Many wondered how Tom Brady would perform after spending the bulk of his summer following the Patriots' Super Bowl victory fighting the NFL in court until his four-game suspension was overturned.
They can stop wondering.
After a long offseason, Brady took out his frustrations on the Pittsburgh Steelers, tearing their secondary to shreds as he completed 25 of 32 pass attempts for four touchdowns and 288 yards as the Pats won 28-21.
Considering it was unknown just last week whether Brady would be allowed to play, his comeback in the first NFL game in the season was clearly the highlight of the night. But with a full year post-injury season behidn him, there are high hopes for tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Gronk did not disappoint Thursday. Brady targeted him eight times, connecting on five passes for an astounding 94 yards (an 18.8 average) and three touchdowns.
Wide receiver Julian Edelman was his usual self - he made 11 catches on 12 targets for 97 yards. But bursting onto the scene was running back Dion Lewis. If you don't know that name, it's because the 24-year-old hasn't appeared in a game since 2012 as a sophomore member of the Philadelphia Eagles. He put together 120 all-purpose yards on 15 carries for 69 rushing yards and four catches on five targets for 51 receiving yards.
Lewis' only folly was a unique play that ultimately resulted in a score, anyway. Brady passed to the young back, who nearly ran it into the end zone before fumbling. Gronk recovered the ball and it was initially ruled a touchdown. The call was reversed and the Pats were given the ball at the one-yard line, but Gronk got his touchdown back on a catch from Brady.
The Patriots certainly weren't without their flaws Thursday. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger went 26-38, putting up 351 yards. But the New England defense bent and only sometimes broke. Roethlisberger threw his first touchdown with two seconds left in the fourth quarter - garbage time, a failed onside kick notwithstanding. Duron Harmon picked him off, and like Brady, he was sacked twice.
For Brady, though, that sack total feels like a positive. The Patriots' offensive line has been decimated - it was questionable before Bryan Stork was put on injured reserve. Brady's ability to throw under pressure may need to stay strong this year.
There is no doubt that the team will miss cornerback Darrelle Revis, who left via free agency and returned to the rival New York Jets. Malcolm Butler impressed in the preseason after making the play that won the Super Bowl, but Thursday, he covered Steelers receiver Antonio Brown, who made nine catches for 133 yards.
The worst news of the night may have been an early hip injury to Dominique Easley, who went down on the opening drive and did not get back on the field. The Patriots' 2014 pick slipped near the end of the first round after tearing both his ACLs in college. The team certainly hopes he doesn't miss much time.
Linebacker Dont'a Hightower was a bright spot on the team's defense, making eight tackles, including a big, loud sack in which he wrangled Roethlisberger to the ground as though he was wrestling a bear.