FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP)- Like every game, Patriots coach Bill Belichick says he's focused on his next opponent. But he doesn't feel like he's got a new edge with star quarterback Tom Brady able to play in the season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"He never left," Belichick said Friday when asked how it felt to have Brady back with his four-game "Deflategate" suspension erased.
Even if its offensive plans stay largely the same, Brady certainly factored into his team's celebration plans for the Sept. 10 opener. A federal judge brought clarity to the saga Thursday when he overturned Brady's suspension backed by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, saying the league had legal missteps as it punished Brady for his role in using underinflated footballs during the AFC championship game last season.
Patriots president Jonathan Kraft, the son of team owner Robert Kraft, says the team wouldn't have gone through with raising its Super Bowl 49 championship banner if Brady weren't playing.
"We may have been raising a banner, it just might not have been our championship banner," Kraft saidThursday night before New England played its exhibition finale against the New York Giants.
"He needed to be there the first game that that banner existed in the stadium," Kraft said.
Team officials had an alternate, Brady-themed banner ready if Brady's suspension was upheld, Kraft said, less like the homemade signs gloating "Vindicated" and "Free Brady" in the stands during the game and more a recap of Brady's accomplishments.
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said he's confident Brady will be ready by Thursday. All along, the team has been getting three quarterbacks prepared for the Steelers and little has changed, he said.
"In this game, we all have to deal with adversity and distractions," McDaniels said. "We had enough of this in practice and you don't ever get used to it. Tom is a veteran player and he's dealt with adversity before, whether it was injury or other distractions. He's always just gone out and prepared and improved."
Though the NFL is appealing the ruling, it could take months for the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to hear the case because the league would have to show it would suffer irreparable harm to speed up the timetable.