FOXBORO, Mass., Sept. 10 (UPI) -- Tom Brady passed for 294 yards and three touchdowns Monday night to lead the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots to a 30-14 bashing of the Pittsburgh Steelers in a rematch of last season's AFC championship game.
Brady, the youngest quarterback to earn Super Bowl MVP honors at 24, picked apart Pittsburgh, which had the NFL's top-rated defense last season, with precision passing that evoked memories of Hall of Famer Joe Montana.
Operating out of a shotgun most of the way with an empty backfield, Brady completed 29-of-43 passes and dissected the Steelers with intermediate throws to eight different receivers,
including touchdowns of four yards to tight end Christian Fauria, 40 yards to Donald Hayes, and 22 yards to rookie Deion Branch.
While Brady delighted the sellout crowd in the first regular-season game at New England's Gillette Stadium, Steelers quarterback Kordell Stewart again was confounded by the defensive scheme of New England Coach Bill Belichick.
After committing four turnovers, including three interceptions, in a 24-17 loss to the Patriots in the AFC championship game eight months ago, Stewart duplicated that performance Monday.
Adam Vinatieri, who kicked a 48-yard field goal as time expired to give the Patriots a 20-17 victory over heavily favored St. Louis in Super Bowl XXXVI, converted all three of his attempts in the season opener.
The Patriots had a 10-7 halftime lead before erupting for 17 points in the third quarter.
On New England's first possession of the second half, Brady connected with David Patten on a 37-yard pass down the right sideline to the Pittsburgh 40. He followed with a bullet to
Hayes, who made the catch on the left sideline at the Pittsburgh 30 and raced to the end zone with the help of a crushing block by Branch on Steelers safety Lee Flowers 93 seconds into the third quarter.
Patriots safety Victor Green stripped the ball from running back Jerome Bettis and recovered the fumble at the Pittsburgh 49.
Brady took advantage of the turnover, hitting Troy Brown with a 19-yard pass on 3rd-and-17 and capping the drive with the touchdown to Branch, who shook free off nickel back Deshea Townsend at the Pittsburgh 10 and darted into the end zone to increase the lead to 24-7.