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It was a record-setting day for the Steelers on Sunday in Foxborough, but not the good kind of record-setting. The Steelers were taken apart by Tom Brady and the New England Patriots 55-31 at Gillette Stadium, giving up the most points and the most yards in the team’s 81-year history. The storyline has rarely deviated this season and it held-up again this week, fall behind by double-digits early, rally to make the game competitive, but lose the turnover battle and come up short in the end. And this time they came up well-short as the Patriots exploded for 31 points in a twenty minute stretch in the second half, scoring on five consecutive possessions after the Steelers had rallied to tie the game at 24. Tom Brady passed for 432 yards and 4 TDs, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Dobson and Danny Amendola each had over 100 yards receiving and a score and Steven Ridley added 115 yards rushing and two scores. It’s the first time in Patriots history that three pass catchers have gone over 100 yards in the same game. The Pats ran an extraordinary 26 plays that went for 10 yards or more and they averaged 8.6 yards per play in putting up their record-breaking 610 total yards, and that doesn’t include another 96 yards the Steelers amassed in penalties. The embarrassing loss, which Mike Tomlin described as “sickening,” drops the Steelers to 2-6. At the halfway point of the season it appears the Steelers are already to the point where they are just left to play out the string the rest of the way.
The injuries the Steelers continue to suffer along the offensive line is the other constant to the season. Three offensive linemen left last week’s game due to injury, but only David DeCastro missed this one. Sunday both Marcus Gilbert and Kelvin Beachum were injured, but neither injury appears to be serious. Vince Williams left the game in the second half with a concussion and did not return.
*After a slow start the Steelers were able to move the ball, putting up a season-high 479 yards in total offense and a season-high in points with 31. Le’Veon Bell accounted for 139 of the total with 74 on the ground in 16 carries and 65 more on four catches, the best day in his brief career. The up-tempo offense continues to be effective and one has to imagine the Steelers will incorporate more of it going forward.
*Scoring touchdowns in the red zone has been a huge problem this season and while they failed to convert on their first opportunity when Ben badly overthrew an open Manny Sanders in the end zone, they did convert all three ensuing red zone chances.
* Jerricho Cotchery had a career day with three touchdown catches. Overall he caught seven balls, while being targeted eight times, for 96 yards. Each of his catches resulted in a first down or a touchdown.
*Jon Dwyer continues to do impress in limited duty. He only had one carry but he ripped off 30 yards, the team’s longest run from scrimmage this season and he had one catch for another 23 yards.
*Ben Roethisberger turned the ball over three more times and now has 14 turnovers (9 INTs and 5 fumbles) in eight games. While Ben did put up 400 passing yards and throw for four touchdowns, his early turnovers got the Steelers off to another slow start. On the first possession fumble he held the ball too long and was sacked and easily stripped. On the first interception, feeling pressure, he just threw the ball up into double coverage for an easy pick and the Patriots scored their first touchdown on the next play. Ben also missed an open Manny Sanders in the end zone on the first scoring drive and overthrew a wide open Heath Miller late in the third quarter when the Steelers were down 34-24, looking to stay in the game. While Ben again did a lot of good things to get the Steelers back in the game, he needs to play at a consistently high level and that hasn’t happened this season.
*The Steelers wideouts need to make plays with the game on the line. Last week Antonio Brown dropped two balls late against the Raiders that were pivotal in determining the outcome. This week, on the play before Ben overthrew Heath, he made a very good throw down the sideline to Sanders that would have resulted in a big gain. Sanders dropped it. Not an easy catch, but exactly the type of plays the Steelers have failed to make all season with the game on the line.
*The Steelers allowed five more sacks. While a couple of those, as usual, are on Ben for holding the ball forever, both Marcus Gilbert and Kelvin Beachum completely whiffed on attempted cut blocks, each leading to a sack. Beachum is overmatched at left tackle, but he is still the Steelers best, or maybe only, alternative at the moment.
*Cam Heyward and Jason Worilds combined for the Steelers three sacks. Since moving into the starting lineup a few weeks ago Heyward has been one of the Steelers two or three best defensive players. In this one Heyward might be the only guy who grades out above the line.
