Steelers throttled by Patriots in season opener
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Death, taxes and the Steelers losing to Tom Brady at Gillette Stadium.
Apologies to Benjamin Franklin’s idiom, but there is a third certainty in this world, and it was put on display yet again Sunday night at the home of the New England Patriots.
The Patriots raised their sixth Super Bowl banner, then played like defending champions with Brady methodically picking apart the Steelers defense in a 33-3 rout.
The Steelers are 0-6 dating to 2002 when facing Brady at his home field. Their only win here came in ’08 when Brady was out with a season-ending injury. This loss was the first for the Steelers on the opening weekend since ’15 when they previously opened at Gillette Stadium.
“We weren’t ready for prime time tonight, so we have to go back to the drawing board,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “We won’t go undefeated.”
Belying his 42 years, Brady completed 24 of 36 passes for 341 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. He was sacked just once — in the second half with the Steelers trailing 27-3.
Imagine what damage Brady can inflict once Antonio Brown’s signing becomes official.
The former Steelers wide receiver, who agreed to terms with the Patriots on Saturday following his release from the Oakland Raiders, arrived in New England on Sunday morning. He is expected to join his new team Monday.
Steelers players dismissed the hoopla surrounding Brown’s unexpected change of scenery as being a factor in the 30-point loss.
“Not at all,” guard David DeCastro said. “We noticed it, but that’s just a circus. You kind of laugh at it and move on. You can’t really let it affect you, and I don’t think it did.”
Minus the seven-time Pro Bowler, the most prolific wide receiver in NFL history over a six-year span, the Steelers struggled to muster any offense against the Patriots. Ben Roethlisberger completed 27 of 47 attempts for 277 yards and an interception for a 65.6 passer rating — about half of Brady’s 124.9.
Donte Moncrief, tasked with helping replace Brown’s production, was targeted 10 times and had just three catches for seven yards. JuJu Smith-Schuster led the Steelers with six catches for 78 yards.
“I’m worried about the guys in the locker room and the quality of execution we did or didn’t do,” Tomlin said. “Antonio has been off our team for a number of months. We moved on from that stuff in March.”
The Steelers had four first downs, one third-down conversion and 87 yards in the first half while the Patriots were building a 20-0 lead. It was the largest first-half deficit for the Steelers since 2004.
Brady, meanwhile, surpassed 300 yards passing in the third quarter. It was his 88th career 300-yard game.
Perhaps the only positive for the Steelers was the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals also lost on the opening weekend, leaving the Baltimore Ravens as the only AFC North team with a 1-0 record.
“There have been other seasons we haven’t won the first game,” Roethlisberger said. “It stinks. No one wants to win more than me. … It’s still a long season.”
The Steelers cut into a 20-0 deficit on their first drive of the third quarter when they marched to the Patriots’ 1 and settled for Chris Boswell’s 19-yard field goal.
A 45-yard pass to James Washington down the sideline set up the Steelers at the Patriots’ 18. But Moncrief dropped a pass in the end zone, and Roethlisberger threw incomplete on a fade to Moncrief on a third-and-1 from the 1.
“We wanted a little positivity,” Tomlin said of his decision to kick the field goal. “We didn’t have enough positivity to that point.”
They didn’t have much after it, either.
The Patriots treated that score like a bug being flicked off a windshield. Brady responded with a 58-yard touchdown pass to Phillip Dorsett, who got behind Kameron Kelly, the free safety playing in his first NFL game.
It was Brady’s third touchdown pass of the game and second to Dorsett, giving the Patriot a 27-3 lead with 8:05 left in the third.
“I knew they were going to come after me a little bit,” said Kelly, who was subbing for an injured Sean Davis. “I have to play better.”
On the next possession, Brady found Josh Gordon in coverage with linebacker Vince Williams and threaded a completion for 43 yards. Kelly again was late providing help.
Stephen Gostkowski kicked his third field goal, from 35 yards, to push the lead to 30-3. Gostkowski added his fourth field goal without a miss with 6:38 remaining.
When the Steelers converted their first third down of the game, there was 3:37 left in the first half and they trailed 17-0.
Working the soft underbelly in the middle of the Steelers defense, Brady completed 16 of 25 passes for 194 yards and two scores in the opening 30 minutes. Roethlisberger was 9 of 14 for 65 yards.
“They won some matchups sometimes, and sometimes we might had miscommunication on our side and that’s what (Brady) does,” inside linebacker Mark Barron said. “When you make a mistake, he’s going to find it.”
It’s something Brady has done numerous times to the Steelers, particularly at Gillette Stadium.
“It’s humbling,” Tomlin said. “It (stinks), but that’s the National Football League. It won’t define us if we don’t let it, and that’s what we talked about.”
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .