FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski sent New England fans into a panic this offseason when they hinted at retiring rather than returning to the Patriots in 2018.
On Sunday, it was the rest of the NFL watching in fear.
Brady threw for 277 yards and three touchdowns, hitting Gronkowski for 123 yards and a score to lead the defending AFC champions to a 27-20 victory over the Houston Texans. Brady found Gronkowski seven times, including a 21-yard TD three plays after Deshaun Watson fumbled a handoff at the Texans 19 on Houston's first offensive play.
“It's very important that they came out and played the way they did. They're our leaders,” said Phillip Dorsett, who had seven catches, including a touchdown. “When they play well, they give an adrenaline boost to the rest of the team.”
Brady, 41, clashed with the team he has led to five Super Bowl titles in the past year over the treatment of his personal fitness guru and the plans to elevate backup Jimmy Garoppolo to starter. In February, after throwing for 500 yards in a Super Bowl loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, Brady was coy about returning this season.
The Patriots dangled Gronkowski as trade bait this summer before agreeing instead to sweeten his contract with $4.3 million in reachable incentives. Gronkowski reportedly threatened to retire if traded.
“I'm just glad to be here, glad to be part of this team, glad to be part of this organization,” he said. “All that talk, all that stuff, I would love to put it in the past.”
Brady also found James White for a touchdown, completing 26 of 39 passes in all; he also had an interception on a pass that was tipped at the line of scrimmage. It was Gronkowski's 31st career regular-season or playoff game of 100 yards or more, tying Tony Gonzalez's NFL record.
“We've been playing together for a long time,” Brady said. “I know his body language. I know his ability to run and what routes. He can do it. He can do really all the routes. It's just a matter of giving him a chance, and it came with a big touchdown today.”
Watson, who missed the final nine games last season with a torn right ACL, completed 17 of 35 passes for 176 yards, one score and one interception.