Tom Brady, who almost certainly should have been watching his New England Patriots open their season on a massive television somewhere in Back Bay, made the most of the NFL’s Deflategate incompetence and his resulting gift from the American judicial system, and had one of the most dominant, accurate season openers of his illustrious career, moving the Pats offense with ease and leading New England to such an easy win that the back-to-back chatter had practically begun by the time the third quarter ended.
There were always two ways Thursday night was going to go. Either Brady was going to be rusty from the craziness of the past four months (and giving up those first-team reps to Jimmy Garoppolo) or he was going to come out with the biggest chip on his shoulder since Week 5 of last season when people dared have the audacity to question whether Tom Terrific was on a career downswing. He answered the question that week and did it again Thursday. It was a refreshing performance, one that should end the chatter about Deflategate (Bob Costas is right; stop the appeal, Roger Goodell) and gleefully start a new season of football that will hopefully be devoid of crime and controversy
Can’t we all just play some football?
Brady did. He sputtered a bit on the Pats’ first possession, missing a surefire touchdown pass to Danny Amendola and getting sacked the very next play to force a punt. After that it was three possessions that ended in three touchdown passes (not including a kill-the-clock kneel down at the end of the first half). In that stretch, Brady completed 16 passes in a row and looked 27 years old, not like a 37-year-old who spent part of his summer getting poorly drawn in a courthouse.
Eventually, he’d complete 19 in a row (three off the NFL record), including a 52-yarder to Rob Gronkowski, whom he also connected with for three touchdowns. That deep pass changed the momentum of the game as it came on the first offensive play after the Steelers had cut the lead to seven and New England appeared on the verge of blowing a lead of 18+ points at home for the first time since 1978. Brady put a stop to that nonsense quickly.
He finished the game 25/32 (78%) with four touchdowns and a 143.8 passer rating. The completion percentage and passer rating were numbers he’s eclipsed just a few times in his career.
New England was far from perfect, giving up almost 500 yards to Pittsburgh, having a pass rush in theory only and getting gifted two missed field goals and a blown touchdown. That came when former top-1o pick Darrius Heyward-Bey showed the field awareness of a pee-wee football benchwarmer in stepping out of bounds in the end zone while awaiting a wide-open pass from Ben Roethlisberger. Make no mistake, the Pats’ win easily could have been a loss. But all that matters after the opening week is whether the 1 is in the correct column.
Though everyone says every year that you shouldn’t read too much into Week 1, we all read too much into Week 1. (It makes sense. We’ve spent eight months reading into nothing. At least this is real football.) We’re not going to fall into that very-enticing trap. The Patriots might have looked so good because the Steelers aren’t very good. The Steelers defense might have allowed Brady to roll because it’s trying to find its sea legs without Dick LeBeau. No matter what the Patriots offense did, the Steelers offense was almost as good, rolling over the New England defense, which had a secondary that was as questionable as expected and a line that was horrible. And perhaps Brady just had an on-night fueled by Deflategate rage.
But those are questions that will be answered in Week 2 and beyond. For one night at least, a winter, spring and summer of controversy appeared to have no effect on Tom Brady. At 37, the future Hall of Famer is back and better than ever.
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