It was the simplest of sayings, a three-word sentence Bill Belichick repeated over and over and over again during last year's championship run. He'd tell it to his players nearly every day, sometimes multiple times a day, reminding them of the directive that would ultimately define their season:
Do your job.
The Patriots responded brilliantly to the coach's message, tuning out all distractions, never worrying about trying to do too much because the man next to you might not be doing his job the right way. The mantra was a centerpiece of the Patriots' entire regular season and run-up to Super Bowl XLIX, where they beat the Seahawks 28-24 on the wings of a dramatic fourth-quarter comeback and a spectacular game-saving interception in the final seconds.
The saying continues to reverberate throughout the locker room, and it's what the Patriots' most important player repeats to himself - and others - as he attempts to focus on what lies ahead. Tom Brady has been through his offseason from hell, spending much of his time fighting a four-game suspension for his alleged role in using purposely deflated footballs in last season's AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium.
That was the last time Brady played a home game - the Patriots blew out the Colts, 45-7 - and between then and now, he won his case against the NFL and had the suspension overturned last Thursday by U.S. District Court Judge Richard Berman. As he heads into Thursday night's regular-season opener against the Steelers, a game he didn't know for sure he'd be playing until last week, Brady uses Belichick's words as guideposts for his return.
"It's time for me to do my job," Brady said earlier this week in his first interview since the ruling. "Anything that's happened over the last seven months really wasn't my job. This is what my job is, to be out there and try to be a great leader for our team, to try to go out and execute the plays that are called and execute them at a high level."
And so Brady's saga continues, as the defending champion and reigning Super Bowl MVP returns to the field after an offseason of withering scrutiny and criticism, and accusations of cheating that delivered a major hit to his legacy as arguably the greatest quarterback of all time.
He has taken plenty of shots from almost every segment of society, with most of the country apparently convinced of his guilt and Patriots fans almost unanimous in their conviction that he did nothing wrong and was the subject of an ill-founded and misguided witch hunt by the NFL. Even after Berman's verdict, which focused on the NFL's appeal process and not Brady's actual guilt or innocence in the alleged deflation scheme, there were no major shifts in opinions.
If you were convinced Brady did it, then Berman's decision to reinstate him most likely didn't change that take. And if you felt Brady was innocent all along, then Berman merely underscored that contention.
The NFL remains convinced of Brady's guilt and is pursuing an appeal of Berman's decision, so a future suspension remains a possibility. But the focus now is back to football, because it is almost inconceivable there would be an appeals court ruling before the end of the 2015 season.
For Brady, it's back to football. And back to work.
"I have a lot of personal feelings about everything that's non-Pittsburgh related, but I think that's for another time," he said. "I certainly have a great amount of respect for the Commissioner and what his job is. My job is to be the best quarterback that I can be, so that's what I'm going to try to be on Thursday.
"It's been a long seven months for everybody, but I think now the goal is to focus on why my job is and what I need to do to go out there and help our team win. We've got a lot of guys in this locker room who worked really hard to get to this point."
The Patriots have had their way against the Steelers, beating Pittsburgh three times at home during Brady's career. The wins have been by an average of 20 points each, including a 55-31 drubbing in 2013.
The Patriots have scored at least 30 points in each of those home wins, with New England averaging 458 yards and Brady passing for an average of 375 yards.
Brady never takes past results as an indicator of future performance, so he won't dwell on his success against the Steelers. Only what lies directly in front of him.
He'll take the field to a huge ovation from a sellout crowd of Patriots fans who have staunchly defended him during "Deflategate," and the atmosphere is sure to be as intense as any game in Patriots history.
It will be a daunting atmosphere for the visitors, whose task becomes all the more difficult because of the absence of several key players, including suspended running back Le'Veon Bell, suspended receiver Martavis Bryant and injured center Maurkice Pouncey.
That will put even more pressure on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who re-upped on a nearly $100 million contract extension in the offseason. But it won't stop Roethlisberger from taking a moment to admire his counterpart.
"I still have a ton of respect for Tom," Roethlisberger said. "I think he is the best in the business. If you want to be the best you have to beat the best. Of course, one part of you doesn't want him out there because he is the best in the world, but a bigger part of you as a competitor wants him out there because he is the best."
He'll be out there. After what seemed like an interminable offseason, it's back to work for the greatest - and also the most controversial - quarterback in the game.