FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Truth serum time. When Chris Berman convened the 2013 NFL draft on ESPN back on April 25, as you dipped the first of many salted chips into the salsa, would you have believed either one of these scenarios?
Shortly before 4:30 p.m. Sunday on Nov. 3, Jonny Gomes, in shiny red boots, would come tearing out of the Gillette Stadium tunnel like his beard was on fire seconds before Jon Lester arrived carrying the 2013 World Series trophy.
Or, shortly before 8 p.m. on the aforementioned Nov. 3, Dick LeBeau and traditionally one of the most prideful, most innovative and fiercest defenses in football would cough up the most points and yards in its team's history.
That's right. More than the 54 points the Pittsburgh Steelers allowed the Packers in 1941, 14 days before Pearl Harbor was attacked. More than the 54 points the Steelers allowed to the Chargers in 1985. And more than the 559 yards they allowed the Bengals in 1988.
Final: Patriots 55, Steelers 31.
Final: Patriots, 610 offensive yards.
This wasn't the Steel Curtain. This was the moth-eaten, mildew-smellin' aging curtain that you'd find in the basement of Grandma's house.
Brady's 432 passing yards were the third highest of his career. The 610 yards was the third highest total in team history. The 55 points was the fifth highest. It was the first time in team history that three receivers finished with more than 100 yards. The 55 points were the most scored in the NFL this season. And on and on.
Don't want to go crazy here, because the Steelers have fallen so, so, so, so — is that an appropriate number of so's? — far. But this game is evidence of what the Patriots can be with Rob Gronkowski in the lineup and Danny Amendola in the lineup and a fuller complement of weapons for Brady.
It was 24-24 in the third quarter and, pfft, just like that, it was a rout.
"I'm angry," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "I'm disappointed … We didn't stop them. We couldn't stop them. We didn't stop the run. We didn't stop the pass."
"It was something in my 12 years has never happened here," Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel said. "We just got out butts kicked."
The Patriots are a much different team with Gronkowski. He opens holes and seams for teammates all over the field. Their red zone offense is so much more effective. He's a brute of a difference-maker.
"When we're clicking, we're clicking," said Gronkowski, who caught a regular-season, career-high nine passes for 143 yards. "It's awesome."
Among the dozen representatives of the Red Sox in the pregame ceremonies, Mike Napoli was nowhere to be found. The last anybody saw of Napoli, all tattoos and muscle, he was partying with the entire city of Boston without a shirt Saturday night after the victory parade. So who knows? Maybe Napoli is really Gronk with a beard.
"We definitely had a rhythm out there today," said Gronkowski, who returned from forearm and back surgeries Oct. 20 in the loss to the Jets. "Danny and Aaron Dobson had huge games. Stevan Ridley ran for over 100. The line did a great job blocking. Brady was on point throwing the ball. It was great."
Amendola caught a 57-yard pass. With the Steelers desperate, the safeties coming in tighter and tighter and cornerback Ike Taylor trying to jump the run, Dobson caught on an 81-yard touchdown play. Things were going so good that Belichick didn't even pull Ridley [who had 115 yards and now has six touchdowns in four games] after he lost a fumble.
"It was really a tremendous play by Troy Polamalu," Belichick said. "Stevan caught the ball with his back to the defender. Troy came in there and instead of making a tackle he was able to dislodge the ball. He anticipated it. I don't think Stevan had much of a chance to do anything but turn."
It was a fairly amazing day that started Gomes running onto the field like a maniac.
"I don't think you could expect anything less from him," Lester said.
Gomes was followed by the hardware.
"Nerve-wracking that I'd drop it," Lester said. "You don't how far 50 yards is until you have to walk it with a trophy."
Shane Victorino was fired up, too.
"I was trying to relive my heyday coming out of the tunnel," Victorino said. "I thought about those days when I used to be a good athlete. It was special to come out of the same tunnel as the likes of Gronkowski and Brady. They're winners."
Victorino chatted up Belichick. Gomes chatted up Gronk. Lester and Clay Buchholz shook hands with Brady. Lester was an honorary captain for the coin flip. During a stoppage in play, Victorino led the fans in Marley's "Three Little Birds" from his stadium box. Everything, indeed, was gonna be all right.
"It has been a great week in Boston," said Brady, who threw for four TDs and no interceptions along with his season-high 432 yards. "[The Red Sox] coming out was a surprise to us. The players didn't know about it. It was fun. They earned it. That's why you play: to get that trophy. It was a really cool day."
Brady found Amendola for his first touchdown pass with the Patriots. He was the 50th Patriot to catch a TD pass from Brady. He found Gronkowski in the end zone for the 39th time, which ties him for most with Randy Moss. Heck, he had more yards passing in the first alone than he had in five of the previous eight games. Communication was sharp. Brady was sharp.
"When Gronk plays like that, and can produce like that …" Brady said at one point. When asked to elaborate, Brady said, "When he's healthy and on the field, he's tough to stop. He's a great run-blocker and what he does for us in the passing game, it's tough to match up. If the attention goes to Gronk with extra coverage, it opens it up for all the other guys. He's a big presence, and when's he's out there for every snap, it's going to be even better.
Before Gronkowski returned, the Patriots had scored nine TDs in 20 red zone attempts. Since his return, they are 10-for-14.
"Gronk," Julian Edelman said, sagely, "is Gronk."
He certainly he is. And when asked about leaving the game briefly, Gronk couldn't stop from telling the truth.
"I'm good," Gronkowski said. "But that was a big hit. [Ryan] Clark's a big hitter, and he got me right in the groin arena. It was a little stinger."
The big stinger was what the Steelers felt.
"They've been playing football a long time," Brady said. "They have had some of the best players that have ever played in this league. I respect that organization … guys like Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor, we've had some great battles. We just had a good day of execution."
Yes, the Patriots are banged up heading into the bye week. Yes, they have been up and down this season. Yet it also was one of those days when everything clicked, that it didn't seem like an absurd notion that the Patriots could be carrying a trophy at the end of their season, too.