FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Whether sprinting out of the tunnel for warm-ups, watching former teammates and the Patriots' owner carrying Lombardi trophies or tearing apart the Steelers, Tom Brady relished every moment of this NFL season opener.
"It was a pretty special night," said Brady, who threw four touchdowns, three of them to favorite target Rob Gronkowski, Thursday in a 28-21 victory over undermanned and generally ineffective Pittsburgh. "I was excited. Our whole team was excited. We haven't had one of these games in a long time."
It was as if Brady had never been away. Of course, he never really was, and with Deflategate behind him, the star quarterback was back to his unstoppable self as he went 25-of-32 for 288 yards.
"It's always fun being out there and getting an opportunity to go play," said Brady, whose 161 victories with one franchise are tops by a starting quarterback in NFL history. He set a team record with 19 straight completions, and he logged his 23rd game with four or more touchdown passes, which is tied with Brett Favre for third all-time.
"We took advantage of it," Brady said. "It was a good win."
With his four-game league suspension overturned by a federal judge one week ago, the three-time Super Bowl MVP was in midseason -- or, rather, postseason -- form. He led drives of 90 and 64 yards for scores on passes to Gronkowski. Gronkowski also recovered a fumble by running back Dion Lewis at the Pittsburgh 1 before his final TD.
"Anytime they don't cover Gronk, he usually gets it," Brady noted with a smile.
Gronkowski insisted this night was all about Brady.
"Everything he's been going through all offseason, he just came out, and he was on fire," Gronkowski said. "I don't know his stats or anything, but he was hitting all of the open guys, reading the defense well, calling the right plays. He's just unreal."
Showing some love for his other tight end, newcomer Scott Chandler, Brady hit him for a 1-yard score to cap an 80-yard march with the second-half kickoff.
The outcome added to a festive mood at Gillette Stadium, despite persistent showers that didn't bother the home team. Before kickoff, the Patriots unveiled their fourth championship banner as owner Robert Kraft and former players Troy Brown, Willie McGinest and Ty Law carried out New England's four Super Bowl trophies.
Fourth-quarter crowd chants of "Where is Roger?" mocked commissioner Roger Goodell over Deflategate. Goodell did not attend the game.
Neither, it seemed, did the Steel Curtain. Only occasionally did Pittsburgh come close to clamping down on Brady, and it yielded 361 yards overall. Third-stringer Lewis rushed for 69 yards, leading receiver Julian Edelman had 11 catches for 97 yards, and Gronkowski added 94 yards.
"We've got to finish a few instances better," coach Mike Tomlin said. "I thought we got a little frazzled at times. Some of the young people have got to get better in a hurry."
Minus two All-Pros on offense -- running back Le'Veon Bell (suspended) and center Maurkice Pouncey (injured) -- and without suspended receiver Martavis Bryant, Pittsburgh moved the ball decently and gained 464 yards. But the game was never really close.
Tomlin was angry after the game and complained coaches couldn't communicate because they were hearing the Patriots' radio broadcast in their headsets. Patriots coaches also complained about similar troubles. The league said it was a temporary problem caused in part by the weather. For years, opposing teams have complained of headset problems in Gillette Stadium.
Pittsburgh had moved the ball decisively on its first drive, but things collapsed after Brown was sacked on a trick play. The drive fizzled and ended with a missed 44-yarder by Josh Scobee. Scobee, acquired Sept. 1 from Jacksonville, also missed from 46 yards and connected from 44 and 24. But the damage was done earlier.
Patriots DT Dominique Easley left in the first quarter with a hip injury. ... Pittsburgh lost linebacker Sean Spence to a hamstring problem, and safety Will Allen was examined for a concussion. ... Brown, who led the league in catches and yards receiving in 2014, had nine receptions for 133 yards.
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