THERE WAS one burning question becoming more and more obvious during the Patriots’ dismantling of the Steelers on Banner Night Sunday:
Who’s going to beat these guys?
And Antonio Brown wasn’t even there yet.
And defensive mainstay Kyle Van Noy was with his wife for the birth of their boy.
There was trouble with the shotgun snaps of backup center Ted Karras. And Sony Michel ran for just 15 yards on 14 carries. Heck, EVERYTHING can’t go right in a 33-3 win, right?
But Tom Brady, armed with a wide receiver corps already bolstered by Josh Gordon — and Brown on the way — was able to start life without Rob Gronkowski with a game that continued to belie his advanced age.
The whole thing had NBC’s Cris Collinsworth saying what the rest of the NFL was saying: “Uh-oh.”
“We’ve got plenty of work to do,” Brady said after the game. “I think it was good we didn’t turn the ball over. We were pretty penalty-free for a while until the fourth quarter. Our defense played great. So, it’s a good formula for winning: don’t turn it over, not a lot of penalties.
“You know, we could have a done a better job in the red area, which I think we can do. So, I don’t think anything was perfect tonight, and we’ll try to get back to work tomorrow and try to get ready for next week in Miami.”
They will also spend the week getting ready for Brown, who agreed Saturday to come to New England, as much of the rest of the football world screamed “bag job” on how he got here. Bill Belichick’s latest addition to his home for questionable athletes may have been a spur-of-the-moment situation of the Pats getting giddy over Brown’s release, but … but this thing doesn’t smell right.
Reports had Brown wanting to come to New England right from the start, after the Steelers dealt him to the Raiders. Reports also had the Pats, unsure of what would happen with Gordon and his suspension/reinstatement, offering a No. 1 draft pick for Brown — and Pittsburgh saying no because the Steelers didn’t want to send him to a conference rival.
Now, as far as the schedule, there is a difficult stretch from Nov. 3-Dec. 8: at Baltimore and Philadelphia, home for Dallas, at Houston and home for Kansas City. That is more than a bit difficult, and it’s likely the Pats won’t go 5-0 through that run.
The run for No. 7 just might be underway with Belichick having his best team yet.
AB is coming
Robert Kraft told NBC Brady was “a million percent in” on the signing of Brown, who has apparently been invited to reside in the QB’s pool house until he gets settled.
“I think everybody’s excited to add great players,” Brady said after the game. “It helps everybody when you have great players that are sharing the burden of a tough football season. I think, like anything else, whether it was Josh last year or Phillip (Dorsett) when he got here a few years ago late, and then this year Antonio, how much can you learn and process and get in here?
“And we’re all going to work hard and try to get up to speed as fast as possible. But, we haven’t had a training camp together, so you’ve got to force a lot of information. We’re all excited to have him. All I could say is we’re just going to work as hard as we possibly can to get up to speed as quickly as possible.”
Brady to NBC Sports’ Peter King after the win: “There was a lot of positive emotion when it happened, but you know, everybody says, ‘Whoa, this is what it can be, and what potential they have.’ But you know, the teams I’ve been on, they go to work.”
They will. And like it was with Gordon last season, it will work again. Brady, burned by Gordon’s re-suspension after all the work they’d put in together, will make sure this works again. This time the results could be scary.
The Patriots reportedly added a team-option year to Brown’s deal, spreading out his $9 million signing bonus for cap reasons.
Meanwhile, Pats haters everywhere had their predictable reaction.
And Ben Roethlisberger, asked after Sunday’s game about Brown coming to New England, just said, “Whatever.”
Van Noy, who said he was watching the game from the hospital, tweeted Monday, “Last night was incredible! We welcomed a young king into the world! Trae Ledgend Van Noy!!!!!! Mom is doing great. We appreciate all the love and prayers.”
A couple of Pats stats: They are 61-0 all-time when leading by at least 20 points at halftime; and Brady is 6-0, counting playoffs, with 21 touchdowns and zero interceptions at home against Pittsburgh in his career.
I will get into this more in Friday’s column, but the Red Sox fired president/GM Dave Dombrowski after Sunday night’s game, hiding under the dark of midnight and then refusing to meet the media Monday at Fenway (OK, they wouldn’t have said anything anyway).
The firing came after two straight losses to the Yankees that all but eliminated the Sox from any chance at being the first repeat champion in two decades. It also capped three games of Alex Cora using 23 pitchers in three games. One has to wonder if Cora wasn’t doing it to scream at management, “this is what you left me. Here you go.”
Former GM Lou Gorman used to say Greg Harris trying to pitch both right-handed and left-handed — Harris was ambidextrous — would “make a mockery” of the game. The weekend parade of pitchers made a mockery of the game!
Another thing on Cora:
The late, great Sparky Anderson used to say he, as manager, affected “maybe five or 10 games per season. The players are responsible for the rest. Well, Cora left his mark on Saturday’s game, and it wasn’t pretty.
Wanting to play J.D. Martinez and not wanting Jackie Bradley to play against a left-hander, Cora placed his worst defensive player in the ridiculous late-afternoon right field sun (think or Google Lou Piniella, 1978 playoff game).
Cora could have played Martinez in left or picked another day to get him in the field, but Martinez lost a ball in the sun (Mookie Betts could also have lost it) and then failed to field what became a two-run Gary Sanchez double that turned the game around.
We’re not at NHL training camp yet and there are injury signs with the local hockey team. Zdeno Chara (jaw, elbow), Kevan Miller (knee), Patrice Bergeron (groin) and John Moore (shoulder) are all potential early problems.
From NBC Sports’ Joe Haggerty: “Not to sound any alarm bells, but Patrice Bergeron said his groin is still nagging him at this point with camp starting Thursday. Said he had a shot to calm it down over the summer and hopes that will do the trick.”
Finally, the Bruins had to be interested observers on Monday when Columbus gave defenseman Zach Werenski a three-year, $15 million contract. Werenski, like Charlie McAvoy, was an unsigned restricted free agent.