FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Far too often this preseason, much was made about who isn’t around to help the Patriots in 2018.

But what should be emphasized is just who remains on board. As they made clear Sunday in the season-opening 27-20 victory against the Houston Texans, the Patriots still have Tom Brady. And Rob Gronkowski is simply unstoppable.

The Brady-Gronkowski tandem combined early and often to help the Pats burst out to a 24-6 lead in the third quarter. The Pats held off a talented opponent the rest of the way.

Securing a season-opening win shouldn’t be taken for granted. The Patriots lost last season’s opener, after all. And this one is beginning with top receiver Julian Edelman sidelined by a four-game PED suspension, and a slew of players being asked to fill holes created by the departures of skilled talent like Danny Amendola, Dion Lewis and Brandin Cooks.

So the Patriots need to buy time while Edelman sits out, especially with stiff tests at Jacksonville and Detroit up next. Get ready for an eyeful of Gronk with an assortment of other co-stars sprinkled around him.

That mix worked wonders in Week 1. Brady connected with eight receivers, most on short and medium routes. When it was time to stretch the field he didn’t look toward a fleet, speedy wideout. Instead he turned to the 6-foot-6, 268-pound rumbling monster that is his All-Pro tight end.

That combo worked on the season’s first touchdown. Facing a third-and-long, Gronkowski found himself running down the sideline with linebacker Zach Cunningham in close pursuit. Brady lofted a pass toward the goal line and Gronkowski clamped his mitts on the ball just as two Texans converged on the play.

It was the 76th time Brady and Gronkowski have teamed up for a TD pass. That’s second among all quarterback/tight end combinations with the 87 by Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates well within reach.

The pair combined on an even more revealing play later in the second quarter that should send shivers down the spines of opposing defensive coordinators. With Brady comfortably leading the Pats through their two-minute drill, he sent Gronk straight down the field. Two Texans attached themselves to his hips but that didn’t sway either of the Patriots’ stars.

Their connection is so pure and carries so much trust that Brady knowingly tries to force balls Gronk’s way. More impressively, the big lug always thinks he’s open.

“When I was running up the seam I had two guys on me and I saw the ball in the air and I was literally like, ‘what is Tom thinking?’ Gronk said with a playful chuckle. “When that ball was in the air I had a guy grabbing me but I was like, ‘I just have to go for it. I can’t let them make a play on it.’ I did make the catch. I don’t know how but when I went to the ground I had it stable in my hands.”

Brady famously grinds through passing drills with his favorite receivers at all points of the year. He recalled that in drills one April a few years back he and Gronk connected on 40 straight passes.

“Rob and I, we’ve been playing together for a long time,” Brady said. “I know his body language and his ability to run, and what routes he can do. He can do really all the routes. It’s just a matter of giving him a chance.”

Brady wouldn’t bite on theories that the offensive talent surrounding him has slipped. He’s not one to place limits on any teammates. Just because they haven’t made their mark in the NFL doesn’t mean they can’t embrace new opportunities.

“If you’re playing in the slot, you have to play as well as any slot receiver we’ve ever had,” Brady said. “You play on the perimeter, you have to play as well as any receiver we’ve ever had. Tight end, quarterback, running back. Guys can play up to that.”

Guys like Phillip Dorsett and James Develin. Without Edelman and Amendola and Lewis, the Pats need new outlets for Brady. Week 1 saw Dorsett tie Gronkowski with a team-best seven catches. We also saw Develin haul in four passes, two fewer than his entire 2017 total of six.

The Patriots will need even more players to emerge next week in Jacksonville, where the Jaguars no doubt hope to reverse the result of last year’s AFC championship game. One thing’s for sure: Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels are going to keep a heavy dose of Brady-to-Gronkowski highlighted in their game plans.

“We see it quite a bit every day,” Belichick said. “That’s two great players. They both have a lot of skill and are very good at what they do. They don’t need a lot to complete passes. Rob’s hard to cover and Tom can put the ball where only Rob can get it, and Rob can get a lot of those. I’m glad we have them. They’re both great players.”