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New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady warms up before a Jan. 4 wild-card game against the Titans in Foxborough, Mass. AP photo

Do you remember Tom Brady’s first start with the New England Patriots? It was Sept. 30, 2001 against the Indianapolis Colts. The Patriots entered the game at 0-2, the Colts were 2-0, and nobody outside the Patriots locker room had any expectations.

That was the last day anybody looked at a Patriots team without any expectations.

Future expectations are unknown, after the great Brady announced Tuesday on social media he was leaving the organization.

But expectations have followed Brady everywhere.

Even in 2008, when Brady’s season ended with a first half knee injury in the season-opening win over the Kansas City Chiefs, Matt Cassel took over at quarterback and was surrounded by a talented team. As Brady limped off the field, expectations may have dropped from the Super Bowl to the playoffs (which the Patriots missed on a tiebreaker), but expectations remained.

My friend Bob and I left Maine for Foxborough early that Sunday morning, eager to see if this kid had any sort of game. As we tailgated with my father and family friend Jeff, we talked about the new quarterback. Is this kid ready to start? This Brady is not Drew Bledsoe, we said. Turns out we were right about that.

The Patriots routed the Colts that afternoon at Foxboro Stadium, 44-13. Brady’s stats were fine, 13 of 23 for 168 yards, no touchdowns, but no interceptions, either. Interception returns for touchdowns by Otis Smith and Ty Law helped turn a run of the mill lopsided game into a splendid blowout.

Two weeks after his first start and first win, Brady engineered his first comeback. On Oct. 14, 2001, the San Diego Chargers and quarterback Doug Flutie (yes, Doug Flutie) came to New England and led 26-16 midway through the fourth quarter. With around eight and a half minutes left, Brady and the Patriots began a drive at their own 26. With 3:31 to play, the drive fizzled out at the San Diego 5-yard line, and the Patriots had to settle for an Adam Vinatieri field goal.

After the defense forced the Chargers three and out, Brady and the offense took over on their own 46 with 2:10 to play. With 36 seconds left, Brady completed a 3-yard touchdown pass to Jermaine Wiggins. Vinatieri’s extra point was good. In overtime, Brady directed a seven-play, 51-yard drive to set up Vinatieri’s game-winning 44-yard field goal.

Brady had hiccups. An ugly loss in Miami. A four interception game in Denver. Two more picks in a close loss to the juggernaut St. Louis Rams. You’re going to have to play a near-perfect game to beat those guys, we thought.

Those missteps were few, and as the season marched unexpectedly in January, less frequent. Three touchdowns and 250 yards passing against Atlanta. Four touchdowns in a rainy win over New Orleans. A huge divisional win over the Jets. Brady caught a pass from Kevin Faulk for 23 yards on a trick play in a win over Miami.

The comeback in the Snow Bowl. The drive to finish and win Super Bowl XXXVI over the Rams.

Patriots history made. Maybe, we thought. Maybe this Brady kid can be pretty good.


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