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CHRISTOPHER L. GASPER

Did Tom Brady really ever leave us?

Tom Brady: 'I Love Being Quarterback Of This Team'
Tom Brady: 'I Love Being Quarterback Of This Team'
Fans reacted as Tom Brady led the Patriots onto the field Sunday against the Bengals.Jim Davis/Globe staff

FOXBOROUGH — Tom Brady’s return to Gillette Stadium felt like a football family reunion. Two of his sisters, Nancy and Julie (Mrs. Kevin Youkilis), and sons Jack and Benjamin were in attendance to see his first home game after four games as the NFL’s air pressure prisoner. Brady also had more than 66,000 extended family members welcoming him home.

You can only hope that many of the Foxborough Faithful show the same outpouring of affection for actual family members that they did for Brady on Sunday. Brady didn’t disappoint his blood relatives or his extended family of fans with another masterful performance for his oeuvre in a 35-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.

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On a glorious and golden autumn afternoon, the Patriots golden boy QB authored a glorious return to Gillette Stadium, going 29 of 35 for 376 yards and three touchdowns.

It’s clear the Deflategate saga has only strengthened the bond between Brady and the fan base. He is both a matinee idol and a martyr. He has come to embody not only the unyielding excellence of the Patriots but their perceived persecution for said excellence. There is a fiercely loyal, familial vibe to Patriots fans, and Brady is their favorite son.

Brady is in the pantheon of beloved Boston athletes with Bobby Orr, Larry Bird, Ted Williams, and Carl Yastrzemski, embraced universally and unconditionally. (That level of overwhelming love and adoration was deserved by Bill Russell, but wasn’t fully extended during his playing days.) Brady feels the love in his adopted home.

“I’ve felt it. They’ve had the back of our team . . . since I got here in 2000. You feel that with all the teams,” said Brady. “You feel that with the Red Sox. It’s heartbreaking when they lose like they did on Monday night. Then with the Celtics and the Bruins and then certainly for us we feel it every time we take the field. This is my home now. This is where my family lives. It’s a great place. I love being here and I love being the quarterback of this team. Hopefully, I can do it for a long time.”

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Sunday wasn’t just another game. It was basically Brady Day, another one of our parochial, regional holidays that outsiders simply wouldn’t understand.

It had been exactly nine months since Brady played a game at Gillette. The last time he stepped foot on the field for game action was Jan. 16, a 27-20 playoff victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Before the Patriots took the field, a TB12 tribute video was played and then the video board cut to Troy Brown opening the locker room door to reveal Brady leading the team out. The crowd erupted. It grew more boisterous when Brady ran through the inflatable tunnel the team uses to take the field.

All that was missing was the notorious Brady banner. It was All Hail, TB12. There were “Brady, Brady, Brady!” chants as the offense took the field. “Welcome Home, Tom” and “Welcome Back Brady” signs abounded.

Video: Postgame analysis with Ben Volin and Jim McBride

It was like those games the Patriots won with Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett at quarterback never happened.

“It was great. We had him back last week, and it was good to get him home,” said wide receiver Julian Edelman. “It was an electric environment with Tom back. It was good.”

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Not that Brady needs to do anything else to endear himself to his adoring fan base, but he has been exceptional since his return. Brady has completed 76 percent of his passes. He has thrown for 782 yards and six touchdowns, without an interception.

After guiding the Patriots to touchdowns on his first three possessions last week in his return from his Deflategate suspension, Brady found the going much tougher in the early going against the other Ohio NFL entry.

The Bengals had no intention of playing pliant football foils for Brady’s welcome-home party. Brady was a deceiving 12 of 16 for 136 yards and a touchdown pass in the first half. He was forced to hold the ball, move off the spot, and search for open receivers.

The Patriots were in danger of going six straight quarters without a touchdown at home before Brady got them in the end zone with a 15-yard toss to James White with 1:01 left in the first half that gave New England a 10-7 halftime lead.

Former TB12 target Brandon LaFell caught a 5-yard touchdown pass on the first possession of the second half to give Cincy a 14-10 lead. But Cincinnati succumbed to a blitz from Dont’a Hightower and its own self-destructive nature, as Andy Dalton was sacked for a safety with 7:05 left in the third quarter.

That was the opening Brady needed. After the safety, Brady went to his tight end tandem to take control of the game. He completed seven of his next eight passes — six of them to Martellus Bennett or Rob Gronkowski — on two touchdown drives.

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On the Patriots’ final four drives, Brady guided them to four scores (touchdown, touchdown, field goal, touchdown). He finished the second half 17 of 19 for 240 yards and two TDs. Twice, he connected with Gronk for 38-yard gains to set up scores.

The second 38-yarder, a floater under pressure with 4:33 left in the third quarter, was the 5,000th completion of Brady’s illustrious career. Three plays later, Brady found White for a 4-yard TD and a 25-14 lead.

The Patriots are now 5-1, and it feels like Brady is just getting started on his Deflategate retribution tour.

There was a lot of pent-up emotion released Sunday by Patriotologists. But Brady has been able to channel his Deflategate feelings in the right manner.

“You’re not going to win because you’re emotional,” Brady said. “But I think having your attitude right, mentally and physically right, ready to play, that allows you to be at your best for your teammates. It’s a process to get to that point, and we were definitely there today.”

Family members sometimes disappoint. Brady rarely does.


Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at cgasper@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.