Beyoncé played at Gillette Stadium in June. Guns N’ Roses was here in July. Kenny Chesney performed on the Patriots’ field in August, and Bruce Springsteen sang in September.
Everyone from Lionel Messi to Jacoby Brissett played at the home of the four-time Super Bowl champions over the past nine months.
Everyone, that is, except Tom Brady.
Taking the Foxborough field for the first time since last season’s playoffs and a full 21 months after he was sucked into the scandal known as “Deflategate,” Brady returned home to lead New England to a 35-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday . The victory left the Patriots (5-1) tied with unbeaten Minnesota for most wins in the NFL and two games ahead of Buffalo in the AFC East.
“Once I got out there running around, it felt like football,” said Brady, who completed 29 of 35 passes for 376 yards and three touchdowns. “You’re not going to win because you’re emotional. But I think having your attitude right … that allows you to be at your best for your teammates.”
And Brady’s teammates were at their best for him.
Rob Gronkowski caught seven passes for a career-high 162 yards, and James White had two touchdown receptions for New England. Linebacker Dont’a Hightower had a safety and was also involved in a fourth-and-1 stop to turn the Bengals away at the goal line.
Receiver Julian Edelman, who had served as emergency quarterback during Brady’s suspension, could barely contain his emotion before the game, when he slapped the quarterback’s hand and then sprinted out of the tunnel and the length of the field.
“It was good to get him home,” Edelman said. “It was an electric environment out there with Tom back.”
It had been a while for Brady, who last played in Foxborough in a divisional playoff victory over Kansas City on Jan. 16. The Patriots went on to lose to Denver in the AFC title game, and then Brady lost his lengthy court battle to have his Deflategate suspension overturned .
The four-time Super Bowl champion missed both home exhibition games before serving his four-game ban in the regular season. The Patriots went 3-1 under backup Jimmy Garoppolo and, after he was injured, Brissett.
Brady returned last week against the Browns, a 33-16 win in which Brady threw for 406 yards and three touchdowns. But that was in Cleveland.
This was the game Patriots fans had been waiting nine months for.
Those who where already in their seats erupted in a cheer when Brady’s face was shown on the scoreboard in a pregame highlight video. Then again when he came out for warmups an hour before the kickoff. By the time Brady jogged out of the tunnel for the national anthem, the stadium was full, and deafening.
Waving signs praising their quarterback — and railing against NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell — the sold-out crowd of 66,829 chanted Brady’s name a handful of times during the game . (They even did it once with the Patriots on offense; Brady flapped his arms to quiet them down.)
“As you see, he is their football team,” Bengals defensive lineman Carlos Dunlap said. “He’s the heart of the city; he’s the heart of the football team.”
And that’s not because of his looks or his supermodel wife — or even because of the four NFL championship banners he has already helped hang in the stadium. It’s because, as long as he’s at quarterback they have a chance at another.
After a pedestrian (for him) first half, completing 12 of 16 passes for 136 yards and a touchdown, Brady methodically picked apart the Bengals in the second on three quick TD drives:
—Five plays, 68 yards, 2 minutes, 5 seconds.
—Four plays, 53 yards, 1:35.
—Nine plays, 50 yards, 2:35.
And what had been a 14-12 Cincinnati lead became a 35-17 victory.
Brady denied that it took him time to get his emotions under control. After all, he has played in six Super Bowls and plenty of more important games than this one.
“I think I know how to get to that place where I need to be,” he said. “You only have so much energy, and at some point you’ve got to cut it loose when the moment is right. It’s certainly an emotional environment for football.
“There were a lot of people there when we ran out, and they were there all game, so it was great. And it was great to win. That’s what we want to do. Our job is to come out here and to be focused on what we need to do and then make a bunch of good plays and then try to beat the opponent, and we figured out a way to do that.”