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Pats' Past: 2002 Opening Day. A Celebration and a Game Against the Steelers

In September 2002, the New England Patriots came fresh off winning their first Lombardi Trophy. As is tradition, the team started its quest to defend the title - one that would fall short - at home.

Tom Brady's favorite banner? The next one.
Tom Brady's favorite banner? The next one.
Elsa/Getty Images

Home. Until the 2001 season, home was the old Foxboro Stadium with its metal bleachers and highschool flair. The last game played there was the legendary "Tuck Rule" game - the New England Patriots' divisional playoff game against the visiting Oakland Raiders. The team won and earned the right to advance to the 2001 AFC Championship Game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, a game in which the underdog Patriots defeated the home team 24-17 to advance even further: to the franchise's third Super Bowl.

In Super Bowl XXXVI, the Patriots beat the heavily favored St. Louis Rams 20-17 and thus were allowed to open their following season at home on Monday Night Football. The 2002 season opener was not only the first game of the Patriots' quest to defend their world championship, it also officially inaugurated the team's new, state-of-the-art arena now known as Gillette Stadium. The first competitive game in the team's new home was also the first time the Patriots unveiled a championship banner.

13 years later, the ritual once again takes place - and the team watching from the other sideline is the same. The NFL's schedule makers thought it was a neat idea to have the Patriots and Steelers battle on opening day both in 2002 and in 2015.

For New England, the 2002 version of the matchup went very well. Pittsburgh's first offensive series of the game ended in an interception, when Terrell Buckley picked off Kordell Stewart. Pittsburgh's second offensive series of the game ended in an intercpetion, when Mike Vrabel picked off Kordell Stewart. While the Patriots were unable to take advantage of the first turnover, they jumped to a 7-0 lead four plays after the second. Tom Brady found Christian Fauria from four yards out of the endzone.

The Steelers were able to answer with a 74-yard touchdown drive of their own, capped by Stewart completing a 13-yard pass to receiver Hines Ward. To make matters worse, the Patriots gained only four yards on their next drive. However, Pittsburgh's offense couldn't get much going, either. New England headed into the locker room with a 10-7 lead, courtesy of a 45-yard Adam Vinatieri field goal.

The second half started with the Patriots receiving the kickoff and Tom Brady getting sacked for an 11-yard loss on the first offensive play (he was sacked for a 3-yard loss on the last offensive play of the first half as well). It was the last time that a) the game was close and b) the Steelers defense was able to gain momentum. Two plays after the sack, on 3rd and 13, Brady found David Patten for a 37-yard gain. On the next play, Brady found Donald Hayes for 40 yards and a touchdown. Patriots 17, Steelers 7.

New England went on to score on three of its next four offensive series: one Tom Brady-to-Deion Branch (who played his first game on that day) 22-yard touchdown pass and two more Adam Vinatieri field goals gave the Patriots a comfortable 30-7 lead midway through the fourth quarter. The Steelers would score one more time to make it 30-14. It was too little, too late for the team that has lost to the Patriots seven-and-a-half months earlier.

The Patriots won their first game of the 2002 season. Their first game in Gillette Stadium. Their first game when a Super Bowl banner was unveiled. As of today, New England is 3-0 on such an occasion. Tonight, against the opponent they faced after the team's first championship banner was presented, the Patriots look to improve to 4-0.