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Game Preview: New England Patriots host Pittsburgh Steelers in 2015 season opener

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (0-0) vs. PITTSBURGH STEELERS (0-0)
Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Gillette Stadium (66,829)

The New England Patriots will begin the defense of their Super Bowl XLIX championship this week when they host the Pittsburgh Steelers in primetime on Thursday night. The Patriots are the last team to defend their title after winning back-to-back Super Bowls in 2003 and 2004.

This week's game is the NFL's 14th consecutive Kickoff celebration to start the season and the 11th time the NFL has saluted the Super Bowl champions with the opening game in their stadium on a Thursday in primetime. As part of the Kickoff events leading up to Super Bowl XL 10 years ago, the NFL incorporated musical performances from Los Angeles (home to the first Super Bowl), Detroit (host of Super Bowl XL) and New England (which won Super Bowl XXXIX).

The NFL's Thursday Night Kickoff tradition began in 2002 and the defending Super Bowl champions has hosted every year since 2004. The Patriots won the first two such contests. New England defeated Indianapolis, 27-24, on Sept. 9, 2004 and Oakland, 30-20, on Sept. 8, 2005 in Thursday games at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots will open the season at home for the first time since 2010, when they hosted the Cincinnati Bengals in the home opener.

BROADCAST INFORMATION

TELEVISION:This week's game will be broadcast by NBC and can be seen locally on WHDH Channel 7 in Boston. Al Michaels will handle play-by-play duties with Cris Collinsworth as the color analyst. Michele Tafoya will work from the sidelines. The game will be produced by Fred Gaudelli and directed by Drew Esocoff.

NATIONAL RADIO:This week's game will be broadcast to a national audience on Westwood One. Kevin Harlan and Boomer Esiason will call the game. Ross Tucker will report from the sidelines.

LOCAL RADIO: 98.5 FM, The Sports Hub, is the flagship station for the Patriots Radio Network (view affiliates). Play-by-play broadcaster Bob Socci will call the action along with former Patriots quarterback Scott Zolak, who will provide color analysis.

NFL KICKOFF WEEKEND & CHAMPIONSHIP MOMENT

This is the 14th consecutive Kickoff celebration to start the season and the 11th time the NFL has saluted the Super Bowl champions with the opening game in their stadium on a Thursday in primetime. As part of the Kickoff events leading up to Super Bowl XL 10 years ago, the NFL incorporated musical performances from Los Angeles (home to the first Super Bowl), Detroit (host of Super Bowl XL) and New England (which won Super Bowl XXXIX).

Prior to Thursday's kickoff, the New England Patriots will celebrate their Super Bowl XLIX Championship with a special pregame ceremony. Fans are encouraged to be in their seats by 8 p.m.

Series History

The Patriots and Steelers will square off for the 28th time overall, including 23 regular season meetings and four postseason meetings, two of which were AFC Championship matchups.

This week's game will be the fifth meeting at Gillette Stadium and the third time that the two clubs have squared -off in the season-opener.

The last time the two teams played in the opener, the Patriots posted a 30-14 win in the grand opening of Gillette Stadium on Monday Night Football on Sept. 9, 2002 against the Steelers.

The New England Patriots take on the Pittsburgh Steelers in a regular season game at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, November 3, 2013.

The last time the two teams played was on Nov. 3, 2013, when the Patriots beat Pittsburgh, 55-31, at Gillette Stadium.

New England owns a 3-1 record against the Steelers in the postseason and Pittsburgh holds a 14-9 advantage in the regular season.

The teams played in the AFC Championship Game following the 2001 and 2004 seasons, with the Patriots winning both times en route to Super Bowl titles. The teams played in the divisional round in 1996 and 1997. The Patriots beat Pittsburgh, 28-3, at Foxboro Stadium en route to their Super Bowl XXXI appearance. Pittsburgh beat the Patriots the following season, 7-6, at Three Rivers Stadium.

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SERIES BREAKDOWN
(Includes Postseason)

Overall Record, 12-15
Home Record, 4-4
Gillette Stadium, 3-1
Foxboro Stadium, 1-3
Away Record, 8-11
Heinz Field, 4-2
Three Rivers Stadium, 4-9
Bill Belichick vs. Pittsburgh, 9-9 (7-3 with New England)
Mike Tomlin vs. New England, 2-3

TWO OF THE TOP TEAMS
The Patriots and Steelers are at the top of the NFL charts in several categories since the 1994 season.

TOTAL VICTORIES SINCE 1994 (INCL. POSTSEASON)
New England Patriots 253
Green Bay Packers 233
Pittsburgh Steelers 228

SUPER BOWL CHAMPIONSHIPS SINCE 1994
New England Patriots 4
Baltimore Ravens 2
Pittsburgh Steelers 2
Green Bay Packers 2
Denver Broncos 2
N.Y. Giants 2

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS SINCE 1994
New England Patriots 7
Pittsburgh Steelers 4

PLAYOFF VICTORIES SINCE 1994
New England Patriots 24
Pittsburgh Steelers 17

DIVISION CHAMPIONSHIPS SINCE 1994
New England Patriots 14
Green Bay Packers 11
Pittsburgh Steelers 10

PATRIOTS ON THURSDAY
The Patriots will be playing on Thursday for the 14th time in team history and for the third time as part of the NFL's Kickoff.

Five of the Patriots' Thursday games were played on Thanksgiving (1984, 2000, 2002, 2010 and 2012).

