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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’ 17-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

New England Patriots v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Man, that was...something.

I can’t remember the last time the Patriots lost two in a row twice in the same season, but here we find ourselves. As the most inconsistent Patriots team of the Brady/Belichick era drops another game, loses the inside track on a playoff bye, and more or less stinks up the joint against a banged up and vulnerable Steelers team, it’s kind of tough to be too upset. There’s just no teeth to this team, and there hasn’t been all year. At no point yesterday did the Patriots feel in control of the game, playing more damage control than anything else, and once again multiple penalties at crucial times doomed them when they needed a big play. They didn’t deserve to win, and so they didn’t. Not much else to say besides that.

  • The Patriots came into this game knowing that, with Miami’s loss to the Vikings, they could wrap up the AFC East with a win. They came into last week’s game knowing that they could wrap up the AFC East with a win. Those were two situations that teams of years past would have jumped on, but not this year.
  • That JC Jackson started this game in single coverage on Juju Smith-Schuster speaks volumes about the coaching staffs confidence in the rookie. Stephon Gilmore matched up on Antonio Brown, and the Patriots operated out of a lot of smaller nickel packages with James Connor out with the ankle injury.
  • Not that it really matters who is in the backfield for any team; the Patriots simply can’t stop the run, period. It blows my mind that Pittsburgh operated out of so many empty sets yesterday. Danny Shelton must really, REALLY stink to be a healthy scratch on a defensive line that surrendered 8 yards per carry. I’m amazed the Steelers even passed the ball at all, to be honest.
  • I’m noticing something of a trend with this defense, in that they don’t seem to force too many third downs. Maybe the strategy is to just give up points as quickly as possible so as to give the offense plenty of time to play catch-up.
  • I’m also noticing that the trend of surrendering an opening drive TD correlating with a loss is alive and well.
  • On the plus side, based on how the Jaguars, Lions, Titans, and Dolphins have fared after beating the Patriots, the Steelers are all but guaranteed to lose next weekend.
  • Josh Gordon drew triple coverage on the Chris Hogan TD. Three guys. I only say that because the Hogan play was more or less the only good thing that happened for this team offensively all game, and it was Gordon’s biggest contribution to the offense.
  • Which is as good a time as any to talk about the Patriots calling the plays that they think give them the best chance to win. Now I’m no expert...but if a quick screen to Julian Edelman is good for a maximum of four yards, the Pats should probably stop calling it on third and six. And when your opponent is in a big defensive set with both A gaps well covered, and RB smash probably isn’t the best option. And when you’re consistently finding success with the playaction, you should probably keep running the playaction. And when you have Josh Gordon in single coverage against a backup DB, you should probably target him more than twice. But hey...that’s just me.
  • What a breath of fresh air Tony Romo is after sitting through so many Fouts games. It’s like that first home cooked meal after a very, very long road trip where the only dining options are Arby’s and some back-alley joint called Lou’s Diner.
  • That said - the Patriots have come out on fourth and short looking like they were going to go for it, only to sprint off the field to make way for the punt team numerous times over the years. Listening to Tony Romo react to it, you’d think that Belichick just made a card disappear right in front of Romo’s very eyes.
  • Maybe Romo should have been more blown away by the fact that Mike Tomlin didn’t call a time out there. The Steelers seem to win games in spite of their coaching as opposed to because of it.
  • For much of this game, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was watching two teams trying to see who could do the best job giving the win away. The Steelers made some extremely questionable calls, and some of the New England playcalling was as frustrating as getting up to the deli counter just as they run out of the prime rib special. What it ultimately came down to, shockingly, was the ground game, and DBs who just couldn’t match Pittsburgh’s speed.
  • I feel like we use the phrase “a rare Edelman drop” far too often for the phrase “a rare Edelman drop” to carry any real weight.
  • As a man who appreciates a good pair of skivvies, I have to say that I’m having a lot of trouble making the connection between a kangaroo and the Hanes Comfort Flex Fit boxer briefs. I know they’re boasting the pouch and all, but I think there are better analogies there. A man relaxing in a hammock, for example, would have worked better.
  • This was one of those games that the Patriots of years past would have won, as they would have been able to double dip on the scores to end the 2nd quarter and begin the 3rd. Instead they stalled, the playcalling was questionable, and there just wasn’t any fire anywhere on the sidelines.
  • Have I badmouthed the playcalling yet? Yes? OK, just making sure.
  • If Duron Harmon hadn’t picked off Big Ben just before the half, the Steelers could very well have gone 99 yards and scored without ever even needing a 3rd down. That would have had to have been an NFL first.
  • If I had to pick out a single second half offensive play that stood out for New England, I guess it would be... the DPI call on Hogan? The game ended 20 minutes ago and I can’t remember a single memorable play the Patriots ran other than their lone TD of the day.
  • To be honest, I thought that the New England secondary actually played pretty well overall; Pittsburgh receivers just came down with some absolutely ridiculous catches. The crossing routes that the Steelers ran, as I already mentioned, were more a matter of Pitt having significantly more speed than the New England DBs, and since nobody along the front line could shed their blocks, that forced the linebackers to cover significantly more space than they should have, and the defense got gashed.
  • If there’s a positive to take away here, it’s that I don’t even know if I’d call this a poor defensive performance (relatively speaking). I think it’s just an example of what a good offense with multiple weapons will do to this defense when given the opportunity. Just flat out outgunned. Which, in turn, makes losing the two seed a lot easier to deal with, because right now, they don’t deserve it.
  • The Patriots are now 3-5 on the road, and 0-4 when trailing at halftime. This team is probably going to win a playoff game at home and then lose in the Divisional Round. I’m already through the other stages of grief and I’ve settled nicely on Acceptance.
  • This is also one of the more undisciplined Patriots teams in recent memory. And the penalties come at key times as well. Granted, there were some highly questionable calls...but most of the penalties were legit. You can only have so many false starts before things start to unravel.
  • Anybody who has watched the “A Football Life: Bill Belichick” that the NFL Network aired following the 2009 season will remember a very telling conversation between Belichick and Tommy B on the sidelines, in which he said to Brady, “I just cant get this team to play the way I want it to play.” If he and Tom have had that exact same conversation this year, I wouldn’t be remotely surprised.

The bottom line is that, at 9-5, the Patriots can still clinch the AFC East at any point for the rest of a season with a win. And depending on how the Texans fare, a first round bye isn’t entirely out of the question.

Also...everyone in the NFL kind of stinks right now. The Chiefs forgot how to cover receivers. The Saints lost to the Cowboys. The Eagles just beat the Rams. The Texans needed some late-game heroics to beat the terrible Jets. There isn’t a dominant team right now, so who knows what will happen going forward.

This is exactly what the NFL wants - an incredibly murky playoff pool that’s likely going to come down to the final minute of Week 17. Buckle up.