NFL Season Opener: Patriots Defeat Steelers

Not much new in the NFL season opener.

Tom Brady was unstoppable, and so was Rob Gronkowski.

Some unheralded players put on New England jerseys and looked like stars.

The opposing coach, Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin, raised suspicions about something untoward going on at Gillette Stadium.

A 28-21 victory for the Patriots wasn't nearly that close, and the sellout crowd of 66,829, braving a persistent rain Thursday night, got just about everything it wanted. The pregame ceremony celebrated New England's four Super Bowl crowns; Brady was behind center after his four-game suspension from the NFL in the deflated balls saga was vacated by a federal judge; and the home team unveiled some new weapons.

"I was pretty excited," said Brady, who has 161 wins as a starting quarterback, most in NFL history. "I think the regulars around here always can be pretty excited, especially running out there in pregame.

"You have one week and you put everything you can into it for that one three-hour performance."

Brady certainly put in everything the Patriots could hope for, which does not bode well for the rest of the NFL. Nor do some of the other things we saw against the undermanned and generally ineffective Steelers.

GRONK: Gronkowski was dynamic with five catches for 94 yards and touchdowns of 16, 6 and 1 yard. He broke a tackle after catching a short pass in the flat on the first score; beat two defenders into the back of the end zone for the 6-yarder; and recovered a fumble by running back Dion Lewis at the Steelers 1 before his final score.

The All-Pro tight end had not played in the preseason

"It was the first game of the year and I'm not going to say I was in top-notch shape," he said. "It's different when you go out there and play for real versus other opponents that are very good. I'm definitely a little rusty in some spots."

Sounds ominous. So does having another dangerous tight end, Scott Chandler, to complement him. Chandler had a 1-yard TD catch.

WHO'S THAT?: Not an unusual question around the Patriots, who've gotten contributions from obscure players throughout their successful run. Remember Malcolm Butler in the Super Bowl; the Seahawks surely do. Or running back Jonas Gray from his one-hit wonder last season?

Thursday night it was Dion Lewis, a fourth-year running back out of Pitt signed away from the Eagles as a free agent, and rookie center David Andrews, who was not drafted. Andrews stepped in for regular snapper Bryan Stork, who is injured, and did a very solid job. Lewis followed Andrews and several other young blockers up front to gain 69 yards rushing and 51 receiving.

"We had eight rookies play and they all contributed," coach Bill Belichick said. "Hopefully they'll get better."

SAY WHAT?: Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin isn't saying the Patriots messed around with Steelers coaches' headsets in the first half. He's just saying it does seem to happen a lot when he plays in New England.

"We were listening to the Patriots radio broadcast for the majority of the first half on our headsets," Tomlin said.

Tomlin told reporters that Pittsburgh coaches "always" have trouble with their communication systems in New England.

A league spokesman said the interference was "caused by a stadium power infrastructure issue, which was exacerbated by the inclement weather.

And the Patriots said they had problems with their headsets, too.

"We deal with that, it seems like, weekly," Belichick said.

Other teams in the league have been suspicious of the Patriots at least since 2007, when the league caught coach Bill Belichick illegally taping opposing coaches' signals. The team's reputation took another hit last season when the Indianapolis Colts questioned whether the footballs New England used in the AFC title game were properly inflated.

TORN CURTAIN: Pittsburgh's defense never looked formidable. At times, it was more of a Steel Sieve than a Steel Curtain.

Brady had wide-open receivers nearly all night, going 25 of 32 for 288 yards. Lewis had his big production.

"I thought we got a little frazzled at times," Tomlin said. Some of the young people have got to get better in a hurry."Patriots fans are reveling in a 28-14, fourth-quarter lead over the Pittsburgh Steelers and taking the opportunity to mock NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

The Gillette Stadium crowd broke into a chant of "Where is Roger?" — taking shots at the league's leader for the botched investigation in the scandal that came to be known as "Deflategate."

Goodell suspended Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for four games after a league investigation found the team supplied improperly inflated footballs for the AFC title game in January. But last week a federal judge vacated the suspension.

It's made Goodell an unpopular figure in New England. He said he would skip th NFL opener for the first time as commissioner to avoid being a distraction.

The "Where is Roger?" chant was a reprise. In the 1999 AL baseball playoffs, Boston fans mocked former Red Sox ace Roger Clemens — who had moved to the Yankees — with the same chant for his early exit in a much-hyped matchup with Pedro Martinez.

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