Brady key in Patriots' win over Panthers

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Being a celebrity dad seems to be suiting Tom Brady just fine.

He just doesn't want to talk about it - even with his teammates.

Two days after Brady missed practice to fly to Los Angeles where his ex-girlfriend, actress Bridget Moynahan, gave birth to their son, Brady returned to the Patriots and was nearly flawless in New England's 24-7 exhibition win over the Carolina Panthers on Friday.

Brady then avoided reporters and questions about his whirlwind week. He hasn't even told his teammates the name of the baby.

Given plenty of time to throw, Brady completed 17 of 21 passes for 167 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, leading the Patriots (1-2) on three scoring drives in their best offensive showing of the preseason.

"He's got to fly across the world and take care of his issues," receiver Kelley Washington said. "It just shows how professional he is."

Brady threw touchdown passes of 6 yards to Marcellus Rivers and 8 yards to Heath Evans as New England built a 17-7 lead. Brady, who had what would have been a third TD pass dropped by Benjamin Watson, gave way to backup Matt Cassel midway through the third quarter.

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"I thought Tom did a nice job tonight," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "I thought he handled some adjustments well."

Panthers linebacker Dan Morgan's successful return from multiple concussions overshadowed another dismal performance by Carolina's offense and a shaky secondary. Jake Delhomme was 11-of-18 for 162 yards and a touchdown for the Panthers (1-2).

Morgan, who had not played since sustaining at least the fifth concussion of his career in last year's regular-season opener, made three tackles, including a hard hit of Sammy Morris late in the first quarter after Brady's first completion of the night.

"I stuck my head in there, it felt good, and I'm excited," Morgan said. "I'm excited to get out there and mix it up with my teammates."

Morgan, who left the game after the first quarter, watched the rest of the game from the sideline.

Brady, also spent the final quarter with his arms folded, chatting with teammates.

Brady missed practice Wednesday to see his newborn son, but settled down after badly overthrowing Watson on his first attempt, taking advantage of a balanced offense buoyed by the return of running back Laurence Maroney.

In his first game since offseason shoulder surgery, Maroney carried the ball on New England's first seven plays. Maroney, expected to be the top back after Corey Dillon's release in the offseason, had 15 carries for 58 yards.

"After I got my little jitterbugs out of the way, everything started coming back to me," Maroney said.

Evans added seven carries for 58 yards, including a 2-yard touchdown run.

Despite not having receiver Randy Moss - out since Aug. 1 with an apparent leg injury - Brady spread the ball around to eight receivers. Working out of the shotgun to start the second half, Brady lobbed a 37-yard pass down the left sideline to Donte' Stallworth, who leaped over cornerback Ken Lucas.

"Just tighter coverage," Panthers coach John Fox said of what needs to improve in the secondary. "We're not showing everything we do, that's part of the preseason. In some of the things we've been doing, we've been a little soft."

The Panthers, whose starters have been outscored 48-10 in the past two games, struggled again to run the ball. Top backs DeAngelo Williams and DeShaun Foster combined for 29 yards on 12 carries.

Keary Colbert staked a claim to the Panthers' No. 2 receiver role with a nifty 48-yard catch-and-run touchdown late in the first half.

Drew Carter, also contending to replace the released Keyshawn Johnson in the starting lineup, had three catches for 52 yards, but also dropped a pass early in the game.

Star receiver Steve Smith was limited to two catches for 20 yards and Delhomme overthrew him in the end zone late in the third quarter.

On the next play, Jarvis Green blocked John Kasay's 43-yard field-goal attempt. Green also blocked Kasay's 49-yard attempt in the second quarter.

Notes:Cassel completed 3 of 6 passes for 43 yards. He then gave way to 43-year-old Vinny Testaverde, who was 0-of-2. ... Panthers backup David Carr was 8-of-11 for 58 yards, but was intercepted by Oscar Lua. ... Panthers LB Na'il Diggs (hamstring) and S Nate Salley (knee) did not dress. ... The Patriots were 2-for-2 on fourth-down conversions, including Evans' 2-yard touchdown run. ... Stephen Gostkowski missed 2 of 3 field-goal attempts for New England.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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