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Patriots vs. Steelers: Fan Notes from the Game

Notes, musings, and observations from the New England Patriots' 27-16 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

There's a reason I don't post these Fan Notes until the day after the Patriots play.

Mainly, that reason is because I'm lazy, and the last thing I want to do after a Pats game is go back through my incoherent ramblings to try and put them into some kind of order. For about 16 weeks a year, my weekends are more or less cut in half as the Patriots game takes precedent over pretty much everything else, and so I try to make sure I take advantage of the Sunday downtime that follows Pats games and make sure I get my nap in.

However, the other reason why I don't post these articles until the following morning is because I need a night to process what I just saw and approach the work with less of a reactionary perspective. If I just threw these notes up as soon as the final whistle blew, readers would be left scratching their heads and wondering if I watched the same football game as everybody else. A good night's sleep and a fresh perspective has worked wonders, in my opinion, and so it's important to have that time in between.

Yesterday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers was the ultimate example of why it's extremely important to take a beat before posting something online for eternity. After this one was over, I was disappointed with the win and frustrated with the defense. I thought the offense left points on the field and that the lack of pass rush was as glaring and worrisome as it gets. I thought that the Patriots should have blown the Steelers out of the water, and were it not for a few missed field goals and a TD called back for holding, there would have been a different outcome. I wasn't happy with the win at all. This morning, though, I realized that this was a pretty solid win overall, and as always, a gameplan-specific offense and defense did what they had to do to get the result they wanted. No, it wasn't perfect, and there is still some room for improvement, but anytime you can head to the home stadium of one of the best teams in the conference and win by double digits, you have to be happy with that.

