CLEVELAND — Tom Brady came back with his game fully inflated.
By one measure, that equates to the 406 yards and three TDs the reinstated New England Patriots star put up in torching the Cleveland Browns to ignite a 33-13 romp Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium in his return from a four-game Deflategate suspension.
Yet by another measure, the two-time MVP issued quite the definitive statement with his impressive performance: He’s the same old Brady, with his big arm still capable of shredding any given defense as he energizes the consistent machine embodied by the Patriots.
That Brady is back in rhythm for a team that will again contend for a Super Bowl berth is really the substance of this return. Deflategate is over. Brady fought the NFL over its allegation that he was involved in a plot to deflate footballs nearly two years ago, taking the league to federal court and delaying the inevitable suspension. The Patriots (4-1) moaned and grumbled, too, all while paying a stiff price that included $1 million in fines and the loss of a first-round pick.
But now they are complete again and can get on with the mission of trying to capture some more Super Bowl glory.
Just don’t think that his return — Brady completed 28 of 40 passes and was pulled with six minutes to play — was anything like the ultimate in-your-face moment directed at the NFL and Brady haters. No, that would have to come later. Much later.
Against the battered and winless Browns (0-5) Sunday had the feel of a preseason game. For Brady, it was about getting back on track and knocking off rust. (Quick, can you name three players on the Browns defense?) This was not the Denver Broncos, with Von Miller coming off the edge.
For now, it will have to do for Brady, who at least proved that he could find some of the new pieces in his arsenal. All three of his TD passes went to new tight end Martellus Bennett. Brady also had a connection with his new deep threat, Chris Hogan, whose four-catch, 114-yard day included a 63-yard haul.
Stiffer tests will come down the road, with Cincinnati and Pittsburgh up the next two weeks. Seattle looms in November, while December will bring the Broncos.
Yes, Brady may have kicked off his “Revenge Tour” in fine fashion. But it will ultimately prove a success if Brady brings home his fifth Lombardi Trophy.
Follow NFL columnist Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell
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