CLEVELAND — The Patriots traveled to Cleveland this weekend, and all of New England went with them.
OK, that’s a slight exaggeration. But given the amount of blue and white that filled the seats Sunday at First Energy Stadium, you would have thought the game was being played in southeast Massachusetts, not northeast Ohio.
“It was awesome,” Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman said after New England’s 33-13 win over the Cleveland Browns. “I played (high school) football here in northeast Ohio, and they’re very passionate about their team. To see a lot of the Patriots Nation out here, it tells you something.”
What exactly drove so many Patriots fans to travel halfway across the country? The season debut of quarterback Tom Brady, who returned to action Sunday following his four-game Deflategate suspension.
The cheers for Brady began the second he took the field and continued throughout the game, with the loudest ovation coming after he was lifted for backup Jimmy Garoppolo late in the fourth quarter.
“I’ve got amazing fans and so much support for a long time,” Brady said. “We’ve been at rallies where there’s millions of people, and training camp where there’s 27,000 people at practice. I think we’ve got the best fans in the world. They showed up (Sunday), and it was great to hear them. Hopefully that’s the way it’ll be for the rest of the year.”
Brady certainly gave the pro-Patriots crowd plenty to cheer about. He guided the Patriots into the end zone on each of their first three possessions and never looked back, completing 28 of 40 passes for 406 yards and three touchdowns — all to tight end Martellus Bennett.
“It’s crazy,” Bennett said. “I guess a lot of people planned on this being Tom’s first game back, so they saved their money and made the trip. It’s pretty exciting. This felt like a home game. At one point, they were chanting, ‘Brady, Brady.’ And I was like, ‘Damn, what’s going on?’ It has to be deflating being the home team when that’s happening, too, on your field.
“I’ve been a lot of places, and the Patriots fans in the city of Boston and Massachusetts have just been one of the great fan bases I’ve ever been in. It’s not just football; it’s every sport there. I love the fans that we have and all the support they give us. It’s fun playing for people who love their team the way they love their team here.”
Fellow tight end Rob Gronkowski, who caught five passes for 109 yards in the win, also appreciated the fan support.
“You’ve got to love away games when you’ve got all of New England — I mean, not all of New England, but you’ve got a good part of New England at the game supporting us,” Gronkowski said. “It sounded like a home game, especially when the fourth-quarter hit and we got the victory, just seeing all of the New England fans there chanting ‘Brady!,’ just going crazy when we’re coming off the field, it’s great to see that.”