For just over three hours, all was well in Patriot Nation.
The New England Patriots unveiled their fourth Super Bowl championship banner at Gillette Stadium, the Dropkick Murphys and T-Pain tore down the house, and quarterback Tom Brady, fresh off an overturned suspension, was nearly perfect in a 28-21 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
It being Week 1 and all, there were some obvious issues, but there never was any doubt the Patriots would win this one.
Here are five Patriots who shined Thursday night:
What lawsuit? What scandal? What distractions?
Brady went 25-of-31 passing for 288 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions. With the Deflategate scandal over (for now), Brady was his usual dominant self in the Patriots’ season opener.
Brady didn’t have his two favorite weapons this summer — tight end Rob Gronkowski and wide receiver Julian Edelman — but no time was needed to knock off the rust in the opener. Edelman caught 11 passes for 97 yards, and Gronkowski dominated.
It’s official: Brady is in “eff you” mode.
Opposing defenses must have nightmares before playing Gronkowski. The big tight end is nearly uncoverable.
Gronk scored three touchdowns on five catches for 94 yards and officially is on pace for 48 scores this season. If he played the Steelers every week, that might be attainable.
It’s going to be very, very difficult for opposing defenses to cover Gronkowski and fellow tight end Scott Chandler, who had a touchdown, too.
Gronkowski also came up big with a fumble recovery at the 6-inch line when running back Dion Lewis coughed it up after a 19-yard catch and run.
Lewis drew the start not only at third-down back but also as the Patriots’ primary ball-carrier.
Lewis caught four passes for 51 yards and carried the ball 15 times for 69 yards. He is incredibly difficult to bring down despite his small stature. He’s slippery, and he has quick feet that can stop on a dime.
Lewis likely will maintain a big role in the Patriots’ offense even when LeGarrette Blount comes back from his one-game suspension. It’s Lewis’ third-down role to lose.
The veteran cornerback, who was signed right before training camp, was beat for two catches for 27 yards by Markus Wheaton on five targets. He also allowed a two-point conversion but was rarely targeted as Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger went 26-of-38 passing for 351 yards and one touchdown with one interception.
Brown will start opposite Malcolm Butler this season, and while Butler has more upside, it’s possible the veteran will be more consistent.
Hightower was solid against the run and made the most of his pass-rushing opportunities, sacking Roethlisberger.
THe linebacker led the Patriots with eight tackles and received playing time over longtime Patriots captain Jerod Mayo in the “regular” and nickel defense. Jamie Collins was the lone linebacker in dime personnel groupings.
Hightower has emerged as one of the NFL’s best linebackers over the past three years, and this game flashed his versatility, as he stuffed the run, rushed the passer and covered running backs out of the backfield.
Thumbnail photo via Stew Milne/USA TODAY Sports Images
Thumbnail photo via Sep 10, 2015; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) catches a touchdown pass while being defensed by Pittsburgh Steelers free safety Mike Mitchell (23) and strong safety Will Allen (20) during the second quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports
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