FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) - Back on center stage, Tom Brady acted like, well, the NFL's biggest star.
It seemed to take forever, though.
A year after being sidelined with torn knee ligaments, Brady resembled a rusty game manager more than the invincible record-setting quarterback who guided the Patriots to a perfect 2007 regular season. Yet, he threw two touchdown passes in the final 2:06 as New England beat the Buffalo Bills 25-24 on Monday night.
When the spotlight hit, Brady lived up to the advance billing.
"We have a real competitive locker room, a real competitive team," Brady said. "When you're in a situation like we were, it's when you really have to step it up. It takes every guy on the field to step it up. Hopefully, we will continue to do that."
But Brady needed help in the form of Leodis McKelvin's fumble on a kickoff return after the Patriots pulled within five points.
Placekicker Stephen Gostkowski, of all people, recovered at the Buffalo 31. Brady needed three plays before hitting Benjamin Watson over the middle for the decisive 16-yard touchdown with 50 seconds to go.
Just 1:16 earlier, he found Watson on a similar play for an 18-yard score. It was vintage Brady, who threw for a record 50 TDs two years ago in leading New England to a perfect record.
"Two-minute drives always are fun for a quarterback," Brady said. "Spread it out, the pass rush gets a little tired, you get a feel for the coverage,you just have to be patient.
"I'm glad it's over, glad we are moving on, got a win, and we'll learn from it."
That unbeaten season was spoiled in Brady's last full game that counted, the February 2008 Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants. He was hurt in last season's opener.
Now he's back, although for much of the game he and the Patriots played conservatively, even passively. Indeed, Buffalo seemed ready to break an 11-game losing streak against New England and win for the first time in Gillette Stadium.
Then came the late fireworks, demonstrating that Tom Terrific hasn't lost his touch.
"That's not how we drew it up, but I'll take it," Brady said. "We did a lot of things poorly but we got the win."
Buffalo did a lot of things well, but got a shocking loss.
Coming off a 1-4 preseason in which the offense flopped, the Bills made plenty of big plays.
Trent Edwards outperformed Brady for much of the game and threw for two scores. A 10-yard screen pass TD to Fred Jackson put Buffalo ahead 24-13 with 5:32 to go - even though its new spotlight-grabber, Terrell Owens, barely caused a ripple. Owens had two catches for 46 yards.
When the offense wasn't doing the damage, defensive end Aaron Schobel was rambling 26 yards with an interception for a first-half TD.
Still, these are the Patriots, who have not lost a regular-season game with Brady at quarterback since Dec. 10, 2006. And they still have all those threats in the passing game, from Randy Moss (12 catches, 141 yards) to Wes Welker (12, 93) to tight end Watson (6, 77, two TDs).
Although Brady had those impressive stats, he never looked deep and struggled to convert key plays until the final moments. Perhaps that big hit he took on his shoulder from Albert Haynesworth 2½ weeks ago limited Brady. And maybe his team was uncomfortable in the throwback red uniforms or being introduced as the Boston Patriots for the first of the NFL's tribute games to the old AFL. Something wasn't right in Foxborough - until the end.
"It has nothing to do with his layoff," Moss said. "I think it's just first-game jitters. I'm not making an excuse, we just had to settle down and get to playing football the way we know how."
By JOSH DUBOW
AP Sports Writer
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) - Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers opened the season doing what they do best: beating the Oakland Raiders.
Rivers answered a pair of go-ahead scores by Oakland by leading two touchdown drives, capped by Darren Sproles' 5-yard run with 18 seconds left that gave the Chargers their 12th straight in this one-sided rivalry, 24-20 Monday night.
This might have been the toughest one of the bunch. JaMarcus Russell had given Oakland a 20-17 lead with a 57-yard touchdown pass to rookie Louis Murphy with 2:34 left. But despite having two backup linemen in the game, Rivers calmly led the Chargers down the field for the winning score.
"One thing I know is no team in this league can practice 2-minute situations as much as we do," Rivers said. "It's a little different executing it on Murphy Canyon Road as it is in Oakland. ... I said: 'Well, we've done this a million times, let's go score. All we need is three.' I was talking to myself, too."
Rivers wassix for seven for 79 yards on the winning drive before Sproles silenced the crowd with his run up the middle. This marked the Raiders' 11th straight loss in prime time and perhaps the most painful, considering how close they came.
"Our football team played its guts out and didn't finish the game," coach Tom Cable said. "That's the bottom line."
They took a 13-10 lead early in the fourth quarter on a 35-yard field goal by Sebastian Janikowski before Rivers drove the Chargers down and gave them the lead with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Vincent Jackson. Then Russell's fourth-down pass to Murphy looked as if it would provide an emphatic end to a pair of losing streaks. Instead, it was just a footnote to Oakland's league-worst 73rd loss since the start of the 2003 season.
The Chargers offense looked overmatched for much of the night against newly acquired Richard Seymour and the Raiders defense. Injuries to center Nick Hardwick and guard Louis Vasquez in the third quarter made moving the ball even tougher for San Diego and the frustration led Rivers to commit a personal foul that thwarted one drive.
But the two last drives were the reason why the Chargers gave Rivers a six-year contract extension worth $93 million, with $38 million guaranteed, last month. He finished 24 for 36 for 252 yards, playing his best when it counted most.
"People talk about quarterbacks that handle pressure, that respond and lead their teams from behind," Chargers coach Norv Turner said. "He's done it continuously and he's done it in some real difficult situations like tonight. It's great to get the win here."
Russell nearly had overcome a rough night with that one pass to Murphy. Russell was 12 for 30 for 208 yards and two interceptions, including one on a desperation heave following Sproles' TD.
Oakland got a big boost from Seymour, who arrived from New England two days ago and didn't evengo through a full practice with his new team. He sacked Rivers twice in the first half and helped Oakland keep longtime nemesis LaDainian Tomlinson in check.
Tomlinson, who averaged 119 yards rushing per game against Oakland coming into the game, managed only 55 on 13 carries. But Sproles helped out with two long kickoff returns, five catches for 43 yards and the winning touchdown.
The Raiders dominated the play in the first half, outgaining the Chargers 217-74, but were still tied at 10 because of two turnovers, and a replay review that went against Oakland.
With the offensive line creating big holes, Darren McFadden and Michael Bush ran the ball down the field on the opening drive before Russell threw an interception from the San Diego 25 to Quentin Jammer.
The Raiders finished the job on the second drive, getting a 30-yard pass from Russell to Zach Miller to set up Bush's 4-yard run. McFadden fumbled on the next drive, setting up Tomlinson's 1-yard run to tie it, his 20th career rushing touchdown against Oakland.
Oakland was on the wrong end of a replay review at the end of the half, when an apparent 19-yard touchdown pass to Murphy was overturned because the ball came loose as he hit the ground. Oakland settled for a 37-yard field goal by Janikowski with 40 seconds left.
"By definition in our rule book, he's going to the ground and has to maintain possession of the ball throughout the entire act of the catch," referee Carl Cheffers told a pool reporter. "And in this case, he lost possession and the ball hit the ground. Therefore, it's incomplete."
Sproles returned the ensuing kickoff 59 yards, setting up Nate Kaeding's 47-yard field goal on the final play of the half.
NOTES: Tomlinson's lost fumble in the first quarter was his first since Oct. 22, 2006, against Kansas City. ... Former first-round pick Michael Huff had an INT and a fumble recovery, matching his total from his first three seasons.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.