Will Patriots homecoming be as good as their send-off?

Rally Day has come and gone. So has Departure Day.

Super Bowl LIII Week has begun.

The Bye Week is over, and now the hype all begins in earnest.

The New England Patriots and their fans got a taste of it with a massive sendoff from Gillette Stadium, as what looked like from camera shots a crowd between 20,000-30,000 fans showed up in what had to be bitter chill Sunday morning to cheer their favorites on.

Even Patriots coach Bill Belichick was marvelling at the huge throng. Fifty years ago Sunday another multiple Super Bowl winning coach, the late Chuck Noll, was hired by the Pittsburgh Steelers. But it was 19 years ago Sunday that Patriots owner Robert Kraft hired Belichick as their coach. Since then, a combined 184 coaches around the league have come and gone. Amazing.

“This is the biggest sendoff we’ve ever had,” Belichick said.

Did it set the tone for the week? You leave for the Super Bowl amidst cheers and joy. The question now will be asked, how will they return? Will it be a quiet Monday late afternoon arrival back from Atlanta, or a loud welcoming home of a team with the Lombardi Trophy?

We’ve always thought that the Belichick-Tom Brady combination has one more championship left in it. If that’s the case, then for the Patriots there’s no time like the present.

“They’ve played their best football in the most important games,” Belichick told the throng Sunday, “and we’ve got the biggest game coming up. We’re looking forward to it.”

“We’ve played our best football at the end,” Brady said. “We’re not quite at the end yet. We have one more to go.”

If you had to take a guess, you’d have to think the Patriots will win the fan battle in Atlanta. The Los Angeles Rams have only been back in L.A.for three years, and let’s face it, pro football has never really captured that area. And with the proximity of Atlanta to New England – hearty souls may even drive it – it would seem a natural for Patriot fans to outnumber the L.A.contingent by a wide margin, maybe even at the game.

“Can’t wait to see all y’all down there, take over Atlanta,” Patriots center David Andrews, who is from Georgia, said. “Show them what a real fan base down there.”

In any event, both teams arrived in Atlanta on Sunday. They will have their big Opening Night (what used to be media day) tonight (the Patriots are late, 9-10 p.m.), select players available to the media on Tuesday and then the all-inclusive press conferences at their respective team hotels Wednesday and Thursday. Roger Goodell will have his usual State of the NFL press conference Wednesday afternoon. Get ready for a lot of questions on the state of officiating, Roger. Right now it stinks.

What stories will dominate the week? The Patriot dynasty has been looked at from all angles; that happens when you go to four Super Bowls in five years and 10 since 2001. Usually there’s an injured top player or two that we wait for daily health updates, as Rob Gronkowski had that role last year. But right now, the Patriots incredibly list not a soul on their injury report.

But before all that takes place, it looked like there was a different feel Sunday. This wasn’t an expected Super Bowl trip, not after the Miami Miracle and loss to the Steelers. The Patriot defense had been lacking and with a sore-knee Brady didn’t look like himself.

But Super Bowl bound they are, as they now have the slogan “We’re Still Here.” Brady led the fans Sunday morning with that chant.

Yes, they’re still here. Where, or more appropriate, how will they be this day next week?

“We’ll have another party soon like this,” former Patriot linebacker Jerod Mayo told the crowd.

That remains to be seen, but the Patriots certainly started the week off the right way.

Tom King may be reached at 594-1251,tking@nashuatelegraph.com, or@Telegraph _TomK.