Jay-Z’s “Public Service Announcement” blared over the loud speakers at Gillette Stadium well before kickoff Thursday night.
Patriots fans knew exactly what that meant: Tom Brady was walking onto the field.
“That’s sort of his theme song when he comes out,” CSN Patriots writer Mike Giardi on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “Anybody that’s been following Brady for all these years, they know that’s a sign and they got to their feet immediately and they got loud. The place wasn’t totally full at that point because it was still a little early, but they were jacked to see their guy and he was fist-pumping like crazy. And it was just one of those moments that you kew was coming, and it still was one of those moments that when you watch sports, you say to yourself, ‘That was pretty cool.’”
Brady gave the home fans something to cheer about all night, throwing four touchdown passes and leading the Patriots to a 28-21 season-opening win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Brady completed 11 passes for 97 yards to Julian Edelman but went to Rob Gronkowski for the money plays.
Gronk, fully healthy for the first time in seemingly forever, caught five passes for 94 yards and three touchdowns.
“It’s huge,” Giardi said. “For Gronkowski, this is the first offseason that he’s had where he didn’t have any surgeries. So he was able to train – and he’s a maniac when it comes to that stuff anyway – but he was able to train without having to worry about rehabbing this, that or the other thing. They held him out of all the preseason games because he’s just too important of an investment to even waste that sort of time. You saw it. As he said, ‘I’m still a little rusty. I wasn’t what I needed to be.’ But rusty or not, three touchdowns and just such a difficult cover, especially in the red zone. There is really no one like him in the league at that position.”
Defensively, the Patriots allowed 464 yards, as Pittsburgh moved the ball with relative ease all night. The Pats, however, made plays when they had to.
“Yeah, they had some issues (at various points),” Giardi said. “(Bill) Belichick for years and years now – even last year when he had (Darrelle) Revis, which took this defense to a level they hadn’t been at in some time – they still started off September and they’re pretty vanilla. They don’t do a lot of exotic things. It’s almost as if he wants to gauge beyond the preseason, let’s make sure we have the fundamentals down before we start really bringing in some of the exotic stuff that you saw later in the season. That’s sort of how he goes. I think for the most part it was pretty vanilla. Don’t over-pursue (Ben) Roethlisberger. They rushed three guys a lot of times.
“I think the big surprise to me was that Malcolm Butler covered Antonio Brown all over the place,” Giardi continued. “Butler all preseason has just been lined up at the left corner, and that’s an important spot, but he followed Brown all over the field. I know Brown had nine catches and 133 yards, but it was a pretty competitive effort from Butler. There was the one play where Brown stood over the top of him for a 37-yard gain, but otherwise, a lot of bump screens, a lot of slants with rubs and picks – those plays are pretty indefensible anyway. So I thought that Butler did a pretty good job all things considered in his first big start.”