The Patriots defense came out playing at a high level and forced Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh offense to punt after four plays. Tom Brady and the New England offense responded with a 6-play, 77-yard drive with a huge 43-yard pass to Brandin Cooks and a nice touchdown run by Rex Burkhead to take a 7-0 lead.
The Steelers offense responded with three straight scoring drives. Eli Rogers caught a 19-yard touchdown after the officials picked up a flag for an offensive lineman or two illegally down the field (they were), a field goal, and another touchdown in the final seconds of the first half. The Steelers closed out the first half with a monster 8-minute, 39-second drive to ensure the Patriots couldn’t get a double score.
New England scored a field goal in the middle of the Steelers drives after the officials allowed the Pittsburgh defenders to manhandle tight end Rob Gronkowski at the top of his routes. The Steelers lead 17-10.
Tom Brady has been pretty on point today, completing 10 of 13 (76.9%) for 132 yards, connecting with eight different receivers, but there haven’t been enough big plays by the offense as the Steelers have mixed up their defensive coverages.
The Steelers are relying on running back Le’Veon Bell, who has 94 yards in the first half, since wide receiver Antonio Brown is questionable to return with a left calf injury, but Martavis Bryant has stepped up with 53 yards and a touchdown. Pittsburgh has also copied the offensive game plan of the Miami Dolphins and have used a lot of quick, horizontal passing routes to take advantage of the New England man coverage.
The New England defense has been an atrocious on third down, giving up a conversion on 7 of 9 attempts, but this is an otherwise perfectly matched game. The Patriots get the football after the half.