BELICHICK ON THURSDAY
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick will coach in his 11th game on a Thursday, including his 10th with the Patriots. Belichick is 8-2 all-time when coaching on Thursday, including 3-1 on Thursday Thanksgiving games and 7-2 as head coach of the Patriots in Thursday games.

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PASSING PERFORMANCES
Tom Brady has played against Pittsburgh seven times in the regular season and twice in the postseason. He owns a 5-2 regular-season record and a 2-0 postseason record after two AFC Championship wins at Pittsburgh following the 2001 and 2004 seasons. Brady is a perfect 3-0 against the Steelers at Gillette Stadium after wins in 2002, 2007 and 2013.

CONNECTIONS

NEW ENGLAND TIES

  • Steelers QB/WR Tyler Murphy attended Wethersfield (Conn.) HS, where he was a two-sport athlete in football and track. After high school, Murphy joined the football team at Florida before transferring to Boston College where he was named the starting quarterback following the school's annual spring game in 2014 for his final season of eligibility.

PITTSBURGH TIES

  • Patriots special teams assistant Ray Ventrone was born in Pittsburgh. As a seventh grader, he and two of his friends founded the Nathan S. Arenson Fund for Pancreatic Cancer Research, which supports research for pancreatic cancer at the University of Pittsburgh. Ventrone attended Chartiers Valley HS in Bridgeville, Pa., where he was a three-time all conference performer and also set three high school records in track and field. Ray's younger brother is Steelers S Ross Ventrone, who was originally signed by the Patriots in 2010 and appeared in eight games with New England in 2011.
  • Patriots RB Dion Lewis attended Pittsburgh from 2009-10, where he finished fourth on the school's all-time rushing list with 2,860 yard. During his freshman year in 2009, Lewis became the first player since Michael Vick (Virginia Tech, 1999) to earn Big East Offensive Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year honors in the same season after rushing 325 times for 1,799 yards (5.5 avg.) and 18 total touchdowns.
  • Patriots DL Jabaal Sheard played in 47 career games with 38 starts over four years (2007-10) at Pittsburgh, compiling 142 tackles, 19.5 sacks, five forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. In his final season, Sheard was named consensus first-team All-America, first-team All-Big East and the Big East Conference Defensive Player of the Year.
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Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski attended Woodlands Hills HS in Churchill, Pa., his senior year. * Patriots CB Bradley Fletcher attended Liberty HS in Youngstown, Ohio (about an hour northwest of Pittsburgh), where he was named first-team All-Conference, All-District and All-State as a senior.

FORMER NFL TEAMMATES

  • Patriots pro scout Steve Cargile and Steelers S Will Allen were defensive teammates at Tampa Bay in 2009, when Cargile played safety for the Buccaneers.
  • Steelers CB Brandon Boykin spent time playing in the defensive backfield with Patriots S Patrick Chung (2013) and CB Bradley Fetcher(2013- 14) when the three were teammates with the Philadelphia Eagles.
  • Patriots TE Scott Chandlerand Steelers OL Doug Legursky were offensive teammates with the Buffalo Bills in 2013.
  • Patriots DL Alan Branch and Steelers LB Arthur Moats were defensive teammates with the Buffalo Bills in 2013.
  • Steelers C/G Cody Wallace blocked for RB LeGarrette Blountwhen the two were offensive teammates with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2012.
  • Patriots WR Brandon LaFell and Steelers RB DeAngelo Williams were offensive teammates for four seasons (2010-13) with the Carolina Panthers.
  • Patriots defensive line coach Brendan Daly worked with Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin for one season (2006) as members of the Minnesota Vikings defensive coaching staff
  • When Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley served as head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, Patriots tight ends coach Brian Dabollspent one season (2012) on his staff as Haley's offensive coordinator.
  • Patriots TE Scott Chandler worked with Steelers special teams coordinator Danny Smith for three seasons (2010-12) when Smith held the same position with the Buffalo Bills.
  • Patriots offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo worked with running backs coach James Saxonfor two seasons (2009-10) when both served in the same capacity with the Miami Dolphins.
  • Patriots DE Rob Ninkovich and Steelers defensive assistant Joey Porter were defensive teammates for two seasons (2007-08), when Porter played outside linebacker for the Dolphins.
  • Steelers defensive assistant Joey Porter also played with Patriots DL Alan Branch when the two were defensive teammates with the Cardinals in 2010.

FORMER COLLEGE TEAMMATES

  • Patriots DB Nate Ebner played with Steelers CB Doran Grant(2011- 14) and DE Cameron Heyward (2009-10) at Ohio State. Ebner and Grant helped the Buckeyes capture a BCS National Championship during their final season in 2014.
  • Patriots DE Chandler Jones and Steelers S Shamarko Thomaswere defensive teammates at Syracuse from 2009-11.

2015 NFL KICKOFF WEEKEND
The NFL's Thursday Night Kickoff tradition began in 2002 and the defending Super Bowl Champion has hosted every year since 2004. The Patriots won the first two such contests. New England defeated Indianapolis, 27-24, on Sept. 9, 2004 and Oakland, 30-20, on Sept. 8, 2005 in Thursday games at Gillette Sta- dium. The Patriots will open the season at home for the first time since 2010 when they hosted the Cincinnati Bengals in the home opener.

NE VS. PIT IN SEASON OPENER
The last time the Patriots played Pittsburgh in the season-opener was in 2002 in the grand opening of Gillette Stadium, a 30-14 win on Monday Night Football when the Patriots were coming off their first Super Bowl win.

BRADY ON OPENING DAY
Tom Brady is 11-2 as a starting quarterback on opening day, the best record among any quarterback on opening day in the Super Bowl era

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