The Pittsburgh Steelers knew what they were facing when they welcomed the New England Patriots into Heinz Field. They were just coming off a humiliating 30-15 loss to the then-1-4 Miami Dolphins, they have an obviously struggling defense, and have several injuries at several critical positions including Quarterback as Pro-Bowler Ben Roethlisberger is recuperating from a meniscus tear in his left knee. But since there no weather postponements in football, the Steelers still had to suit up their remaining healthy players and face the then 5-1 Patriots.
QB Landry Jones, who started in place of Roethlisberger made only his 3rd start in a career that began in 2013. For the first time in his career, he started the season as the #2 QB, knowing that he could play a few more weeks as Roethlisberger heals. He also knew that he would be facing a tall order vs. the Patriots who have only seen 2 Steeler QB’s in the Bill Belichick era before Jones: Kordell Stewart and Roethlisberger.
Jones was adequate and didn’t lose the game for the Steelers as he brought them back from a 14-0 deficit. He passed for 281 yards, a TD and an INT. But Jones couldn’t win the game for the Steelers either as his one TD wasn’t enough to overcome wasted drives and would-be TDs that led to field goals as the Steelers lost to the Patriots 27-16, falling to 4-3 after a promising 4-1 start.
It wasn’t totally Jones fault, as the defense once again couldn’t keep the opposing offense out of the end zone and the special teams as K Chris Boswell missed 3 field goals which caused the Steelers to end those drives without any points. That’s never good enough against a team like the Patriots who know how to get the ball into the end zone.
The Steelers coaching staff also didn’t call a good game as their decisions to settle for those field goals instead of going for it on 4th down had many folks scratching their heads, especially on that 54-yard FG attempt which is not easy to make at Heinz Field no matter who the kicker is.
In the end, it still resulted in the Patriots beating the Steelers for the 9th time since 2002 They only won 3 times in that span as well-all with Roethlisberger at QB. The Patriots improve to 6-1, once again proving that they’re once again one of the best teams in the NFL.
But make no mistake, the Steelers had their opportunities to punch the Patriots in the mouth early in the game. After they recovered the ball from the Patriots on and opening punt, Jones and the Steelers drove down the field and looked like they were going to take an early 7-0 lead, but Jones pass into the end zone was not close enough to land in the hands of WR Antonio Brown, but instead landed into the hands of CB Malcolm Butler, hero of Super Bowl 49. And how did QB Tom Brady and the Patriots respond? By driving 80 yards on 13 plays as Brady found WR James White for a 19-yard TD to give the Patriots a 7-0 lead.
The Steelers did nothing on their next drive and punted the ball back to the Patriots and what did they do? Score again, of course. This time they drove 80 yards on 11 plays that ended with former Steeler RB LeGarrette Blount running 3 yards into the end zone extending the Patriots lead to 14-0.
Despite the deficit, it still seemed like Jones had something to prove to the Patriots, and he did so on the next drive as he led the Steelers down the field after a 51-yard bomb to Brown and then got them into the end zone when he found WR Darius Heyward-Bey for the 14-yard TD, closing the Patriots lead to 14-7.
That brought the sold-out Heinz Field to life along with the Steelers defense as they put the pressure on Brady on the next drive, forcing them to punt. Jones and the Steelers went on another impressive drive and got them into the red-zone. Jones then found Heyward-Bey on what appeared to be a game-tying TD, but an offensive holding call squashed that chance and it got even worse when Boswell missed the 42-yard FG attempt.
The Steelers had another chance to tie the game before the end of the second quarter, but Jones couldn’t get the ball into the end zone. But this time, Boswell would connect from 32 yards, closing the Patriots lead to 14-10. In the 3rd quarter, after the Patriots did nothing on their first drive, the Steelers went to work once more, but could manage 3 points once again as Boswell’s 46-yard FG closed the Steelers lead to 14-13.
Most Steeler fans would probably be happy that their team drew within a point of the big, bad Patriots, but if you truly knew Brady and the Patriots, then it would be short-lived, and it was. On the next drive, Brady and the offense took a page out of the Steelers running attack and ran the ball right down the Steelers throats. Blount did most of the damage on the ground, getting several first downs while running over several Steelers in the process and when Brady threw the ball, he found TE Rob Gronkowski for a 36-yard TD, extending the Patriots lead to 20-13 (missed extra point)
That missed extra point was huge for the Steelers, because they were a TD away from tying the game. Problem is, that didn’t happen as they had to settle for another Boswell FG to close the Patriots lead to 20-16. Once again, the Patriots didn’t allow that close lead to last long as they scored once again when Blount scored his second TD of the game, extending their lead to 27-16. The Steelers final chance came when Boswell would miss that 54-yard FG, after that, the game was basically over as both teams were unable to convert. The Patriots took a knee to seal the win with seconds left.
Brady passed for 22 yards and 2 TDs, Blount ran for 127 yards and 2 TDs and Gronkowski caught 4 passes for 93 yards and the TD. For the Steelers, Bell rushed for 81 yards, and Brown caught 7 passes for 106 yards before leaving the game with cramp-related injuries.
Ray’s Take: The Steelers ‘played to win’ on only two drives that almost tied the game, but the rest of the game, they ‘played not to lose’-and if you’ve been watching the Patriots since 2001, that’s not a good thing to do, because that team always plays to win. You can say what you want about Tom Brady and Co, they get it done. The Problem with the Steelers is, they didn’t, not just because Jones wasn’t consistent, they could beat them most of the times when Roethlisberger was the QB.
But if Big Ben did play in this game, I think the Steelers would’ve won, because he wouldn’t have wasted most of those Red-Zone opportunities. Jones didn’t have the skills to take it to the next level-the type of level needed to beat the Patriots. The defense couldn’t solve Blount and Gronk, Boswell missed FGs and the coaching staff coached like they ate some bad food. Yes, the Steelers hung with the Patriots, but if you want to be considered the best, you must beat the best-not just hang with them…
The Steelers have a bye week, which will benefit those who are injured (especially Roethlisberger) and will return to action November 6th when they face the Baltimore Ravens.
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