  • These 4:25 games are the worst. You don't get the game out of the way early in your Sunday, and it's not like a late game that allows you to go out and get stuff done before kickoff. What always ends up happening to me is by the time I wake up, get my act together, putz around a little bit, and then get ready to leave the house, it's almost 2:30 and then that's the end of that.
  • Every time a Patriots opponent scores a touchdown, my stomach drops a little, no matter what the score is at the time. It's when an opponent drives down the field for six that Hank screams loudest. That said, watching the Patriots surrender a TD doesn't make me nearly as miserable as remembering that Phil Simms will be calling the game. Listening to him gush and fawn over Landry Jones like he wasn't statistically rated as the worst backup QB in the league would be shocking if it wasn't Phil Simms.
  • That said - I don't think that Jones had a horrible day. 29 of 47 for 281 yards with a TD and a pick isn't a bad outing. I do feel like a lot of that hinged on New England's decision to not even bother with the pass rush and invite Jones to throw - something that had me pulling my hair out while I was watching - but you need to give credit where credit is due.
  • I think what frustrated me most about the Patriots defensive gameplan was that they didn't do the best job taking away Pittsburgh's biggest weapon(s), which was Le'Veon Bell/Antonio Brown. Bell has almost 150 total yards on the day, and Brown caught for 106 and ran for another 13. It seems like New England's strategy was a complete 180 from what they usually do, in that they decided that if the Steelers were going to beat them, it was going to be only with their two best weapons. To me, that's kind of like asking Rhonda Rousey to beat you using only her judo or the Cyberdemon to beat you using only it's rockets - but what do I know.
  • Shout out to everyone who got the Cyberdemon reference. They don't make games like that anymore.
  • It's also important to keep in mind that Brown and Bell represent the best in the league at their respective positions, and both were going to get theirs.
  • Leveon Bell also out LeGarrette Blounted LeGarrette Blount in terms of yards after contact and the ability to keep churning out yards. A Patriots defense that have overall been very solid tacklers this season simply couldn't bring the guy down, which is an incredible testament to his ability. How many times was Bell able to turn a 2 yard gain or a loss into six or seven? The other guys get paid to make plays too, and sometimes you just have to tip your cap.
  • And while Bell may have out-Blounted Blount, LeGarrette won the day overall with his 127 yard, 2TD performance. This game was won on his legs as his career year rumbles on, and the hope is that he'll be able to sustain this level of effectiveness for an entire season. There are some teams coming up on the horizon that are weak in the secondary, so you would imagine limiting Blount's workload as the second half of the season gets underway.
  • Yep...I just wrote "second half of the season." How is that possible?
  • That Chris Hogan fumble to start the game is a great example of how you need to stick with the call on the field. If he was ruled down by contact there, it probably would have stayed with New England.
  • That Chris Hogan fumble is also yet another example of that guy needing to learn how to get tackled. Hogan currently has 15 catches this year with one TD, which means he has been tackled or run out of bounds 14 times. And of those 14 hits, I feel like he has chosen to break his fall with his face on at least 12 of them.
  • I hear a lot of folks saying that the play of the game was the 36 yard seam pass to Gronk for a TD on 3rd and 7, and I understand that. It was a galvanizing play to cap off a great drive  to put the Patriots up by what should have been eight points (more on Ghost in a minute). However, to me the play of the game was Malcolm Butler's endzone interception after the Hogan fumble. That fumble was a huge momentum shift and if the Steelers had scored there, who knows what could have happened.
  • It wasn't the best throw by Jones, sure - but honestly, I don't blame him for taking a shot there. Butler was on an island against Brown with zero safety help, and that's a pass that Brown has been able to pull in in the past. But Butler stayed with him, got position, and made a key interception.
  • Ideally, the Patriots defense wouldn't need to stonewall offenses following short fields generated by turnovers. But then again, ideally I wouldn't need to rock back and forth in order to get myself out of bed in the morning. But here we find ourselves. 
  • Seriously...these fumbles need to stop. One area where Bill Belchick has always been a stickler (actually, he's a stickler in all areas, but that doesn't help out the point I'm trying to make here) is fundamentals, and few things are more fundamental than ball security. Fumbles have been an issue almost every single game so far. Going back to the beginning of the season
  • The Steelers starting defense was a virtual Who's Who of Who? Who?
  • Hey, weird! Blount got struffed on a short yardage run!
  • I need some macro that will allow me to just press something like Ctrl+-2 that will allow me to put a whiny sentence about Blount not converting.
  • And yes - even when he has a monster day I'm still going to complain about Blount as a short yardage back because the fact that he's so bad at it defies logic and reason. It's almost like Roger Goodell is the one dialing up those run calls.
  • How about my boy Joe Thuney on that pull block for the James White screen for a TD? Faked the zone read, pulled left, and flattened Lawrence Timmons as White went in for the easy scamper. I predicted him for the Pro Bowl before the season started...and I'm probably going to be wrong, as usual. But he's  have a great rookie year thus far.
  • OK, new NFL rule: on ridiculous, questionable DPI or OPI calls, the two players involved square off for a best of 5 rock, paper scissors competition. Winner gets the call - just as long as he doesn't celebrate this victory, otherwise he might get thrown out of the game.
  • I ate at Wendy's three or four times a week back in the 90s, when I was still in high school and my butt didn't jiggle every time I ate a potato chip. I don't even remotely remember the Wendy's Taco Salad.
  • Also - if you go to any fast food restaurant and get the salad, I'd humbly advise you to examine your current life choices.
  • The Steelers were absolutely relentless in their attempts to strip the ball from the ballcarriers. Chopping, hacking, and slapping like a parent at a Toys-R-Us Black Friday sale. And yet, ironically, the only two times fumbles were generated it came from poor holds from Patriots receivers.
  • So Gronk caught it. He didn't catch it. He caught it then dropped it. He had control before the defender knocked it out. Nobody knows, including the league and the refs. I saw Gronk catch it and then go to the ground before the ball got knocked loose a bunch of times and I don't know what that was. It's a good thing catching footballs aren't a major, major part of this game, or that total incompetence might cause some problems.
