SportsPulse: Our first NFL Sunday is in the books and put to bed many offseason narratives and confirmed others. As Trysta Krick details, this Patriots team could be perfect.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Let’s grade the Sunday night opener on the Antonio Brown meter.
AB’s former team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, needed his talent (and not the drama) immensely. Like 10 on a scale of 10.
His new team? The New England Patriots needed AB like window dressing.
The Patriots pummeled Pittsburgh on another banner-raising night at Gillette Stadium, 33-3, as Tom Brady sprayed the football around to so many targets in passing for 341 yards. It makes you wonder exactly where the newest weapon – if you missed it, Brown signed with New England on Saturday after requesting and receiving his release – will fit into his new offense.
Phillip Dorsett caught two of Brady’s TD throws, including a 58-yard, wide-open toss in the third quarter. Josh Gordon opened the scoring by turning a shallow crossing route into a 20-yard score that included a hurdle over Joe Haden and power run to the goal line. Julian Edelman worked inside as usual, plus threw a 32-yard completion on a throwback pass. And running backs James White and Rex Burkhead (10 catches combined) were the viable options in the flats, just like you knew they would be.
Who needs Rob Gronkowski?
The Patriots don’t have anything close to a tight end threat to replace Gronkowski’s all-pro presence, but the opening act illustrated that they are well-equipped to adapt – and poised to suddenly become more capable when Brown gets into the flow. A deeper wide receiver corps, plus multiple threats out of the backfield may just about cover it, sans Gronk.
If only the Steelers could replace the all-pro loss of Brown with such aplomb.
Sure, they’ve had a plan. JuJu Smith-Schuster is supposedly ready to slide into the role as the No. 1 receiver while veteran newcomer Donte Moncrief works the opposite post and James Washington, a second-round pick with potential for explosive plays, moves up to the No. 3 role. What happened against the defending champs, though, was not the way it was drawn up on paper.
Smith-Schuster was pretty much erased from the game, shadowed by all-pro corner Stephon Gilmore. Moncrief was stripped of a would-be TD and in other cases was woefully out of sync with Ben Roethlisberger. Washington caught the longest completion (45), but the targets were far and few between. And where was sometimes-dangerous tight end Vance McDonald? Not in the passing flow.
Toss in an uninspiring rushing attack (James Conner ran for 21 yards), and the Steelers offense lacked the spark that in previous years made it special.
It’s way too early to panic. But the Steelers were summarily shown the degrees to which the improvement must come.
Meanwhile, Brown, whose final chapter in Pittsburgh included a rift with Roethlisberger and coach Mike Tomlin that resulted in him missing the Week 17 finale with a playoff berth on the line, will join his new team – with its disciplinarian coach, Bill Belichick – after quickly landing a new job following his disastrous stint with the Raiders.
Brown is expected to join the Patriots on Monday and possibly make his debut on Sunday at Miami.
Stay tuned. After all the drama with the Raiders and Steelers, the expectation with Belichick is to fall in line with the so-called Patriot Way. He’s hardly the first malcontent to arrive with such a fresh start under Belichick. But none have quite come in a package like Brown presents.
On Sunday night, Brown was nowhere to be seen at Gillette Stadium, although his high-profile agent, Drew Rosenhaus, was spotted on the sideline during pregame warmups.
Brown’s presence existed, though, even in his absence.
After his signing, Las Vegas oddsmakers installed the Patriots as favorites to win Super Bowl LIV – which before Saturday was the expectation of the Kansas City Chiefs – to illustrate the swing factor that has just landed in New England.
And make no mistake. The Patriots have rolled out the red carpet for Brown – in more ways than one.
Follow Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.