Thursday night is the official kickoff to the 2017 NFL Season. The Patriots have the honor, for the fifth time, to host the kickoff game as the defending Super Bowl champions. Their clash with the Chiefs will be the second time in the Belichick/Brady era that the two teams squared off in Week One. That was in 2008, and every Patriots fan knows what happened that day.
Throughout the Belichick/Brady era, there have been countless memorable season openers. Here are the Top 5 since 2001:
5. September 9th, 2007 Patriots at Jets
This game could be known for a number of different reasons. Most notably, this was the game that set off the ‘Spygate’ controversy. However, this was also the first game with an offense never before seen in New England. Wes Welker, Donte Stallworth, and of course Randy Moss all came aboard during the offseason. The ceiling for this offense was unimaginable.
The Patriots scored in every quarter, highlighted by a 51-yard bomb to Randy Moss on a deep post pattern for his first of 23 touchdowns on the year. Tom Brady was 22-of-28 for 297 yards and three touchdowns in the 2007 opener. The Patriots rolled to a 38-14 win over the Jets to start the magical season.
4. September 9th, 2004 Colts at Patriots
In a rematch of the previous season’s AFC Championship Game, the Colts came to town as the Patriots raised their second Super Bowl banner. Running back Corey Dillon rushed 15 times for 85 yards in his debut as the two teams traded scores early. However, in the third quarter, Tom Brady took over, tossing two of his three touchdowns on the night. Brady ended the night throwing for 335 yards and three touchdowns with one interception.
In the fourth, both teams committed uncharacteristic turnovers, including a fumble by Colts running back Edgerrin James on the goalline. The ball was recovered by rookie nose tackle, Vince Wilfork. With time winding down and the Patriots leading 27-24, linebacker Willie McGinest rushed off the edge (very reminiscent of Dont’a Hightower in the Super Bowl) and sacked Peyton Manning. On the very next play, Colts kicker, Mike Vanderjagt shanked a potential game-tying field goal and the Patriots were 1-0. They would go on to match their 2003 record at 14-2 and end the season with another Super Bowl Championship.
3. September 14th, 2009 Patriots at Bills
One of the more highly anticipated season openers in recent Patriots history, quarterback Tom Brady was set to make his return after a season-ending ACL injury in the 2008 opener. In 2007, Brady set the NFL world on fire with 50 touchdowns and leading the Patriots to a 16-0 regular season record. So there were many questions about how Brady would return. And for a lot of the game, he looked like a much slower version of himself.
Then crunch time happened. The Bills took a 24-13 lead on a Fred Jackson touchdown reception with just over five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. Then, two touchdown passes from Brady to Benjamin Watson in the final minutes propelled the Patriots to a thrilling 25-24 opening night, kick off victory.
2. September 12th, 2011 Patriots at Dolphins
Most fans have been accustomed to playing the Dolphins in Miami late in the season in recent years. This season, one that ended in a Super Bowl appearance, began in the Sunshine State. This time, the Patriots handled the pressure of playing in Miami quite well as they cruised to a 38-24 victory.
Tom Brady was lethal. He went 32-of-48 for 517 yards and four touchdowns. A career high in yards for the future Hall of Famer. A large chunk of those yards came on one play. With the ball at their own 1-yard line, the Patriots spread the receivers wide and Tom Brady connected with Wes Welker. Welker then took the ball to the house 99-yards, tying the NFL record for the longest touchdown reception.
1. September 9th, 2002 Steelers at Patriots
This is the number one game for a variety of reasons. After an improbable run to their first Super Bowl with an upset over the heavily favored Rams, it was a perfect opportunity to open a brand new football stadium. The Patriots closed the old Foxboro Stadium out in high fashion in the “Snowbowl” game against the Raiders in the playoffs. Now they were set to raise their first championship banner in the brand new Gillette Stadium against the team that was expected to represent the AFC in the previous years Super Bowl. The Pittsburgh Steelers.
The game remained tied at seven after the first quarter. However, 17 straight points from the Patriots between the second and third quarter led to a very convincing 30-14 opening night victory. Quarterback, Tom Brady, ended the night throwing for 294 yards and three touchdowns in the first game at Gillette Stadium. The rest of the season did not go as planned as they finished 9-7.
– Ian Glendon is a National Co-Editor for cover32 and the Managing Editor for cover32/Patriots. He covers the NFL and New England Patriots. Like and follow on Follow @iglen31 Follow @cover32_NE and Facebook.