By Ray Porter Jr.
PITTSBURGH, PA–For the second time in 4 days, the Pittsburgh Steelers were upset by a 2-10 team. This time it was the New England Patriots in a 21-18 defeat that now has them in infamy as the first team in NFL history to be over .500 and lose back-to-back games to teams eight games under .500.
“A lot to work on, but in terms of how the game unfolded, the significant difference is they got seven points off their turnover on the short field,” said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. “We got zero points off ours, so that’s the difference in the game. Usually, it is the turnover component and your ability to support each other on the other side of it or inability, and that was the difference in the game in terms of outcome. So that’s disappointing.”
The expectations about the Patriots were that they were a team that struggled on offense, but it did not stop them from stunning the Steelers en route to a 21-3 first-half lead. QB Bailey Zappe (l9/28, 240 yards, 3 TDs, INT) looked a lot like Tom Brady as he led his team to a TD on their first drive (11-yard pass to RB Ezekiel Elliott) in the first quarter, and then two more in the second quarter. (2 TDs to TE Hunter Henry) meanwhile, the Steelers challenges on offense continued until late in the second quarter when QB Mitch Trubisky (22/35,190 yards, TD, INT) found WR Diontae Johnson for a 25-yard TD, closing the Patriots lead to 21-10 before Halftime.
The Steelers defense was more successful in the second half as they kept the Patriots from adding to their lead, so it fell on the offense to continue a possible comeback, and early in the fourth quarter, it seemed very possible after the special teams blocked a Patriots punt and then Trubisky led the Steelers on a 4 play-25 yard drive that ended with a 1-yard QB sneak and a 2-point conversion to close the Patriots lead to 21-18.
“I think he (Trubisky) got better as the game went on,” Tomlin stated. “Obviously, wasn’t the type of start we needed. They were really good on possession downs. They are collective, the things they threw at him and us. But I thought he improved as the game went on.”
Trubisky and the Steelers’ offense tried on two more drives but were unsuccessful in at least getting into FG range to tie the game. And on their final drive, they were at a 4th and 2, and Trubisky tried to throw it deep to Johnson, but it fell incomplete. Zappe and the Patriots eventually forced the Steelers to use their final timeout and although Trubisky and the offense got the ball with under 15 seconds left, it was too little, too late as the Steelers would lose their second home game in 4 days.
With four games left, the Steelers’ biggest benefit is that they have ten games before their next game, which is Saturday, December 16, at the Indianapolis Colts. Their challenge is to find a way to finish strong with hopes for a playoff berth.
When asked where the Steelers go from here, Tomlin replied, “We get ready for our next opportunity next week. It’s what we always do. Obviously, this stings, but we’ll be back. … This is what we do. This is who we are.”
Notes: Former Steeler WR JuJu Smith-Shuster finished with four receptions for 90 yards, in his first game at Acrisure Stadium since leaving as a Free Agent after the 2021 season.
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