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Patriots vs. Steelers: Fan Notes from the Game

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Notes, musings, and observations from the New England Patriots' 28-14 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

Here we go again.

Another NFL season. Another slate of 16 games. Another march to the postseason. Another five straight months of decreased productivity at work. Another reason to question my life choices. Another brief period of wondering, just for a moment, if life might be simpler/more enjoyable during the offseason. Another bunch of Sundays where I turn into a nervous wreck.

Another Victory Monday Friday.

And more importantly, the return of Fan Notes from the Game. New England opened up their 2015 campaign with a good, but not great, performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers and now sit alone atop the AFC at 1-0. There was plenty to like about last night's win, but there was also plenty to be concerned about, even at this early stage in the season. And since it's becoming more and more obvious by the second that at absolutely no point during this year will we as fans be allowed even a few seconds to just enjoy a win without some member of the national media calling the Patriots cheaters, all the more reason to get way over the top and go crazy celebrating each and every Patriots win. And what better place to start than a victory over a conference opponent that could ultimately end up having playoff implications down the road?

  • I'm not sure if any of you watched any of the pregame footage, but the roar of a maybe half-full Gillette last night when Tommy B took the field was loud enough to almost completely drown out Bob Costas as he bumbled through his offseason retrospective on Peyton Manning Tom Brady and what was ultimately some fairly insightful commentary on Deflategate. I also chuckled to myself when he mentioned how everyone was just looking to put all of this behind us, because I knew that there was 0% chance that we wouldn't be hearing Collinsworth flapping his gums about it all game.
  • When Tommy B took the field. If I ever write a Brady biography, I just found my title.
  • You know what I'd love to see? Two columns, with "Announcers talking about how we should just get back to football" heading one of them and "Announcers going out of their way to make backhanded remarks about the Patriots being cheaters," heading the other, and see how they measure up.
  • I don't know who the conductor of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra is, but that guy can play for my team any day of the week.
  • Then to follow it up with Ty Law, Troy Brown, Willie McGinest, and Bob Kraft marching the Lombardis out there to midfield as the flags flapped and the music blared and the crowd erupted...NOTHING CAN EVER TAKE THAT AWAY FROM US. Comment all you want. Run another smear campaign. Break the asterisk button on your computers for all I care. Knock yourself right the hell out. Four World Championships!  Four tainted rings! Four tarnished seasons! HERE WE GO! Man I wish this wasn't a family friendly blog, as I want to go on a profanity laced tirade the likes of which has never been seen before. Good Lord do I love this team.
  • Won the toss, defer. That's how you kick off a football season.
  • That said... I can't wait for the $5 million offseason investigation into whether or not the Patriots illegally manipulated the game coins to ensure they got the result they wanted more often.
  • I have absolutely no clue why the Steelers opted to go for a trick play right out of the gate like that. An absolutely phenomenal opening drive from the Steelers just completely short-circuited. Still, it was a long, sustained drive where they were able to gain yards in large chunks. That's exactly the kind of drive you need in an environment like Gillette last night.
  • Welp...thanks for everything, Easley. That was fast.
  • Looks like the refs were in preseason form as well. 2nd and 25...no, 1st and 25...no 1st and...oh crap, the no huddle. Better get back to it.
  • Am I wrong, or does rookie center David Andrews kind of look like a larger, hairier version our beloved Boss Man Greg Knopping?
  • While I'm on the subject of the O Line - pretty solid night from the rookies. The Patriots had a solid gameplan in that Brady released the ball quickly and his receivers weren't going too deep, but he really only got pressured once, on a delayed safety blitz. Pass protection on 3rd down is still a bit of an issue, but we all knew that was going to be a problem early on. Dion Lewis did what he could...but he's just not that big of a guy.
  • Not a good start for Nate Solder. You figure one of two non-rookie linemen wouldn't be the guy getting the flags. Two is the number of years on your contract extension, Nate, not how many penalties you should be racking up in the first quarter.
  • Every season, without fail, I forget how much I hate commercial breaks during Pats games. If I was a saner human being, I would just DVR the game and watch it right after it was over. But that would be an absolute disaster; I'd know that the game was going on and so I'd be completely useless during whatever meaningless event I decided to occupy my time with instead. But man would it be nice to be able to watch the full game commercial free.
  • So...one of the things we were high on in the preseason was the front seven, right? We were questioning how anyone would be able to run on this front four? And how offensive lines wouldn't be able to contain the pass rush? Just checking.
  • Malcolm Butler needs to work on his tackling. Lot of YACs on him last night
  • STEELERS GETTING PATRIOTS RADIO BROADCAST! STEELERS GETTING PATRIOTS RADIO BROADCAST! ASTERISKS! CHEATERS! TAINTED RINGS!
