They dominated the Pittsburgh Steelers in a 33-3 victory Sunday evening in Foxborough, Mass., to open their season. And that was without Brown, the seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver signed Saturday after the Oakland Raiders accommodated his demand to be released. Brown was not eligible to play in this game, but could be added to the lineup for next Sunday’s game at Miami.
The Patriots, during their dynastic run, regularly have turned sluggish regular season starts into Super Bowl triumphs. This time, they looked terrific on opening night. Quarterback Tom Brady, who turned 42 last month, was as efficient as ever. He threw three touchdown passes, two to Phillip Dorsett and one to fellow wide receiver Josh Gordon, in a 24-for-36, 341-yard passing night.
Brady distributed the ball adroitly to running back James White and wideouts Gordon, Julian Edelman and Dorsett. Gordon played well after being reinstated by the NFL last month following his latest suspension under the substance abuse policy. The New England defense was without linebacker Kyle Van Noy, who was on the inactive list, reportedly because his wife went into labor. Yet the Patriots shut down the Steelers in Pittsburgh’s first game since the offseason exits of Brown, who was traded to the Raiders, and running back Le’Veon Bell, who left in free agency to sign with the New York Jets after sitting out all of last season in a contract dispute.
The interesting thing, of course, is what happens next. Brown was in the area but was not permitted to play because he was not on the Patriots’ roster by the 4 p.m. NFL deadline Saturday. According to NBC, Brady extended Brown an offer to stay at his house while Brown gets settled.
“Everyone comes in here and works as hard as they can to try to establish a great role,” Brady said in an on-field postgame interview with that network. “It’s about getting him up to speed. He’s obviously a great player. I’ve played against him for a long time. So we’re excited to have him and try to incorporate him the best way we can.”
Brown has been one of the NFL’s most productive wide receivers throughout his career. If things work out, he potentially could be the best wideout with whom Brady has played, maybe even better than Randy Moss.
But Brown also has become the ultimate diva wide receiver and has prompted his last two teams to accommodate his wish to leave. The Steelers traded him to the Raiders in March for third- and fifth-round draft picks after Brown became disgruntled in Pittsburgh, in part because of a clash with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Brown’s tenure with the Raiders included ailing feet, two helmet grievances against the NFL, multiple fines, a practice-field verbal confrontation with General Manager Mike Mayock, a YouTube video that appeared to contain a private phone conversation with Coach Jon Gruden and an Instagram post seeking his release.
Patriots Coach Bill Belichick has added controversial and troubled players before. The list includes Moss, Corey Dillon, Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Gordon. Belichick’s success with those moves has been mixed. With Brown, the stakes are raised considerably. Brown could frustrate Brady the way he ultimately frustrated Roethlisberger and the Steelers. He could reject the famed Patriot Way and be sent quickly packing.
Or he could tone down his act, fit in and be the absolutely dominant receiver for Brady that Moss was in 2007, when the Patriots took an 18-0 record into the Super Bowl before being upset by the New York Giants.
The Patriots team that was on the field Sunday night didn’t appear to need any help. The night began with a celebration of last season’s Super Bowl title that included former players Rob Gronkowski, Martellus Bennett, Rob Ninkovich, Willie McGinest, Ty Law and Drew Bledsoe. Then the Patriots dismantled the Steelers. It was 20-0 at halftime and 30-3 entering the fourth quarter.
The defense kept JuJu Smith-Schuster, who inherited Brown’s job as the Steelers’ No. 1 receiver, and tailback James Conner, Bell’s successor at running back since last season, from doing much of anything . The Steelers’ supporting cast around Roethlisberger appeared lacking. The Patriots were as ruthless as ever. Brady played the entire game and Belichick called a timeout in the final seconds to avoid confusion that might have permitted the Steelers to score a cosmetic touchdown.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Brady told NBC. “We just want to be a lot better, I think, than we were tonight. But I thought the defense played great [and] gave us a lot of opportunities. We made some big plays in the passing game, which always helps. But I think we’ve got to get back to work and do a better job next week.”
