Only 3 Patriots drives in the first half
If you ignore the drive with the kneel-down, the Steelers held the Patriots offense to just three drives. The last time that New England had so few opportunities on offense in the first half was the 2015 season opener- also against the Steelers.
It’s rare that a team is able to do such a good job keeping the Patriots offense off the field. Pittsburgh was unable to repeat the feat in the second half as the Patriots finished with 9 drives. That 2013 Panthers team held New England to just seven drives all day, as did the 2017 Falcons.
Rob Gronkowski had another outstanding day against the Steelers
Gronkowski finished the game with 9 catches for 168 yards and added a two-point conversion to push New England up three points over the Steelers. The Patriots needed a big day from their tight end and they certainly got one.
Gronkowski now has 1,017 receiving yards on the year, the fourth 1,000+ yard season of his career. That’s the most of any tight end in the NFL and could secure Gronkowski another First Team All Pro bid, good enough to reach his top tier incentive.
Tom Brady missed a lot of typically easy plays
Brady’s interception was inexcusable as he panicked under pressure and threw it right to the linebacker. He was slow to find Jacob Hollister beating his defender in the end zone. He was sacked or allowed the pressure to disrupt him in the pocket on multiple occasions.
The Patriots star quarterback now has five interceptions over the past four weeks and he’s been flustered under pressure.
But then Brady also stepped up when it mattered most, leading a game-winning drive and getting the top seed in the AFC. He’s not the perfect passer that the first 12 weeks of the season suggested, but he’s still the best in the business.
Third down defense was terrible
The Steelers converted on 10 of their 15 attempts. The Patriots run defense was poor on first down, setting up easier second downs. Eight of their third downs needed just four or fewer yards, converting their first seven until the defense finally got a stop at the end of the game. The struggles on third down are the result of failures to stop Le’Veon Bell on the first two downs.
Patriots injuries were a lot to overcome
The Patriots missed Alan Branch and Kyle Van Noy in their defensive front seven as Le’Veon Bell had a field day, picking up 165 yards from scrimmage. They lost Rex Burkhead on offense and they had to rotate Cameron Fleming with LaAdrian Waddle at right tackle. They missed Chris Hogan’s big play ability.
The injuries led the Patriots to cover Bell with Trey Flowers on multiple occasions. Eric Lee was unable to secure the sack that would have set up a huge third down late in the game (they still got the stop). They lost their power run game without Burkhead. The Steelers were generating plenty of pressure, regardless of whether they were facing Fleming or Waddle. This team needs to get healthy fast.
Joe Cardona had a bad day
Cardona had a pair of bad snaps on the day, the first on a Ryan Allen punt that was far off target and another on an extra point that ended up wide. It’s never good to have a long snapper in the headlines, but it was clear that Cardona had some struggles in the rain.