  • Let the record show that the Patriots have ZERO control over headsets, their own or their opponents. All headsets are controlled entirely by the NFL. The Pats couldn't screw with them if they tried. Not that that matters, and not that that is going to stop this from becoming a thing, but on the plus side, we'll only have to deal with whatever "gate" they attach to this until next week, when a new cheating accusation comes up.
  • And just in case nobody saw it yet...this.
  • Last thing I'll say about the headsets, because it's just too insane to even get into and still actually call myself a legitimate sportswriter: it's interesting to me how Patriots fans now suddenly trust what the NFL has to say about how headsets are handled, and how fans of every other team now suddenly put zero weight in anything the NFL says and thinks it's now some kind of coverup. I just wish that everyone would all collectively agree to just come out and admit that, when it comes to sports, we're all massive hypocrites and that will be that.
  • Along those lines...if you haven't fully embraced your role as a fan for the villains, I suggest you hurry up and just own it. Love being the bad guy. Get happy every time someone accuses the Pats of something. It's going to make your season significantly more enjoyable.
  • Anyway...
  • 3rd and 18, Steelers gain 17. I guess that beats the 2011 Patriots, where it would be 3rd and 18, and the Steelers would have thrown a screen for a 19 yard gain.
  • I'm more than a little worried that I'm going to be using the phrase "2011 Patriots" a lot this season.
  • Then again, those same 2011 Patriots were a Wes Welker drop away from another Super Bowl, so it could be worse.
  • If there was one rule that I would eliminate, it would be the illegal hands to the face rule - or at least I wouldn't make it an automatic 1st down. But right behind that would be the illegal block in the back penalty. I feel like you can call that on every play, and unless it's blatantly obvious and violent, they should let it slide.
  • Julian Edelman lining up all over the field and wreaking all kinds of havoc. He's going to have a monster year.
  • Pittsburgh DC Keith Butler looks like that construction worker in Family Guy whose eyes were too close together. "I have to draw you..."
  • 13 plays, 90 yards, 7:03 for the first score of the season, a quick out to an inexplicably uncovered Rob Gronkowski. What a great drive.
  • The first touchdown/extra point/commercial/kickoff for a touchback/commercial superset came at 9:23 PM on September 10, 2015 with 11 minutes left in the 1st half of the game. Why I thought it was important to note that is anybody's guess.
  • A lot to like about Jabaal Sheard. Not only has he exhibited excellent line versatility, but he chases down plays after the fact and has the speed to run through tackles in the secondary. He isn't crashing into the backfield as much as I'd like, but we need to give it time.
  • Hey weird! Bradley Fletcher got burned deep on a simple Go Route! Haven't seen that before.
  • Good luck looking for a new job, Josh Scobee.
  • Either that, or ESPN will run a 25,000 word op ed piece on whether or not the Patriots have been illegally manipulating the goalposts with remote controlled drones. Eleventeen sources, all of whom wish to remain anonymous, will allege that New England would outsource MIT students in nearby Boston to apply camo reflectors on the posts to confuse opposing kickers. No proof has yet been found, but hey...are you going to sit here and tell me that ALL eleventeen sources miraculously all had the same thing to say? How delusional can you be?
  • So the best performance from the offensive line yesterday came from the interior, where the three rookies are. The worst came from the franchise left tackle who just signed a big extension. I feel like that kind of happened last year as well.
  • Gronk was assigned to Will Allen because of his veteran leadership. A real veteran would have had the knowledge and experience to go to the coaching staff and say "for the love of God, coach, please don't make me guard that man."
  • Why did the fans wait until five minutes left in the first half to bust out the Brady chant? In fairness, that was the first time I'd heard it that night; maybe it came earlier. But regardless, there are a bunch of chants that I think the fans missed out on. Just a few of them:
  • Where is Roger? clap-clap-clap-clap-clap
  • (note: I wrote this in the first quarter. The chant came out in the fourth. Way to go, guys. I'd like to see that every game, all season. I can only pray that there is going to come a time where Goodell has no choice but to come to Foxboro)
  • Mimicking the Jets chant: E-S-P-N LIES LIES LIES!
  • WE WANT MORT! WE WANT MORT!
  • Fooooouuurr Riiiiings. Fooooouuurr Riiiiings. Fooooouuurr Riiiiings.
  • Don't worry. Plenty of time to bust those out.
  • Marshawn Lynch's "Brah I been here the whole time" line in that XBoxOne commercial never fails to crack me up. I'm guessing it wasn't that hard for him to act like that, as he could use "just do exactly what you did back when you were actually in college" as motivation.
  • Lots of different looks from the New England defense. I saw a lot of press 4-3, which was more or less a mixed bag; a lot of edge contain was lost and any time DeAngelo Williams bounced to the outside, he gained a decent amount of yards. It's very rare that you see the New England defense lose the edge like that, and that needs to be addressed.
  • I will NEVER not love watching that Butler pick.
  • Yikes. Go Routes may end up being a problem here. Steelers receivers had a step on Patriots DBs all night. They also gained almost 500 yards of total offense, which is a much bigger problem.
  • Still...Week 1, people.
  • Holy jeez an army of Tommy Bs on the field training in Under Armor. If only.
