So much for that terrible offense. For the entire 2013 season, New England Patriots fans have been waiting. Waiting week after week, for the return of the Patriots offense that we've all gotten to know over the last decade-plus here in New England.
The patience finally paid off, as the Patriots exploded on offense against the Steelers, pulling off a 55-31 rout over their old rivals.
The Patriots were simply unstoppable on offense today, except for a short blip in the third quarter. Tom Brady had what was easily his best game of the season, and perhaps one of the best of his career. Brady displayed absolute precision at all levels of the field. His timing was excellent, and he seemed to be on the same page as his receivers. Moreover, his deep ball was on point, which is a very positive sign considering his struggles in that area this year.
Brady's three favorite targets were Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Dobson, and Danny Amendola. Gronkowski was in absolute beast mode, picking up nine receptions for 143 yards and a touchdown. He was back to dragging would be tacklers, and was a first down machine. At one point, he went down with an apparent thigh injury, but returned to the game and appeared to be okay. Aaron Dobson had career highs with 130 yards and two touchdowns. He still had a pair of drops, but came up with a beautiful back shoulder fade touchdown from Brady at the start of the fourth quarter. Later on, he hung on to a bomb down the left sideline for 81 yards and the score to secure the victory.
The running game was also unstoppable for the Patriots. Stevan Ridley picked up 115 yards on 26 carries, as the Patriots continued to feed him a football even after he gave up a fumble in New England's own territory.
Perhaps the only weak link on the offense was the pass protection. While Marcus Cannon had a fine game at right tackle in place of Sebastian Vollmer, right guard Dan Connolly struggled to contain Cameron Heyward of the Steelers.
Defensively, things weren't so great for the Patriots. They allowed a total of 31 points, including four Ben Roethlisberger passing touchdowns. Kyle Arrington had another rough day, as the Patriots struggled to contain the speed of Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown on the outside. Meanwhile, Jerricho Cotchery, a longtime foe of the Patriots, picked up three scores as the Patriots could not find anyone to guard him in the slot (whether it was Logan Ryan or Marquice Cole).
The Patriots did however force three turnovers. They also came up with some key run stops in short yardage situations. Newcomer Isaac Sopoaga played a lot of snaps on early downs, and was a contributing factor in holding up at the point of attack.
There were also a pair of additional injuries to monitor defensively: Rob Ninkovich left the game with a foot injury and Steve Gregory left the game with a thumb injury. Neither player returned, although Ninkovich did return to the sideline and gave a "thumbs up" to his teammates.
The victory moves the Patriots up to 7-2 and preserves their two game lead over the Jets in the AFC East. They will now head into the bye with a week 11 match-up against the Carolina Panthers on the horizon.
We still don't know exactly what the identity of this Patriots team is. But in year's past, they've been a terrific second half team. And this is about as good of a start to a second half that you could ask for.