The New England Patriots kicked off the 2015 NFL season by beating the Pittsburgh Steelers 28-21 on Thursday night at Gillette Stadium.
Tom Brady, quarterbacking against the Steelers and the world, vanquished any preseason doubters by tossing four touchdowns for 288 yards on 25 of 28 passing. Three of those throws went to All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski, which leads us to conclude:
1. Gronk is too big for defensive backs to tackle.
2. And too athletic in the red zone.
3. And of course, putting a linebacker on Gronk is silly. The man's too fast.
On the other side of the field, the Steelers were busy shooting themselves in the foot. While they moved the ball well against the Patriots, racking up 464 total yards (134 of which came on the ground), individual errors proved to be costly.
In the first half, Steelers kicker Josh Scobee missed his first two field goals, but recovered to nail the following two attempts. On a drive that lead to a converted field goal by Scobee, Steelers wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, wide-open in the end zone, managed to position himself out-of-bounds while making the catch. His mistake ultimately cost the Steelers a four-point swing.
With the Steelers beating themselves, Patriots fans got active during the fourth quarter. During a stoppage in play, the home fans taunted NFL commissioner Roger Goodell by chanting "Where's Roger?"
Goodell, a demonized figure in New England following his losing Deflategate crusade against Brady and the Patriots, was not in attendance at the NFL's first game of the regular season.
Spygate and Deflategate may be put to bed, but could Radiogate become the next stink bomb for the Patriots and the NFL? During the first half of the game, Steelers coaches experienced radio interference in their headsets, hearing the Patriots' radio broadcast instead of themselves.
The issue was resolved before halftime, but after the game, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin appeared to be irritated by the radio headset problems.
When asked about the issue by reporters, Tomlin responded, "That’s always the case."
The NFL, however, moved quickly to bat down any aspersions, blaming the poor weather in Foxborough, Massachusetts on Thursday night for the radio troubles.
While the Patriots are undoubtedly pleased with a first-week win -- with a bit of Goodell goading thrown in -- the stink of this past offseason will likely shape in-season narratives about the team moving forward. Much of Brady's offseason and the attention of Patriots' brass was consumed by Deflategate and Brady's quest to exonerate himself from NFL punishment. Although we're finally back to playing football, we're not back to talking just about football.
Oddly enough, the Patriots, winners of the last Super Bowl and of three additional titles this century, have angled themselves as an underdog of sorts. At least, that's the mentality the players are adopting. Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman's preseason hype video, released Wednesday, analogized the start of the American Revolution with the beginning of the Patriots' 2015 season.
Thanks to the misgivings of Goodell and the NFL, the Patriots have shed the bullseye and donned a red-white-and-blue cape. And boy oh boy, are Patriots fans lapping it up.
It's going to be a long season.
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