FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Tom Brady looked into the end zone and found his favorite receiver. Rob Gronkowski caught the ball then slammed it to the ground.
The familiar spike was back after the star tight end’s first touchdown of an injury-delayed season.
So was the Patriots’ offense.
Brady shook off the inconsistency of his first eight games, threw for season-highs of 432 yards and four touchdowns and led New England to a 55-31 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.
“You throw it, they catch it, they run with it,” he said. “It makes a good day for a quarterback.”
The Patriots (7-2) go into their bye week with a two-game lead in the AFC East despite playing mediocre football for most of the first half of the season.
The 55 points were the most scored in an NFL game this season and the most ever against the Steelers (2-6). The Patriots’ 610 yards were the third most in team history and the most ever allowed by Pittsburgh.
“We are going to comb through this with a fine tooth comb,” Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin said, “and those people who are lacking effort won’t be playing. It’s just that simple.”
Brady had 252 yards passing in the first half, more than in five of his other eight games.
And 119 of those came on seven catches by Gronkowski in his third game since missing the first six recovering from surgeries on his left forearm and back. He finished with a career-high nine catches for 143 yards.
He caught his 19-yard touchdown pass with 4:30 gone in the second quarter as the Patriots took a 14-0 lead.
“It felt great out there,” Gronkowski said. “It was important for us to play this way. Until now, we hadn’t been clicking for all four quarters.”
The Steelers wasted a solid performance by Ben Roethlisberger, who completed 28 of 48 passes for 400 yards and four touchdowns, albeit with two interceptions.
The excitement began before the game when Boston Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester, accompanied by teammates, carried the World Series trophy onto the field.
“I’m not sure exactly how it all happened today,” Patriots Coach Bill Belichick said. “Maybe we got inspiration from the Red Sox.”
The Patriots gained the most yards in the NFL last season but were just 18th in that category going into Sunday’s game. And Brady threw for just 116 yards a week earlier in a 27-17 win over the Miami Dolphins.
But he was sharp all day Sunday, completing 23 of 33 passes against a defense that let receivers run free for several long receptions, including a 57-yarder to Danny Amendola that set up Stephen Gostkowski’s 20-yard field goal that made it 17-3.
Brady threw scoring passes of 34 yards to Amendola, and 17 and 81 yards to Aaron Dobson, while Stevan Ridley rushed for 115 yards and two touchdowns as part of a 197-yard ground game.
The Patriots led 24-10 at halftime before the Steelers tied it on their first two series of the third quarter on Roethlisberger’s touchdown passes to Jerricho Cotchery of 20 and 8 yards.
He added a 6-yarder to Cotchery midway through the fourth quarter that made it 41-31. But two plays after the kickoff, Brady launched a pass down the left sideline that Dobson caught at the Steelers 40 and carried into the end zone.
LeGarrette Blount got the final touchdown on a 5-yard run with 2:41 left.
Three Patriots had more than 100 yards receiving, Gronkowski’s 143, Dobson with 130 and Amendola with 122.
“It’s embarrassing for our organization to give up points like that,” Steelers safety Ryan Clark said. Brady “is the most accomplished quarterback of our era. Tom Brady played like Tom Brady.”
Roethlisberger turned the ball over twice on his first two series when he fumbled then threw an interception.
“We’re all angry and disappointed,” Roethlisberger said, Brady “is good, so you know that your mistakes have to be limited.”
After Gronkowski’s touchdown, Pittsburgh’s Shaun Suisham and Gostkowski traded field goals before Roethlisberger hit Antonio Brown for a 27-yard touchdown. It was the 200th touchdown pass of Roethlisberger’s career, second in Steelers history to Terry Bradshaw’s 212.
The Patriots got the ball back with 1:50 left in the half and went 77 yards on nine plays to a 1-yard scoring run by Ridley.
After Cotchery tied it at 24, the Patriots took the lead for good on Gostkowski’s 32-yard field goal.
“When (Gronkowski’s) healthy and on the field, he’s tough to stop,” Brady said, “It’s been a process for us, but at the bye week, 7-2 is not bad and, hopefully, our best football’s ahead of us.”
NOTES: The Patriots scored at least 50 points for the sixth time with Brady as their starting quarterback. … New England has 36 straight games with at least one takeaway, the current longest streak in the NFL. … The Steelers fell to 2-6 for the first time since 2006.