The New England Patriots entered the 2019 season as the defending Super Bowl champions, starting their new year with the right to raise a new banner from the rafters in celebration of their record-tying sixth NFL title.
And after a strong 33–3 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, it’s hard not to imagine them ending the season in that fashion, too.
It only took two offensive drives for the Patriots to make their case for Lombardi Trophy No. 7. After stalling on the opening possession (and with the help of a little trick play from Julian Edelman to James White), Tom Brady capped a seven-play, 82-yard drive with a 20-yard strike to Josh Gordon, who was reinstated by the NFL last month following his latest suspension under the substance abuse policy.
Meanwhile, the Steelers looked like they were in dire need of the wide receiver the Patriots signed a day earlier, struggling to find a rhythm in their first game without Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell on the roster. After the Patriots made it 10–0 with a 25-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal, Pittsburgh’s offense still couldn’t respond, failing to convert on consecutive third-and-ones before going five-wide on fourth down and failing to convert that, too.
Ben Roethlisberger overthrew his receivers. JuJu Smith-Schuster became a non-factor. The play calling was unaggressive. The Steelers’ defense couldn’t find any answers.
And Brady continued to capitalize, slicing Pittsburgh through the middle and upping the lead to 17–0 with a 25-yarder to Phillip Dorsett in the second quarter. One drive later, New England was heading into the halftime locker room with a 20–0 lead, giving the Steelers their largest deficit at the break since the 2004 AFC Championship game, when the Patriots led 24–3.
New England’s offense never looked back. Brady ended the night with 341 yards passing and three scores, two to Dorsett (95 yards on four catches) and one to Gordon (three catches for 73 yards).
Neither did the Patriots’ defense, who held the Steelers to just 32 yards rushing and a sad field goal from New England’s one-yard line, proving that the unit that smothered the Rams in the Super Bowl is still alive and well.
It would have been understandable if the Patriots struggled out of the gate, if the timing and anticipation between Brady and some of his receivers and tight ends seemed a little off, if the defense missed the presence of Kyle Van Noy (who was inactive after his wife gave birth to their child) at linebacker.
Instead, and perhaps unsurprisingly at this point, the Patriots never paused. They depended on quick-hitting throws, on shallow crosses, on high-percentage tosses that gave receivers a window to create yards after the catch and thrive with the ball in their hands. They spread out the field when needed, giving Edelman and White room to operate underneath. They stepped up to make up for Van Noy’s absence, relying on a veteran secondary already building on its 2018 success and a diverse front seven.
They were thorough. They were surgical. They were dominant.
And they’ll only get better.
Nevermind that the Patriots usually look their best as the season progresses. This is a unit that will have Brown’s addition to the lineup when it heads to Miami next week, and as disruptive as he was in Oakland, the four-time All-Pro’s presence on the field could give the Patriots one of the best receiver trios in the modern NFL.
It’s only Week 1, but there may already be no reason to hold out hope of seeing someone other than New England in the Super Bowl this year.
This Patriots' dynasty doesn’t look like it's falling anytime soon.