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, four touchdowns and two interceptions.
The excitement began before the game when Boston Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester, accompanied by several 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.
COLTS 27, TEXANS 24
HOUSTON » Andrew Luck got off to a slow start before throwing three second-half touchdowns to T.Y. Hilton to overcome an 18-point halftime deficit and give AFC-South-leading Indianapolis the victory over Houston.
Case Keenum threw for 350 yards and three touchdowns in his second career start, but had trouble moving the offense after halftime as the Texans, up 21-3 when Kubiak collapsed, lost their sixth straight game after opening the season 2-0.
Houston receiver Andre Johnson had nine catches for 229 yards and three touchdowns.
EAGLES 49, RAIDERS 20
OAKLAND, Calif. » Nick Foles tied an NFL mark with seven touchdown passes and threw for 406 yards to revitalize Philadelphia in a victory over Oakland.
The backup quarterback connected three times with Riley Cooper to become the seventh passer in NFL history with seven TD tosses in a game. Peyton Manning did it for Denver on opening night this season against Baltimore.
Foles also threw scoring passes to Brent Celek, Zach Ertz, LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson as the Eagles looked nothing like the offense that failed to score a touchdown in each of the past two weeks.
JETS 26, SAINTS 20
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. » Nick Folk remained perfect this season by kicking four field goals, Rex Ryan’s defense held Drew Brees and the high-scoring Saints to six points in the second half, and New York had seven plays of at least 19 yards in an upset of New Orleans.
Ryan is now 7-3 against his brother, Rob, and the Jets maintained their string of alternating wins and losses.
Folk is 23-for-23 on field goals and 14-for-14 on extra points.
BROWNS 24, RAVENS 18
CLEVELAND » Jason Campbell threw three touchdown passes — two to former University of Hawaii standout Davone Bess — and Cleveland ended an 11-game losing streak against Baltimore.
Campbell’s 3-yard pass to Bess on fourth down with three minutes left helped the Browns seal their first win over Baltimore since 2007.
The Ravens lost their third straight and didn’t win in the week following a bye for the first time in six tries under coach John Harbaugh.