we can safely say, no longer is an issue.

That's why Bill Belichick signed off on that quarterback keeper, and Brady didn't think twice about running it.

"Head to head with Ray Lewis," Brady said with a grin. "I certainly wasn't thinking that, going to bed last night and looking forward to today."

The sneak certainly wouldn't have been called in the preseason, when the Patriots still were learning how stable those two reattached knee ligaments would be. On Sunday, it seemed natural.

"I don't think I've ever lacked for confidence in anything," Brady said. "I'm out there because I feel like I can help the team win and to lead us. That's what I try to do every week."

Once was daring enough, but carrying the ball two plays in a row?

A play earlier, Gillette Stadium held its collective breath when Brady tucked the ball and ran to the right for 5 yards, sliding feet-first to narrowly escape getting decapitated by Lewis' right shoulder.

"Tom is a competitor and tough as hell," Patriots running back Sammy Morris said. "Tom is really tough. He's going to do what he's got to do to help us win the game.

"He's the 12 that we expect."

Gillette Stadium exhaled when Lewis came a millisecond away from detonating Tommy Boy on the scramble. Patriots fans breathed a sigh of relief when they watched him plunge into the end zone from a yard out. It was only the sixth rushing touchdown of his career and the first one the Ravens allowed this season.

Brady's afternoon had to be comforting to Patriot Nation. There was some skittishness merely a couple weeks ago, but all is well as long as Brady's well.

They didn't deserve to beat the Buffalo Bills on opening night, but they did. The Patriots' offense was disoriented and failed to score a touchdown in a 16-9 loss to the New York Jets in Week 2.

Jets rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez played better than Brady that day, but the two-time Super Bowl MVP has rebounded with a pair of superb performances against two more young guns -- Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco -- who could achieve similar status some day.

The Patriots have notched back-to-back victories over high-quality opponents to make their sputtering 2009 start look fluky, not the harbinger of a season that rounds the bend and trails them away from expectations of annual superiority.

Brady was noticeably more comfortable against the Ravens than he had been recently. Maybe it was because go-to slot receiver Wes Welker was back after missing two games with a knee injury. Maybe it was because receiver Joey Galloway was told not to suit up after months of looking lost.

The Patriots went into the Ravens game 28th in the league in red zone efficiency. They had scored touchdowns only 30.8 percent of the time they made it inside an opponent's 20-yard line. They scored touchdowns three of the five times they entered that territory Sunday.

"We've been shooting our own selves in the toes," Moss said. "We did some good things out there."

Brady and the Patriots' offense are coming around, just in time to face their old coordinator. Josh McDaniels has his Denver Broncos at 4-0.

A victory in Denver would give the Patriots three straight against unbeaten teams.

The Patriots can't be undefeated this year, but with Tommy Boy getting back to his 2007 form, it looks like he's turning back the clock.