By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
FOXBORO (CBS) — The Patriots delivered some bad news to the rest of the NFL on Sunday night.
They’re still the Patriots.
After an offseason worrying about the left tackle or the tight ends or the age of the quarterback or the losses on the coaching staff, the Patriots took the field Sunday night against the Steelers and looked nearly identical to the world beaters that marched their way to a Super Bowl a mere seven months ago.
The Steelers were the unfortunate recipient of this particular delivery on Sunday night, a game which the Patriots won 33-3 while playing underneath their shiny new Super Bowl banner.
For the Patriots, there were plenty of positives. There were some negatives, too. The math on the equation of Four Ups/Four Downs may be slightly altered after this lopsided win, though. Here are all the highs, and the few lows.
Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr.
You really cannot start anywhere else. The 42-year-old looked as good as ever, lobbing bombs to Phillip Dorsett and Josh Gordon, firing strikes across the field, and spreading the ball to seven different receivers.
Brady finished 24-for-36 for 341 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. He took a handful of hard hits, but got up every time, and he shook off some initial rust after throwing a wobbler to an open Julian Edelman on the first third down of the game. After that, it was money for the Patriots’ QB, who has now thrown 21 touchdowns and no interceptions when facing the Steelers at Gillette Stadium in his career.
There’s also this: Last year, Brady had just one game where he threw three touchdowns, no interceptions and had at least 340 yards passing. This year, he’s already got one.
Tom Brady: Still good. It’s official.
Some speculated last week that Dorsett wouldn’t make the final roster. Some speculated this weekend that Dorsett would be released when Antonio Brown officially joins the roster.
His long-term future may remain unknown, but Dorsett proved Sunday night that he belongs.
Dorsett was on the receiving end of a beauty of a strike from Tom Brady in the first half, a 25-yard touchdown up the right seam, and then he broke free behind the Steelers defense to haul in a 58-yard score in the third quarter.
He finished with a tidy four catches for 95 yards and the two touchdowns.
The Entire Defense
It feels like a cop-out to just highlight the defense, but the way this unit tends to operate these days is with an overwhelming and suffocating team effort. That was certainly the case in Super Bowl LIII, that was certainly the case when the starters played in the preseason, and it was certainly the case in this game, when they allowed just three meaningless points against the Steelers.
Stephon Gilmore did Stephon Gilmore things to JuJu Smith Schuster. Jamie Collins and John Simon combined for a big tackle behind the line of scrimmage on a third down. Patrick Chung broke up a pass on a fourth down. Chase Winovich forced a third-down incompletion with heavy pressure. Devin McCourty picked up the “closer” pick in the end zone. Jason McCourty, Dont’a Hightower and Collins each recorded six solo tackles apiece. Danny Shelton stuffed a third-and-1 run. Deatrich Wise forced a fumble from Ben Roethlisberger.
Prior to a 50-yard drive in garbage time to end the game, the Steelers had gained just 258 total yards of offense. Donte Montcrief was targeted 10 times; he caught just three passes for seven yards. James Conner had 21 rushing yards on 10 attempts. The Steelers rushed for 32 yards as a team.
It was really across the board, and it was really thorough. The Patriots’ defense has received loads of hype all summer long. They lived up to it in the season debut.
Josh Gordon would not be denied on his way to this TD 😤
Flash is back.
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) September 9, 2019
Perhaps it might get overshadowed in all of the fanfare and all of the scoring that took place on Sunday night … but Josh Gordon’s touchdown was ridiculous.
The receiver showed off every bit of skill, talent, strength and speed when he leapt over, past, and through Joe Haden, stopped on a dime, and then burst seven yards forward to the pylon.
Gordon also looked excellent when he held on to a deep ball from Brady while simultaneously getting cleaned out by safety Terrell Edmunds.
TB12 just showing off his arm 💪
— NFL (@NFL) September 9, 2019
Gordon caught thre passes for 73 yards and the touchdown. If he can maintain that level of play and remain on the team while Antonio Brown lines up on the other side? Opposing defensive coordinators will be having some long, long days when they visit Foxboro.
Sometimes when Bill Belichick breaks the glass on the trick playbook, it’s for emergencies only. That wasn’t the case on Sunday, as Josh McDaniels had the freedom to bust out the double pass in the first quarter in the first game of the season.
Edelman’s pass to James White, after receiving a lateral from Brady, was on the money, giving the Patriots 32 easy yards of offense and setting up the aforementioned Gordon touchdown.
In his main role as a receiver, though, Edelman was, well, Edelman. Six catches, 83 yards, and a series of hard hits adsorbed. Five of those six catches resulted in new sets of downs, and Edelman lost a 16-yard reception after fighting through pass interference, due to the Patriots accepting the penalty and taking the free first down. He also rushed once for eight yards on a second-and-7, picking up yet another first down.
Edelman’s 33, but the reigning Super Bowl MVP still looks as frisky as ever.
Might as well start with Stephen Gostkowski, who was 4-for-4 on field goals and 3-for-3 on PATs. … Undrafted rookie Gunner Olszewski returned punts, and looked good doing it, taking his first back for 20 yards and returning the second for 15 yards. … Rex Burkhead’s numbers didn’t pop, but he picked up 32 yards on five straight plays to help set up a field goal to further the second-half lead. … James White was his usual uncoverable self, catching five passes for 56 yards. … Isaiah Wynn made it through his first NFL game at left tackle against a formidable front. … Steve Belichick and Jerod Mayo appeared to have firm control of their defense.
Already featuring new players at two out of five spots, the offensive line seemed to have lost another one midway through the fourth quarter when Marcus Cannon suffered a left shoulder injury.
After remaining down on the turf for several minutes, Cannon made his way to the medical tent on the sideline. He did not return. Joe Thuney slid over to right tackle from left guard, and newcomer Jermaine Eluemunor stepped in at left guard.
The injury came when the Patriots led 30-3, and it provided the most sour moment of the night for the home team.
Arguably the only issue with the Patriots during the preseason was their commitment to committing penalties. That kept up in Week 1, with the home team getting flagged seven times for 55 yards. Seven different players committed penalties in this one, with four of those coming from the defense.
In a game where the opponent does a better job of showing up, that could be an issue.
Not that it mattered, but Sony Michel gained just 14 yards on 15 carries. That doesn’t mean the second-year back who had six touchdowns and over 300 yards in the playoffs last year is suddenly bad. It is, though, a rather ugly stat line.
Even the inclusion of Michel was a stretch. You can’t find four Downs from a 33-3 win against a (purported) Super Bowl contender on opening night after a banner ceremony. The Patriots are 1-0, and they’re heading to Miami to face a terrible Dolphins team, and they’re adding Antonio Brown to a potent offensive arsenal. Things are looking up for the New England Patriots.