NEW ORLEANS — If there’s a Tom Brady image from the Patriots’ season-opening loss to Kansas City you’d just as soon forget, it was this: The veteran quarterback inexplicably wandering over the line of scrimmage before attempting to throw a pass.

He looked confused, like an old man trying to jaywalk at rush hour.

But if there’s an image from the Patriots’ 36-20 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday afternoon that you’d very much like to remember, it was, strangely, a third-quarter pass initially ruled an interception.

The pass looked a little kooky and wobbly, except there was a method to this madness that only Brady could understand.

The Saints had too many men on the field.

Brady could see this, even if not a single game official could see it. So Brady was going to take his free pass, even if under pressure, even if he was only remotely aware of his intended target, because he’d simply bully – er, persuade – the officials to do some counting if his pass turned out to be incomplete or intercepted.

It was intercepted. Then, Brady held up one finger on one hand, and two on the other.

As in: 12.

The refs checked.

Brady had it right.

And that, people, should give you an idea how plugged-in and on target Brady was Sunday afternoon at the Superdome, the place where it all began on that Sunday in February 2002, when he refused to take a knee and instead passed the Patriots to their first Super Bowl championship.

You want numbers? OK, sure. Just 10 days after submitting the fourth-worst completion percentage of his entire career, Brady completed 30 of 39 passes for 447 yards – the third-highest total of his career – and three touchdowns against the Saints.

In the first quarter alone, Brady threw for 177 yards and three touchdowns. It was the first time in Brady’s career he has thrown three touchdown passes in the first quarter.

What a coincidence that he’d do that just one game after essentially calling out his team. Just minutes after the Kansas City debacle – seconds, really – Brady marched into the interview room and said, “Every position that we have is going to have to do a better job than we did tonight.”

Even more damning was this comment: “We just have to be a lot better in a lot of areas, starting with our attitude and our competitiveness.”

If you talk that kind of talk, you better be … well, you get the idea. And so Brady delivered, right away, with the three TD passes right out of the gate and with the X-ray vision that saw something in the New Orleans defense the refs could not see.

Asked Sunday if he was satisfied that his teammates showed a side of themselves that was missing in the Kansas City game, Brady opted for a fireside chat about the brutal nature of the National Football League.

“The NFL is tough, man,” he said. “Every game is tough. Every quarter’s tough, every play’s tough. You can’t take anything for granted. In order to win, you gotta go out there and compete, and compete as hard as you can every play. And we did a good job of that today.”

Re-read that last quote and you’ll agree that it’s boilerplate stuff. It sounds like something little Tommy Brady heard when he was playing Pop Warner football back in San Mateo, California.

Yet it was important stuff Sunday, because of the important stuff he said after the Kansas City game. It was also important for Brady to have a big game, so he went out and had a big game. Heck, he wasn’t just the best player on the field. He was also the best game official.

“Yeah, I was looking right at them when I snapped it,” Brady said of the New Orleans defense, and that’s when he spotted the extra Saints player hovering near the sideline.

“He was probably three or four yards from the sideline,” he said. “And then I was just trying to roll out … we didn’t really have a play. I was just trying to get the penalty.

“I didn’t see a flag on the field,” said Brady, who was by now beaming. “I was, like, ‘What the heck!? I saw the guy.’ And they said they were going to review it. It was 12 on there, and we got the call.”

Brady added that, “I wish they had called it right away. It would have taken away a lot of the drama.”

Ummmm … no. Not even close. That it played out the way it did was a perfect example of what Brady was trying to get across to this teammates after the failure against the Chiefs.