The New England quarterback shredded the Pittsburgh defense, and tight end Rob Gronkowski scored three touchdowns, as the Patriots downed the Pittsburgh Steelers 28-21 in the NFL season opener Thursday night.
Brady completed a franchise-record 19 consecutive passes, three for touchdowns, on four scoring drives, and after the streak ended, he hit Gronkowski with a 1-yarder with 9:20 left to stem a Pittsburgh rally.
Gronkowski had his third three-TD game, making five catches for 94 yards. Wide receiver Julian Edelman finished with 11 catches for 97 yards. Both of them sat out the preseason, Edelman with an injury and Gronkowski because he just isn't sent out for exhibitions.
Brady, who set an NFL record with his 161st victory with one team, finished 25 of 32 for 288 yards and his 23rd career four-touchdown game.
Tight end Scott Chandler, in his first game with the Patriots, caught a 1-yard scoring pass.
After the Patriots unveiled their fourth Super Bowl banner in pregame ceremonies, Brady was a perfect 16-for-16 on three straight drives, leading his team to a 21-3 lead 4:23 into the third quarter with three touchdown passes.
The Steelers, playing without running back Le'Veon Bell and wide receiver Martavis Bryant (both suspended by the NFL), came back, scoring 11 consecutive points behind the arm of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the legs of running back DeAngelo Williams.
However, with New England's lead cut to 21-14, Brady brought his team down the field again, starting with a 52-yard pass to Gronkowski. Brady wound up hitting running back Dion Lewis with a 19-yard pass, but Lewis, stellar in his New England debut, fumbled near the goal line. Gronkowski recovered the ball and it initially was called a touchdown.
Upon review, the call was overturned, but Gronkowski wound up scoring anyway.
That fired the home crowd up and with rain starting to fall they chanted, "Where is Roger?" in honor of commissioner Roger Goodell, who elected not to attend the banner ceremony after his battle with Brady and the Patriots.
Lewis, starting in place of the suspended LeGarrette Blount, ran for 69 yards on 15 carries and had four catches for 51 yards.
A rebuilt New England offensive line, at times playing three rookies, stood tall enough to protect Brady, who was sacked twice, and also blocked well on the runs.
Roethlisberger finished 26 of 38 for 351 yards, a last-second touchdown and one interception.
Williams, in his first game with the Steelers, ran for 127 on 21 carries.
Pittsburgh kicker Josh Scobee missed field goals of 44 and 46 yards in the first half.
In his past four games against the Steelers, Brady is 102 of 143 with 13 touchdowns and no interceptions.
New England defensive tackle Dominique Easley left the game early with a hip injury and didn't return.
NOTES: Patriots QB Tom Brady received a huge ovation when he came out for pregame work, jogging from one end of the field to the other before giving an emphatic fist bump to the crowd. ... Steelers rookie WR Sammie Coates, a third-round draft choice, was inactive, even with WR Martavis Bryant suspended. ... New England OL Ryan Wendell, who came off the physically unable to perform list to play in the preseason finale, was a surprise inactive, leaving free agent C David Andrews as one of two rookie starters on the offensive line with C Bryan Stork hurt. ... The Patriots were sporting a Super Bowl title patch on their jerseys. ... New England owner Robert Kraft held the new Super Bowl trophy, while former players Willie McGinest, Troy Brown and Ty Law each held one for the team's other championship years.