FINAL: Patriots 33, Steelers 3
Brady plays on: Bill Belichick has kept Tom Brady in the game with less than five minutes remaining. Ben Roethlisberger just threw an end zone interception and the Steelers’ chances of scoring a touchdown in this game are dwindling. (Patriots 33, Steelers 3 with 4:17 left in the 4th quarter)
It’s garbage time now: Stephen Gostkowski kicked his third field goal of the night for the Patriots in the final seconds of the third quarter. It’s 30-3 entering the fourth quarter and about the only question now is whether Coach Bill Belichick will allow Tom Brady to make an early exit from the game. (Patriots 30, Steelers 3 at end of 3rd quarter)
Patriots reply quickly: The Patriots wasted no time responding. Phillip Dorsett got open behind the Pittsburgh secondary and hauled in Tom Brady’s pass for a 58-yard touchdown. This is getting embarrassing for the Steelers. (Patriots 27, Steelers 3 with 8:05 left in the 3rd quarter)
Steelers finally score: The Steelers are on the scoreboard at last, but even that felt like a setback for them. Coach Mike Tomlin, trailing by 20-0, opted against a fourth-and-goal try from the New England 1-yard line and settled for kicker Chris Boswell’s 19-yard field goal. The Steelers finally got moving with a 45-yard completion from Ben Roethlisberger to wide receiver James Washington. A defensive holding penalty on the Patriots’ Stephon Gilmore gave the Steelers a first down at the 6-yard line. But they could not get into the end zone, as Roethlisberger threw incomplete on third and goal from the 1. (Patriots 20, Steelers 3 with 10:17 left in the 3rd quarter)
Patriots dominating at the half: On the night when they celebrated their sixth Super Bowl triumph last season, the Patriots are making it seem like a foregone conclusion that they’ll secure Lombardi Trophy no. 7 this season. They lead the Steelers, 20-0, at halftime of their Sunday night season opener. Tom Brady had first-half touchdown passes to wide receivers Josh Gordon and Phillip Dorsett. He connected on 16 of 25 throws for 194 yards. And, remember, the Patriots could add just-signed wide receiver Antonio Brown to their lineup for next Sunday’s Week 2 game at Miami.
Even without Brown in this game and with Rob Gronkowski on hand but only as a spectator, the Patriots look next to unstoppable on offense. Brady had his 42nd birthday in August but appears as efficient as ever as he distributes the ball to Gordon, Julian Edelman and James White. The defense, even after losing de facto coordinator Brian Flores when he became the Dolphins’ head coach, shut down the Steelers in the first half.
Ben Roethlisberger completed nine of 14 passes but for only 65 yards. James Conner ran for only 18 yards on eight carries. JuJu Smith-Schuster, blanketed by Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore, had two catches for 26 yards. The Steelers punted four times in the first half and failed to convert a fourth-and-one attempt late in the half, leading to kicker Stephen Gostkowski’s second field goal of the half for the Patriots. (Patriots 20, Steelers 0 at halftime)
Is this a blowout?: Tom Brady’s second touchdown pass of the first half, a 25-yarder to wide receiver Phillip Dorsett, has upped the Patriots’ lead to 17-0. But it’s not only the Pittsburgh defense that’s struggling. The Steelers need to get something going on offense. It has been four possessions and four punts for the Steelers. The New England defense is taking away JuJu Smith-Schuster, who became Pittsburgh’s No. 1 wideout with Antonio Brown’s offseason exit. He has one catch so far. The Steelers need their supporting cast to pitch in. And it’s not helping that the Steelers have been unable to run the ball. James Connor has rushed for 14 yards on seven carries. The Steelers’ first game since the departures of Brown and Le’Veon Bell isn’t going well for them so far. (Patriots 17, Steelers 0 with 3:49 left in the 2nd quarter)
Pats extend lead: It’s 10-0 after the Patriots got a 25-yard field goal by kicker Stephen Gostkowski. They have their offense rolling now, following a first-possession punt, with Tom Brady distributing the ball to Josh Gordon, Julian Edelman and James White. But the Pittsburgh defense toughened to force the field goal, as the Steelers pressured Brady into an incompletion on third and goal from the 7-yard line. The Steelers have done very little on offense so far and need to get something going. (Patriots 10, Steelers 0 with 11:52 left in the 2nd quarter)
Patriots jump in front: The Patriots take the lead with a 20-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady to wide receiver Josh Gordon. Gordon, reinstated by the NFL last month from his latest suspension under the substance abuse policy, lined up in the slot on the left side of the formation. He was uncovered by the Steelers as he crossed the field left to right. Gordon caught Brady’s pass in stride before breaking a tackle or two on his way into the end zone. That was set up by a 32-yard gain on a trick play. Brady threw a lateral to his right to wide receiver Julian Edelman, who threw the ball back across the field to running back James White. He had open field in front of him and gave the Patriots a first down at the Pittsburgh 20-yard line. (Patriots 7, Steelers 0 with 4:46 left in the 1st quarter)
Offenses start slowly: Each offense got off to a sluggish start. The Patriots punted on their opening possession, and then the Steelers returned the favor. If only Antonio Brown was on the field for one or the other, huh? (Steelers 0, Patriots 0 with 7:54 left in the 1st quarter)
Patriots celebrate another Super Bowl win: The Patriots and their fans celebrated their latest Super Bowl triumph in a pregame ceremony. Former players Rob Gronkowski, Martellus Bennett, Rob Ninkovich, Willie McGinest, Ty Law and Drew Bledsoe were on hand. Each represented one of the franchise’s six Super Bowl victories.