Watch Tom Brady play long enough and you start to wonder if he ever makes mistakes. When he finally does, it's almost a shock, kind of like seeing the Buffalo Bills atop the AFC East.
Brady made one Sunday while the Patriots were well on their way to what seemed like an inevitable rout of the Bills, though at the time it seemed to matter little. Then he made three more in the second half, and suddenly it mattered a lot.
That's the way it can go in today's NFL, where offenses now rule and no lead is safe. That it can go against the best quarterback in the game and a team that seemed an early lock for the Super Bowl should give hope to distressed teams around the league.
Memo to defensive coordinators everywhere: Forget what you've been led to believe. Tom Brady is human after all.
It certainly didn't seem that way through the first two games of the season, when Brady put up numbers so stunning they almost looked cartoonish. He was on a pace to throw for nearly 8,000 yards in a league where no one has reached 6,000, and was hitting receivers in the end zone at a clip that even Brett Favre would admire.
That didn't change much on Sunday in Buffalo, where Brady threw for four touchdowns — giving him 11 in three games — and 387 yards. What did change was he threw four passes into the arms of guys he wasn't aiming for, matching in just one game his total for all of last season.
The result was a come from behind 34-31 win for the Bills, their first over New England in 16 games. Even better, it put the Bills and their Harvard-educated quarterback atop the division, a development that so excited the long suffering fans in Buffalo that security guards were posted to keep them from tearing down the goal posts.
Whether the Bills can remain on top is doubtful, though quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is throwing the ball unlike any Ivy League quarterback before him and they are the only team in the modern era to come back from at least 18 points down and win in two consecutive games. Still, there's a long — and unfamiliar — path the Bills must navigate before they meet the Patriots again on New Year's Day in Foxborough in the final regular season game for both teams.
As for Brady and the Patriots? Well, let's just say they're not exactly panicking.
"It's one loss," said Brady, "and it's a long season."
In Brady's defense, the four picks weren't all his fault. Had the ball bounced the other way on two of them, the Patriots would have headed home still undefeated and Brady's start would still be the talk of the league.
But it didn't, because that's football. And Brady has been around long enough to understand that as well as anyone.
"Some days the ball gets batted up in the air and it goes your way," he said. "And some days it doesn't."
Almost overshadowed by the loss was a career game for Wes Welker, Brady's go-to guy who had 16 catches for a franchise record 217 yards and two touchdowns. Brady and Welker seem to be playing pitch-and-catch at times, unaware that anyone else is on the field with them.
Almost unnoticed was that Chad Ochocinco still seems lost with his new team. Ochocinco had the ball thrown to him only four times, dropping one sure touchdown while catching two passes for 28 yards.
"This isn't just on Tom," Welker said. "It's everybody getting on the same page and understanding that we all need to make plays and we're all accountable for it."
Surely, Bill Belichick will press that point this week as the Patriots regroup before heading across the country to play Oakland. They'll do it behind a quarterback whose numbers are still astounding even with the mistakes thrown in.
Brady now has 1,326 yards passing in three games, breaking the record of 1,257 set in 2006 by New Orleans QB Drew Brees. He also had his 37th 300-yard career game, moving him into ninth place, one ahead of John Elway. And Brady's four touchdowns gave him 272, one short of tying Joe Montana for ninth place on the NFL list.
All good numbers, and all good company for Brady, who grew up with Montana as his idol. Brady is starting to accumulate the kind of stats that put him in the conversation when it comes to the greatest quarterbacks ever, and at the age of 34 he should have years left in the league to add to his legacy.
In the end, though, Brady may be judged more on the number of Super Bowls he won than anything else. He would tie his idol, Montana, by winning a fourth Super Bowl this season, and the oddsmakers in Las Vegas are among those who believe they'll be playing for a ring in Indianapolis.
"We're not going anywhere," Brady said. "We'll be back, and we'll be fighting next week."
One mistake filled day in Buffalo won't change that.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or follow on Twitter at http://twitter.com/timdahlberg