  • I guess a nice plus of Stephen Gostkowski's recent kicking issues is that, for the first time in my entire 25+ years of watching football, I now consider the PAT attempt an interesting play.
  • OK...the red flag is officially up on Ghost. He has made enough deposits in the bank so that it isn't even close to time to turn our backs on him, but he now has misses in five of seven regular season games, including PAT attempts in back-to-back games. I'll happily admit that, between Gostkowski and Adam Vinatieri, I haven't had to worry too much about the kicking game since 1996, and because of that I, like everyone else, am extremely spoiled. But don't tell me that, when Ghost shanked his second extra point in as many weeks, you all didn't think that the end of the 2016 season just became crystal clear: The Patriots down by one with a chance to win the game with a short FG from Gostkowski. He's going to miss it, and that's going to be that. Before you all start screaming at me that I just jinxed it, it's so set in stone at this point that I feel like my best chance of jinxing it is to actually make this guarantee.
  • Also - look around the league. Kind of a tough year for kickers overall. Anyone unfortunate enough to watch last night's game all the way to the end can speak to that.
  • And at least our kickers isn't a total scumbag who beats up his wife and is yet somehow still on the NFL payroll. So there's that.
  • The last thing I'll say about the Josh Brown situation: if it doesn't come to light, and soon, that the only reason Brown is still around is because the financial stability that goes with collecting a league paycheck is directly benefiting his wife and family and that it's actually in her best interest that he remain employed so she can have access to health insurance and whatnot, I'll be sending out the Pitchfork and Torches to Park Avenue 2016 Evite sometime next week.
  • New England, at one point, had more first downs than the Steelers had offensive snaps, and Tommy B was able to go up 14-0 on Pittsburgh while only targeting a tight end once.
  • It was pointed out to me today that LeGarrette is actually French for "The Garrett." The more you know...
  • This game almost swung in an absolutely massive way when Dont'a Hightower got flagged for Unnecessary Roughness and then Le'Veon Bell embarrassed the entire New England defense on the ensuing run. I don't think I've ever seen a running back use a juke, a stiff-arm, and a spin move all in the same run before. That man is amazing. Luckily a somewhat questionable holding call negated the tying score and then Boswell went on to miss the FG attempt.
  • It wouldn't be fair not to acknowledge the poor coaching decisions and missed FGs (see! The Steelers too) that help swing this game in New England's favor. If I'm Pittsburgh, I'm feeling pretty decent about this loss. No QB, no WRs, banged up all over the line, and there was definitely a stretch in the 2nd and 3rd quarters where the Steelers were the better team and dictated the pace of the game.
  • 3rd down drops, man. 3rd down drops. Both Brandon Bolden and Julian Edelman could have not only kept drives alive had they not had passes bounce off their hands, but both of them had a lot of real estate in front of them. The fact that this game wasn't 21-7 after two quarters is nobody's fault but New England's.
  • The opening drive to start the 2nd half might have been the worst drive of the entire season for the Patriots. An absolutely BONEHEADED shovel pass attempt, a holding penalty, a sack, a meaningless pass across the middle, a punt. No energy or fire whatsoever as the crowd went nuts and the defense gained all kinds of confidence.
  • I mentioned, in the beginning of this article, that I can get a little reactionary when I'm watching a Pats game. The below note is a great example of that:
  • There seems to be this odd and adamant refusal to open up the 2TE offense until the 2nd half and I don't understand it in the slightest. Unless that package isn't versatile enough and New England is trying to limit the amount of available game tape over the season, I'd like to think that using that package earlier might be helpful.
  • I should also note here that wrote that notes literally as Brady was throwing to Gronk. Taking credit for it. You're welcome.
  • This morning, I'm changing my tune. Still taking credit for the Gronk TD, but moreso I think the fact that the 2TE set wasn't really used in the receiving game too much actually shows just how versatile that package is. With the Steelers hell-bent on not letting Brady carve them up, they played a lot of nickel, which means smaller guys on the field. Because of that Bennett and Gronk had amazing days as blockers and helped the team win that way. Maybe I'm just wearing rose-colored glasses right now, but it's heartening to think that there is a lot that this unit can do.
  • 2016 has to be a Patriots record for plays initially stopped in the backfield that ended up turning positive. That's one area I just can't spin. I have now lost count of negative plays that have turned positive.
  • This bend but don't break defense is going to be the death of me. I know it' effective and the Patriots are 3rd in the league in terms points allowed per game...but excuse me if I want every drive to be three sacks and a punt.
  • Boo to the usually fantastic Pittsburgh crowd for leaving early for this game. You never know...
  • What used to drive me nuts about the Patriots in clock-kill mode was the way they would snap the ball with four to six seconds left on the game clock. You have to wonder why they wouldn't milk every possible second out of the drive. However, snapping it right as the playclock expires eliminates the guesswork from the defense in regards to how they time their rush.
  • Speaking of playclocks...nice clock management at the end there, Pittsburgh
  • One thing you can hope to take away from this matchup, in which the Steelers dictated the pace of the game and worked the Patriots up and down the field for a chunk of this game, is that it will piss the Pats off enough so that they will never let it happen again. That said, looking forward to seeing the exact same thing next week against the Bills.

The Patriots are now the only six win team in the NFL with the chance to head into their bye week completely in the driver's seat with the division all but wrapped up and homefield advantage in full play. The Bills just got absolutely bowled over by Jay Ajayi and have injuries all across the board...but they are also the only team to hand the Patriots a loss this year, and their running game can be formidable when it gets going. I'm glad the Patriots are off after Sunday's game, because it has been a pretty tough stretch overall, and Sunday's game represents one of the toughest AFC opponents the Patriots have left to face.