*Early in the game Steve McLendon and Troy Polamalu made a great play on the goal line to stuff the Pats on 4th-and-1. McLendon got excellent penetration and Troy came in to clean it up. Unfortunately it was all downhill for both guys from that point on.
*Where to start? All week I discussed the matchup between the Patriots offense and Steelers defense. Could the Steelers contain a Pats offense that had struggled all season, but appeared to be getting some weapons back healthy? The answer was an emphatic no. Dick LeBeau started the game in base and nickel coverage and the Steelers inexplicably had no plan to slow down Rob Gronkowski. Schemes and execution were both terrible. The Steelers couldn’t stop the run, got little pressure on Brady and let guys run open all over the field throughout the game. To top it off the are some legitimate questions about the team’s effort toward the end. The Patriots numbers speak for themselves. Embarrassing, sickening, pick your adjective.
*The Patriots were 7/12 on third down including a 34-yard gain on 3rd-and-14 early in the game and they were 5/8 in the red zone.
*Last week I wrote, “The Raiders absolutely gouged the Steelers on the ground in the first half piling up almost all of their 197 rushing yards and pushing around the Steelers defensive line...Hot knife through butter.” More of the same. The Patriots put up an identical 197 rushing yards this week. The Steelers are now 31st in the NFL allowing an average of 131.2 rushing yards/game.
*While its probably unfair to single out individual players, particularly in the secondary where everyone was bad, Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark were terrible. Good quarterbacks expose both players and Tom Brady does it more so than anyone. He owns the Steelers safeties. On the Patriots first touchdown, Polamalu had the deep middle of the field in three-deep coverage and got looked off by Tom Brady. Polamalu shaded left where the Steelers had two defenders guarding one receiver and left Amendola free and wide open up the seam for a 34-yard TD. Troy has been lacking in pass coverage for years and he continues to guess and get burned for big plays. Yesterday he also committed three more penalties including a 15-yard personal foul and a 15-yard pass interference call. Clark, after having his best year last year, has been poor this year. He continues to miss tackles in the hole and, like Polamalu, has never been strong in coverage. I have no doubt this is Clark’s last year with the team and now I’m beginning to think it may be Troy’s as well.
*The Steelers questionable effort on the Patriots last two TDs in the final six minutes is cause for concern. Ike Taylor and Ryan Clark were burned on an 81-yard pass and the Steelers defense let LaGarrett Blount shred them for 28 yards and a TD on two plays. Each drive took two plays. One took 1:00 and the other 38 seconds. Inexcusable.
*The Steelers won the toss and decided to receive for a change and Felix Jones returned the opening kickoff 40 yards to the 40, excellent starting field position.
*Antonio Brown returned a punt 24 yards to the New England 46, setting up the Steelers touchdown drive that tied the score at 24 in the third quarter.
*In his Steelers debut Mat McBriar punted three times, two good and one bad. With the Steelers down 27-24 and less than a minute left in the third quarter McBriar got off a relatively short, low 41-yard punt that was returned for 43 yards. The Pats quickly turned the short field into seven points.
*Todd Haley continues to take a lot of heat, but the Steelers had an effective offensive gameplan and were able to move the ball on the ground and through the air. It’s clear, however, that the no-huddle has to be a larger part of the offense.
*Mike Tomlin and Dick LeBeau have to be embarrassed with everything about that defensive performance. At the end of the day, they are in charge.
Big Officiating Calls:
*The Steelers seemed to get the short end of the stick on some pass interference calls, but the refs did not impact the outcome of this one.
Up Next: The Steelers will take on the Buffalo Bills next week at Heinz Field. Kick-off is scheduled for 1:00 EST.
Reminder: You can hear me and Tom Bradley on the postgame show on the Steelers Radio Network after every Steelers game. You can listen on the Steeler Gameday app, the Steelers Nation Radio app on iHeart Radio or DVE or 970 ESPN in Pittsburgh. You can hear me weekdays on 970 ESPN from 4-7 pm and you can follow me on twitter @DavidMTodd.
Scott Brown-Pittsburgh Tribune Review Sports & Golf Writer
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