FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Tom Brady came out fists flying to Jay-Z’s “Public Service Announcement” in the pregame but also took time to share a hug and a neighborly chat with the referee, Clete Blakeman. Brady likely has more in common with the middle-age ref than his youngest teammates, and for good reason: It seems like he has been under center for the entire 100-year history of the league.
The New England Patriots unveiled their sixth Super Bowl championship banner Sunday night, and then the 42-year-old Brady did what Brady always does in a 33-3 beatdown of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He threw for three touchdowns and 341 interception-free yards. He threw the long ball with the eagerness of a man half his age. He beat a defense that included Pittsburgh’s first-round pick, Devin Bush, a lifetime after beating a Cleveland defense that included Bush’s father during New England’s first title season in 2001.
Thanks to Brady’s continued Benjamin Button act, Antonio Brown’s new team beat Antonio Brown’s old team without Antonio Brown on the field after NBC’s Al Michaels reported that the quarterback told his owner, Robert Kraft, he was a hundred percent behind the AB deal before upgrading it to a thousand percent and then a million percent.
“It was a personal conversation with RKK,” Brady whined about the owner, drawing a laugh from his postgame audience. “I’ve got to reevaluate.”
Michaels also disclosed, via Brown’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, that Brady had invited his new receiver to move into his on-the-market, $39.5 million mansion in Brookline, Massachusetts, until he found his own place. Though Brady wasn’t offering up any specifics on Brown, the quarterback did say, “We’re all excited to have him. All I can say is we’re just going to work as hard as we possibly can to get up to speed as quickly as possible.”
If Brown conducts himself in accordance with all Patriot Way ordinances — and that’s a pretty damn big “if” — the Patriots will have enough firepower to mirror the juggernaut that was the 2007 team that featured Brady, Randy Moss and Wes Welker at the peak of their record-breaking, scoreboard-tilting powers.
Tom Brady says he’s looking forward to Antonio Brown joining the Patriots and aims to build chemistry as quickly as possible.
Enough firepower to finish the job those 18-0 Patriots couldn’t finish when … well, you know.
Who needs Rob Gronkowski when you have Brown on one side, Josh Gordon on the other and the reigning Super Bowl MVP, Julian Edelman, in the slot? Not to mention a first-round pick, wideout N’Keal Harry, potentially on the way in November and three opportunistic winners (James White, Sony Michel, and Rex Burkhead) already established in the backfield?
“Do you think other teams will bother to show up this year?” Brady’s father, Tom Sr., joked over the phone on Saturday, about an hour after the Patriots pounced on the Oakland Raiders’ fumble and recovered a seven-time Pro Bowler. “Or should one just meet us in Miami?”
Miami Gardens, to be exact, the site of Super Bowl LIV.
The elder Brady was laughing, of course. But as soon as the words were out of his mouth, he acted as if Bill Belichick had just stepped into the room.
“I probably shouldn’t say that,” he sighed.
Forgive Tom Sr. for feeling giddy out loud, for rejoicing after his son built his incomparable career largely without the benefit of explosive playmakers on the outside. Aside from Moss’ brief stay, the quarterback has made do with undersized overachievers in the slot and a Hall of Fame tight end who has called it a career … for now.
Though Tom Sr. maintained that his son has had plenty of receiving talent around him over the years, including the likes of Edelman and Welker and Danny Amendola, he knows Brown is not a Patriots skill position player out of central casting. Brown has caught 74 regular-season touchdown passes. He has averaged 1,524 receiving yards over his past six seasons.
“It’s going to take him four to six weeks to get the lay of the land,” Tom Sr. said the day before the opener, “but if he plays to his abilities and develops in the Patriot Way, it should be a spectacular season for the Patriots. If I were a defensive coordinator, I would probably be losing a lot of sleep.
“We won the freakin’ Super Bowl last year, and it’s pretty nice to add more talent. I’m feeling rather jubilant this afternoon.”
It was an exclusively regional feeling. Outside six New England states, the quarterback’s father said, “There are about 300 million other Americans who love football who are just shaking their heads.”
