Tom Brady didn’t miss a beat.
Brushing off seven months of rust and a neverending offseason battle with the NFL, Brady was on top of his game in the season opener at Gillette Stadium, throwing for four touchdowns in the Patriots 28-21 victory over the Steelers.
Thursday night marked the 23rd time Brady has thrown for four or more scoring passes in his career with superstar tight end Rob Gronkowski on the receiving end of three TD passes with newcomer Scott Chandler scoring his first touchdown in a Patriots uniform.
“Yeah, they’re tough match-ups down there because obviously their size and their ability to get open in one-on-one coverage, so if you want to play zone, we have a lot of options,’’ Brady said. “And when it’s one-on-one, you’ve got such big targets. And four of those plays were that type of…confusion on the first one, mismatch on the one to Chandler, mismatch on the one to Gronk, and then we took advantage of another one on the little pop-pass I threw right over top of everybody. So those guys are big. They’re big. They’re tough. They’re physical. Hopefully we can keep going; 4-of-4 in the red area is a good place to start.’’
Brady’s opening night performance landed him in the record books with 161 career regular-season wins with the Patriots, surpassing Brett Favre (160 wins with Green Bay) for the most wins by a starting quarterback with one team.
“Yeah, it was a pretty special night. I was excited,’’ Brady said. “Our whole team was excited. We haven’t had one of these games in a long time, so it’s always fun being out there and getting the opportunity to go play. And we took advantage of it. Good win. I thought our guys played hard.’’
Brady finished the night going 25-for-32 for 288 yards with four touchdowns, no interceptions, and a perfect 4-for-4 in red zone efficiency. At one point, Brady completed 19 consecutive passes, breaking the regular-season team record he set when he completed 14 straight passes against the Jacksonville Jaguars on December 27, 2009.
Fears of Brady not having adequate protection were unfounded, as the makeshift offensive line stepped up to the challenge, including rookie David Andrews taking over for the second-year center Bryan Stork who was out via the league’s concussion protocol.
“Yeah, we’ve worked pretty hard getting [Andrews] up to speed, and he did a tremendous job,’’ Brady said. “I think all three of those rookies that played on the inside did phenomenal. It’s a tall task to get them up to speed with all different variations and protections and adjustments that we tend to make, and I thought they really hung in there. They played with a lot of toughness, so it was great to… Dave did a great job at center. Tre’ [Jackson] and Shaq [Mason] and the two tackles are phenomenal, so it was great protection all night. It really allowed us to get some guys open down the field.’’
Gronkowski was one of those guys that broke free down field for a 52-yard pass play in the fourth quarter. It didn’t seem to matter that Brady and Gronk didn’t play together in any preseason games as the duo connected for five receptions for 94 yards with No. 87 getting into the end zone three times on the night.
“You don’t really forget how to play football, I think, in the seven months, so I think it was nice to be out there,’’ Brady said. “And it’s a little different than the preseason, so I know the expectations are always high every time we take the field. And I think it’s good to have that. At the same time, I think it’s nice to focus on an opponent – work for seven or eight days on a team and try to figure out the things that you do well that they don’t do so well, try to get some match-ups. And I think that that’s what our team has always done a pretty good job of – identifying the perceived weaknesses in defenses, and then you try to go after those things.
“So Gronk made a lot of big plays tonight; Jules [Julian Edelman] made a lot of big plays. We’ve got to keep getting everybody involved – certainly the running game. And getting LG [LeGarrette Blount] back will be good. So we’ve got a lot of work ahead. It’s a long season, but it’s good to get off to 1-0.’’
Brady’s other favorite target — wide receiver Julian Edelman — was also sharp on opening night, hauling in 11 passes in the win.
“I worked out with [Brady] a lot this offseason and he’s the same old guy,’’ Edelman said. “It just shows you how mentally tough he really is to be dealing with what he’s dealt with in the past and to be able to come out here and lead us.
“He’s always a firecracker. There’s one thing about him, Tom never has a down day. It’s good to have a leader like that. When you come to work and you’re not feeling the greatest but you see 12 over there – he’s been here 30 years pretty much – coming out here, practicing his tail off, preparing, watching film, all those things. That’s why he’s so good.’’
Photos from opening night at Gillette Stadium: