SANTA CLARA, Calif. – New England rarely visits San Francisco, yet, the Patriots looked right at home to begin this game.
For starters, the half-full Levi's Stadium crowd was considerably partisan in New England's favor.
"Definitely," wide receiver Julian Edelman acknowledged. "It's pretty crazy anytime we come out west. Seems like we have a lot of fans out here. It's pretty amazing to see and exciting."
Then, after a strong defensive effort forced a 49ers three-and-out on the game's opening series, Danny Amendola's 30-yard punt return set up the offense in enviable scoring position.
It seemed apropos that Edelman and Tom Brady would then connect on a touchdown pass for the game's first points. Both players grew up in the San Francisco exurbs and spoke openly this past week about their excitement to play against the team they supported as Bay Area youngsters.
It looked even easier for Brady et al on the second series, which ended with RB James White's emphatic screen pass touchdown that saw him run through a 49ers cornerback to get into the end zone.
"Definitely good to get back on track," Edelman continued. "We took care of the ball in hard conditions. That was a huge point of emphasis, ball security. To do that and be able to execute when we had to was good. We had good field position by our special teams here and there.
The second quarter got sloppy for New England, in part because of those persistent rainy conditions that Edelman referenced, which prevailed the entire weekend, but also due to several Patriots penalties on both sides of the ball. Offensively, Brady misfired a few times, and on defense, a familiar refrain: too many big plays allowed, which kept the score tight – just 13-10 – at halftime.
That ugly play continued through most of the third quarter.
"They're a good football team. They were flying around. They were ready to play today," Amendola remarked about San Francisco's performance. "We came out in the second half, made some adjustments, and started moving the ball. Just started connecting a little bit more. We're happy we played well enough to win the game."
Coincidentally or not, though, once the rains let up by the end of the third, New England found its offensive rhythm again. Brady led a 10-play, 80-yard drive that resulted in an escape-act touchdown pass by Brady to Amendola to increase New England's lead to 20-10. Immediately thereafter, the supportive "Brady! Brady! Brady!" chants, which were audible earlier in the game from the Patriots faithful in attendance, reached a crescendo.
"I mean, that's Tom Brady," Edelman smirked.
In the fourth quarter, a schoolyard-like improvisation in the pocket led to Brady's fourth TD toss of the day, to yet another receiver (rookie Malcolm Mitchell) and essentially sealed the victory for New England.
"It was a scramble play, so, I was just trying to get open," Mitchell smiled afterward. "Tom being who he is, he found me."
The offense certainly missed tight end/co-captain Rob Gronkowski, sitting out with a chest injury, and WR Chris Hogan, who's dealing with a back problem. But a positive development saw Dion Lewis make his 2016 debut after an extended stint on PUP. He looked sharp, both as a runner and receiver out of the backfield, in a sporadic action throughout the game's four quarters.
"Just like riding a bike," Lewis smiled. "I've been playing this game a long time. I'm just happy to be back out there with my teammates. I was just trying to execute and make no mistakes. I was ready to go.
"Definitely a good day. My body feels the same as it always felt [before the injury]. Just have to get back in rhythm."
This day, though, was all about Brady and Edelman living out a dream-come-true against their boyhood favorite team. The QB threw to his top target 17 times. They connected on only half of them, but it was more than enough to get the Patriots back in the win column after a hard-fought loss the previous week to Seattle.
And appropriately, as the Patriots closed out their rare road victory in San Francisco – perhaps the first and only of Brady's career – the sun came out for the first time all weekend, accompanied by a large rainbow over the stadium.
"Hey, that's… I guess that's appropriate," Edelman grinned. "Wish we had it a little earlier though."