– It was as if Tom Brady never was away.

Of course, he never really was, and with "Deflategate" behind him and the Patriots, the star quarterback was back to his unstoppable self.

Brady threw for four touchdowns, three to favorite target Rob Gronkowski, and Super Bowl champion New England beat undermanned and generally ineffective Pittsburgh 28-21 in the NFL's season opener Thursday night.

"It was a pretty special night," said Brady, who finished 25-for-32 for 288 yards. "I was excited, our whole team was excited. We haven't had one of these nights in a long time."

His four-game league suspension overturned by a federal judge one week ago, the three-time Super Bowl MVP was in midseason — or postseason — form. He led drives of 90 and 64 yards for scores on passes to Gronkowski. Gronkowski also recovered a fumble by running back Dion Lewis at the Pittsburgh 1 before his final TD.

Showing some love for his other tight end, newcomer Scott Chandler, Brady hit him for a 1-yard score to cap an 80-yard march with the second-half kickoff. Brady has 161 victories, tops for a starting quarterback with one franchise in NFL history; he set a team record with 19 consecutive completions; and he had his 23rd game with four or more touchdown passes, third all-time along with Brett Favre.