After the New England Patriots opened their latest NFL title defense season by dominating the Pittsburgh Steelers 33-3 in Foxborough Sunday night, it's clear that Antonio Brown’s football services are needed more by his old team than his new one.
Beginning his first season in a decade without Brown, Ben Roethlisberger mostly struggled to generate much through the air against Stephon Gilmore and the rest of the Patriots’ shutdown secondary.
JuJu Smith Schuster had a quiet 78 yards on six catches before limping off late for an X-ray room after the game on a toe injury he said he intends to play through. Donte Moncrief had as many drops as catches. The offense totaled 32 rushing yards and three third-down conversions behind Roethlisberger, who needed 47 attempts to get 27 completions and a 5.9-yard average.
Pittsburgh was held out of the end zone but not off the scoreboard thanks to Mike Tomlin’s curious decision, down 17-0, to take the points on fourth-and-goal from the one-yard line late in the third quarter.
Brady, meanwhile, connected with five Patriots for at least five catches or 73 receiving yards — including his first touchdown to Josh Gordon and two more to Phillip Dorsett, whose job Brown will soon take. He had 341 yards, 9.5 per attempt and a 124.9 rating. Ho hum.
Indeed, it was a thorough beat down administered by Belichick and Co. after splitting their regular-season games with Pittsburgh the past two years by a combined margin of 13 points. New England was at less than full strength, too, with LB Kyle Van Noy on paternity leave and Brown ineligible to play after signing Saturday seemingly the second his release from Oakland was official.
Ah, yes, it’s the Patriots for whom Brown will begin playing next weekend in Miami while the Steelers return home licking their wounds to prepare for Russell Wilson’s Seahawks. Think Sunday wasn't uncharted waters for the Steelers in their first game without A.B.? In 140 career games with Brown, the Steelers were held to three points only twice. They're 1-for-1 without him for good.
And it's worth noting that Pittsburgh was never shut out of a game with Brown, a fate it arguably deserved Sunday after Tomlin's weak field goal call.
So in addition to whatever football edge Brown ultimately provides the Patriots, which very well may be 2007 Moss-level profound, we imagine it makes this loss more deflating for the Steelers after they turned down New England’s first-round offer for Brown in March.
After all, they didn’t get the best deal they could for Brown, and still must likely beat him to reach the Super Bowl after being noncompetitive against a Patriots offense he'll only make that much more unstoppable.