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FOXBOROUGH - Patriots quarterback Tom Brady patted the football, ****ed his right arm, then delivered a short strike for a completion. He only wished he were on the Gillette Stadium playing field.

Brady was a surprise guest at the annual Patriots' Salvation Army Holiday Party last night at Gillette Stadium, making a rare public appearance since severely injuring his left knee in the Patriots' season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs.

As he circled the club filled with youngsters, a smiling Brady clutched a football in his right hand and looked in the direction of 10-year-old Abismal Vargas of Providence.

"He said, 'Go far,' " Vargas said. "I just looked at him and said, 'Me?' "

Brady, who moved around the room with ease, then softly lobbed the ball to Vargas.

Whether Brady will be ready to fire passes in the direction of Randy Moss, Wes Welker, and Co. next season, he provided little detail about his recovery, saying he was in attendance only to talk about the Patriots Charitable Foundation.

Asked if the troublesome infection that developed after surgery has cleared, he said: "[Coach Bill] Belichick never wants us to talk about any of that. We're just going to root [for the team], the season is not over. I'm on injured reserve, so I can't do much for the team at this point, other than show my support."

Brady declined to provide details on his rehabilitation. Asked how he was feeling, he answered without mentioning his knee.

"When we win, I'm excited for us. When we lose, it stinks," he said. "It's no different when you're playing or when you're watching. My heart and soul is with this team, so you live and die with every win and loss."

Brady was more detailed when speaking about what he has witnessed from quarterback Matt Cassel, especially this past Sunday in Oakland. Mourning the death of his father, Cassel threw four touchdown passes in a 49-26 victory.

"He's done incredible," Brady said. "He's a great person, a great teammate, a great friend, and he's such a mentally tough person. Just the success that I've seen from him and his maturity is exceptional."

Patriots owner Robert Kraft indicated that Brady seems to be making strides in his recovery.

"Seeing him earlier today, he's starting to look like his old self," Kraft said. "I'm really happy with that. He has such a great attitude."

Mike Reiss can be reached at mreiss@globe.com.dingbat_story_end_icon.gif

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