FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Tom Brady ended his strange week with a typically strong performance.
Going from a car crash and a new contract on Thursday to another outstanding game on Sunday, Brady smiled and joked after leading the New England Patriots to a 38-24 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
“It was a fun day,” he said, “I’ll tell you that.”
Brady completed 25 of 35 passes for 258 yards and three touchdowns. Wes Welker scored on two of those after making a speedy recovery from knee surgery less than eight months ago. He even caught Brady’s first pass of the day.
The quarterback was shaken by a two-car crash near his Boston home on Thursday morning that left him unhurt but sent a passenger in the other vehicle to a hospital. He called the Patriots to say he’d be a bit late, then practiced as usual later that day.
“Fortunately, I was OK. Hopefully, the people in the other car are recovering quickly and well. But it was a scary thing for both of us,” he said. “But, of course, I’ve got to come down and get ready for the game. I know that. I had to be here for my teammates.”
The two-time Super Bowl MVP wouldn’t let his contract become a distraction either. After negotiations during the week, Brady agreed to a 4-year, $72 million contract, an average salary of $18 million that is the highest in the NFL.
“I’m more excited about the win,” Brady said. “Contracts take care of themselves.”
Welker was overshadowed in pre-game chatter by the Bengals talkative receiving tandem of Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens. Ochocinco had 12 catches for 159 yards and a touchdown, and Owens added seven receptions for 53 yards.
But Welker had more impact on the game with his eight catches for 64 yards, helping the Patriots to a 24-3 halftime lead.
Scoring the Patriots’ first touchdown of the season on a 9-yard reception on their first series, was “a special deal,” he said.
The NFL’s leading receiver over the past three years with 346 catches made the last of those early in last season’s finale on Jan. 3. He tore a ligament in his left knee on that catch and missed the Patriots’ 33-14 first-round playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens. He had surgery in February then worked out with Brady on the West Coast.
“You go out there preparing and, you know, ‘This is the big comeback or whatever,'” said Welker, who knew a while ago he’d be ready for the opener, “but for me it was just going out there and playing and be out there with my teammates and trying to contribute to a win.”
The Patriots dominated every phase of the game. On defense, Gary Guyton scored on a 59-yard interception return that made it 24-0, and on special teams Brandon Tate’s 97-yard runback of the second-half kickoff increased that to 31-3.
“Obviously, you allow a kickoff return for a touchdown and an interception return for a touchdown, that’s hard to overcome,” Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis said. “It’s hard to see through the muck, but there were some positives.”
Not many for his defense, though.
“We weren’t ourselves today,” Bengals cornerback Leon Hall said. “Today was really unacceptable.”
Cincinnati cut the lead to 31-17 on Carson Palmer’s scoring passes of 1 yard to rookie tight end Jermaine Gresham midway through the third quarter and 28 yards to Ochocinco with 22 seconds remaining in the period. But they never got any closer.
“This was a tough loss because we were excited and fired up for this game,” Palmer said, “but we won’t let this affect the rest of our year.”
Ochocinco had nicknamed Owens “Batman” and himself “Robin.” But cornerbacks Devin McCourty, a rookie, and Darius Butler, in his second season, held their own.
“The secondary did fine,” Patriots tight end Alge Crumpler said. “You can’t pay any attention to that Batman and Robin stuff.”
With the score 31-17, Brady led a 14-play, 81-yard march capped by a 1-yard scoring pass to Rob Gronkowski, another rookie tight end. It was his first pro touchdown and, before lining up to block for the extra point, he handed the ball to Brady for safekeeping on the sideline.
Cedric Benson scored on a 1-yard run for Cincinnati with 3:57 left in the game.
“Apologies to Cincy fans,” Owens tweeted, “tough loss today, only week 1, we’ve a long season ahead, all of you be blessed, 1 luv.”
Brady was in a much better mood. He even was able to joke about the crash.
After the game, former Patriots quarterback and current television commentator Scott Zolak asked him lightheartedly whether he had gotten a new car. Brady smiled and said, “I did, I did. I just wanted to get the 2011, so I had to crash the 2010.”