Tonight at 8:30 p.m. ET, the New England Patriots will host the annual NFL kickoff game – this year against the Kansas City Chiefs – to start the new season. As has been tradition since 2004 (with only once exception), the defending world champions open the season at home while unveiling the latest Super Bowl banner.
Overall, the Patriots are 3-0 in those games. Let's take a look back at them.
2004 season: Patriots vs. Colts
During the 2003 playoffs, the Patriots hosted the Indianapolis Colts for the AFC title. An opportunistic defensive performance, that saw the team pick off quarterback Peyton Manning four times, helped New England beat the team and advance to the Super Bowl – a game the Patriots won to earn the right to play in the third annual kickoff game. The opponent, once again, came from Indianapolis.
The game started as a low-scoring affair but saw a combined 27 points scored in the second quarter. The Colts entered the locker rooms at halftime up 17-13 but the third quarter turned the Patriots' fortunes around. First, the team turned a takeaway into a touchdown before scoring a second one on the very next drive. The Colts came within a field goal but a sack by Willie McGinest made the potential game-tying kick a tougher one. Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt missed and the Patriots prevailed 27-24.
2005 season: Patriots vs. Raiders
Coming off their third title in four years, New England hosted the Oakland Raiders to kick off the 2005 season. The game was a close affair early on, with both teams exchanging punches in the first half. Oakland, thanks in part due to a 73-yard touchdown catch by future Patriot Randy Moss, was able to take a 14-10 lead but a Tom Brady to Tim Dwight connection gave the defending champions a 17-14 halftime lead.
After intermission, two touchdown runs by Corey Dillon – one set up by a Vince Wilfork fumble recovery – gave New England a 30-14 lead. From that point on, the Patriots controlled the game and allowed only once more score by the Raiders. Thererfore, the Patriots were able to onto a 30-20 victory and to start the season victoriously for the second consecutive year.
2015 season: Patriots vs. Steelers
The offseason after New England's thrilling victory in Super Bowl XLIX was dominated by one of the most ridiculous scandals in NFL history. However, the Patriots proved their ability to ignore the noise on 2015's opening day against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Tom Brady, who stood at the center of the Deflategate controversy, was his usual dominant self and finished the game with four touchdown passes – three of which to Rob Gronkowski.
Brady threw two in the first half to help his team to a 14-3 halftime lead. After the break, New England continued to control the contest on both offense and defense. Two more touchdown passes by Brady gave the defending world champions a 28-14 fourth quarter lead – one that the Steelers were unable to come back from. New England won the game 28-21 and proved that amidst all the scrutiny, the team was still the best in the NFL.