  • I completely lost count of how many commercial breaks NBC went to during the last two minutes of the first half. I think it was six.
  • You know what's weird? I love when the Pats defer until the 2nd half, but I'm always crazy nervous for their first drive of the third quarter. That makes absolutely zero sense.
  • Julian Edelman's toughness simultaneously amazes and scares me. It's 100% a point of pride for him, and rightly so, but the problem with guys who are tough and they know it is that they have no problem leading with their face.
  • So what's up with this Dion Lewis guy? Here's hoping he doesn't oversleep and show up late to practice this week, otherwise we'll never hear from him again.
  • How about New England's first score of the third quarter? Jumbo goal line set with 3 tight ends, Scott Chandler lined up at fullback. Everyone else close to the line. Hoo-man motions out to the right.  Chandler begins to motion out wide, then Gronk follows soon therafter. Gronk and Chandler quickly cross as the goal line linebackers try to assign themselves in coverage. Quick out to the flat, Chandler into the end zone. How can you diagnose that formation? I feel like it could be the 2015 equivalent of the 2008 Wildcat.
  • That is, until there is an offseason petition to ban formations in which the tight end lines up as a fullback.
  • How happy must Scott Chandler be to be in New England catching passes from Tom Brady? Scratch that; how happy must Scott Chandler be to finally know what it feels like to have a three score lead?
  • Where did Jerod Mayo go?
  • What a sweet double move by Antonio Brown on Pittsburgh's first TD drive of the game. It's hard to get too upset at Butler here; he's just an otherworldly talent.
  • Tell me if this sounds familiar: New England's defense gives up yards at will. Opposing offenses have no problem moving the ball and making big plays. But they don't score all that many points, because the Patriots D tightens up in the red zone.
  • I'll tell you what's ironic: New England got burned a ton on short little pick plays all night.
  • Why is it a big deal if you don't have to plug in your Samsung phone to charge it? It's still stuck to a dock...what's the appeal?
  • I don't know why the Steelers bothered to throw it at all. Williams was an absolute beast last night.
  • Is there a more obnoxious first down celebration than the old Santonio Holmes ball drop? Julian Edelman does it too and I can't stand it.
  • So very little pass rush and zero run contain. Uh oh.
  • Still early though, folks. No need to freak out.
  • Yet.
  • Maybe the Steelers realized that since you pretty much can't cover Gronk anyway, there's just no point even putting a man on him at all. Why even try?
  • What a stinker of a game from Brandon Bolden. Official stat line: 50 carries for -3 yards.
  • Well...not really. But Bolden't inability to generate any yards on the ground didn't do much to solve the mystery of why the Pats didn't keep Jonas Gray at least until Blount gets back.
  • I couldn't help but notice that there was not a single crowd cut to a fan in the stands with an anti-Goodell sign. There were plenty of them at the pregame tailgate, kind of odd that we didn't see one on TV...
  • I'd love to know Bob Kraft's thought process behind tearing up a section of primo end zone seats to put in a new VIP section instead. Getting tickets for Pats games is hard enough as it is, and it's going to be an expensive day already...do we really need ANOTHER exclusive club area? Those hundreds of empty red seats in the middle of the stadium should tell you all you need to know.
  • How did DeAngelo Williams gain so many yards after contact? Probably because you aren't allowed to tackle in training camp and a these guys were all hitting for the first time in eight months.
  • Wonder why Amendola was back returning punts...
  • I don't know whether I like High Voice Peyton Manning or Petite Randy Moss better. Either way, phenomenal ad campaign, DirecTV.
  • Chris Collinsworth: "How happy is Tom Brady right now?" Al Michaels: "On a scale of...9.4." Incorrect, Al. The answer to that question is 12.5
  • A lot of what the Steelers did last night left me scratching my head. ATROCIOUS clock management, particularly late. Zero urgency. Questionable playcalling. Mental errors. Missed field goals. Poor defensive communication. Pittsburgh really didn't do themselves any favors here. It was a game where they needed to be more or less perfect to come away with a win, and they repeatedly shot themselves in the foot.
  • And let's not delude ourselves; the Steelers 100% could have won last night. The two missed field goals and the nullified TD aside, this game was lost by Pittsburgh just as much as it was won by New England. The better team was ultimately victorious, but there is going to be plenty of game tape to go over this week.
  • Those are the best kind of wins, in a way; we still get the W, but Belichick has a lot of material to rip the guys apart over.
  • Special teams penalties has been an issue that has carried over from last year. I feel like there is a penalty on at least two New England punts per game.
  • BREAKING: New England Patriots currently under investigation for illegally deflating helmets.
  • Really? You couldn't wait for it all to end, Collinsworth? THEN HOW ABOUT YOU SHUT THE HELL UP ABOUT IT.

All in all, it's always great to open up the season with a W. A lot of stuff to be happy about, but a lot of stuff to be very unhappy about. Kind of like my life in general, to be honest. Time to get some rest, enjoy a nice, relaxing Sunday of football (my last in a long time), and get ready for a Buffalo team that more probable than not is at least generally aware that the New England defense looked vulnerable early on.