- Escaping with a win
Maybe we’re spoiled as Patriots fans, and any game that is within one score in the second half is seen as a failure, but that game was ugly at times.
It was a series of uncharacteristic mistakes, lucky breaks, and stagnant offense combined with more bad third down defense. However, the Patriots, as they’re known to do, pulled out a win in the end. And it’s nice to leave Pittsburgh with a win, no matter how bad of a game it was.
- Special Teams Blunders
I mentioned that the Patriots made a series of uncharacteristic mistakes, and a lot of those came on special teams. Ryan Allen, in the midst of an impressive season, struggled punting the ball, which hurt field position all throughout the game. Particularly cringeworthy was Allen’s 25-yard shanked punt out of bounds. It is worth noting that his best kick of the day, which should have been downed on the five yard line, resulted in a touchback when Brandon Bolden knocked it into the end zone.
Allen wasn’t the only one to struggle in the kicking game, though, as perennial Pro Bowler Stephen Gostowski continued his struggles, missing another extra point. Ever since the miss in the AFC Championship game, Gostowski has struggled to regain his reliable form. Hopefully, it is all mental and he will bounce back, but a few more lapses like this and there will be serious cause for concern.
Add a fumble from Julian Edelman on a punt return and it was a certified mess on special teams. The Patriots pride themselves on winning the specials teams battle, but they’re going to have to do a lot better to win close games through special teams.
- Not the same team we’ll see
…and we will see them again. Playing without Big Ben and D’Angelo Williams, the Steelers had little to lose. Even just competing with the high flying Patriots would have been a moral victory for them. And for most of the game, that is exactly what the Landry Jones led team did—hang around. And that is exactly what the Patriots didn’t want a Landry Jones-led team to do. Ever.
Make no mistake about it, the Patriots and Steelers will face off again, with a lot more on the line and a lot more firepower from a Steelers team with key players back. For the Steelers, the takeaway from this game is that they can compete with the Patriots even without their quarterback. In their mind, it would stand to reason that with their quarterback, they can do more than just compete with the Patriots; they can beat them. It’s hard to argue with that logic.
However, hopefully come playoff time, the Big Ben Steelers won’t be the only improved team on the field. As this game demonstrated, the Patriots need to improve. It’s a good wake up call in Week 7 while still sitting at 6-1.
The good news is, too, that if and when the Patriots and Steelers do play again, this win puts the Pats in a good position to play that game at Gillette, a much more favorable environment than Heinz Field.
- Game balls to Brady, Blount, Gronk
Although Brady didn’t put up the big numbers that he has the last couple weeks, he still managed the game well and kept the Patriots in control. Yes, the offense stalled at times, but a lot of that was due to factors outside of Tom’s control, such as two dropped passes to kill back-to-back drives. He also displayed great (relative) mobility, avoiding sacks and rushing for a few first downs, extending drives with his feet.
Blount was just as pivotal in keeping the offense moving. Against his former team, Blount had perhaps his most efficient 100-yard game with 127 yards on 24 carries, scoring his 7th and 8th touchdowns of the season—a new career-high for him in just seven games.
As for the third game ball, it goes to Gronk, who made some big catches down the stretch to ensure the Patriots maintained their lead. He wasn’t an every-down target, but when the offense needed plays the most, Gronk was the one who stepped up.
- On to Buffalo
Beating Pittsburgh is a big step in the race for number one seed in the AFC, and beating Buffalo next week would be a huge step in winning the AFC East yet again.
Buffalo lost against the Dolphins this week, which helps the Patriots even more. Still, going 0-2 against the Bills on the season is not an option. So there is a lot to improve on to go into the bye week with a win.