The most frustrated among them live in the AFC East. Brady just made his 17th opening-day start, and outside of his lost 2008 season and his four-game suspension in 2016, he hasn’t missed any time. Worse yet, for long-suffering Jets, Dolphins and Bills fans, Brady has publicly entertained the idea of playing beyond his 45th birthday. His old man, for one, thinks he is capable of taking this until age 47 or so.
“I don’t have any doubt he can,” Tom Sr. said. “He’s in the best physical shape of his life, and his arm is better, his mechanics are better, his thinking process is better. There’s no question he can go five, six more years if he wants to.
“I don’t think there are any boundaries to what he can accomplish. If Tommy doesn’t think he’s performing at the level he expects to perform at, I know he’ll bail out. But there’s nothing I’ve seen or heard that indicates there’s been the slightest regression in any area.”
In the end, as always, Belichick will be the judge of that. He fired the deferential backup and longtime Brady bud, Brian Hoyer, in favor of fourth-round draft choice Jarrett Stidham, who apparently assumes the role of the defeated would-be replacement, Jimmy Garoppolo. Brady can be a free agent next offseason. As hard as it is to fathom him ever wearing another uniform, the possibility cannot be entirely ruled out. Brady is indeed selling his house, though the quarterback has swatted away the notion that this might be his first official step toward the door.
“You don’t want the house sitting on the market for two, three, four years if you get cut,” Tom Sr. said.
“It’s a two-way street,” the signal-caller’s dad said. “The Patriots may feel they have the arsenal to continue on for many years after Tommy’s gone, and that makes Tommy disposable. As a result, while the attention has been given to Tommy’s side of the contract, there’s also the Patriots’ side of [the] contract. You know as well as I do that Bill is not the least bit sentimental with his ballplayers. If Tommy regresses in Bill’s eyes, then he becomes expendable and Tommy would have no choice but to go somewhere else.”
Tommy didn’t look like he was regressing Sunday night. And for the record, after the storied quarterback-coach partnership temporarily unraveled in 2017, Tom Sr. said his son maintains “a terrific professional relationship” with Belichick and described the two as “pretty much in lockstep.”
The Steelers certainly could confirm that. Not that this blowout means New England is a mortal lock to break its tie with Pittsburgh to become the first franchise with seven Super Bowl titles. For starters, coming off yet another suspension for substance abuse, Gordon is the ultimate day-to-day proposition.
“For me, initially,” Gordon said of his Foxborough arrival last year, “it was a culture shock.” The former Cleveland receiver figures Brown is in for some of the same. “He’s going to have to figure out his own way,” Gordon said.
Bill Belichick commends his defense for silencing the Steelers’ offense in Week 1 but refuses to speak about Antonio Brown.
Belichick predictably declined to comment on his latest addition. But there’s no question Brown made a fool of himself to escape Oakland, and his bizarre online presence will not fly with his new head coach, who said in a 2017 CNBC interview that he does “all I can to fight” social media’s influence and that his goal is to “try to stamp it out” in his locker room. Belichick also told his friend Urban Meyer that he no longer wants to manage troublemakers at this stage of his career. “I want to coach guys I want to be around and that’s it,” Belichick said. “I’m not going to coach anybody else.”
How will Belichick respond if Brown starts fiddling with his helmet and starts sticking his feet in his mouth and/or a cryotherapy machine? How will Brady react if Brown starts leaving his dirty socks around the house and starts getting into public spats with him like Brown did with Big Ben?
“More times than not,” said Duron Harmon, one of those veteran pro’s pros in New England’s secondary, “everybody just falls in. It’s hard to be an outcast here because it starts at the top. Everybody’s doing everything the right way. Tom, he’s an unselfish player, and it just trickles down. It’s hard to not fit in here.”
As much as Antonio Brown makes football look easy, he makes not fitting in look even easier. If he conforms, the Patriots probably will win lucky number seven. If he doesn’t, Tom Brady will regret the quick math he did on Brown to get to a hundred, a thousand, and then a million percent.