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New England Patriots v Pittsburgh Steelers

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Patriots vs. Steelers recap: First-half surge from Bailey Zappe enough to hold off Pittsburgh 21-18

New England improves to 3-10 on the year.

Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

In what was expected to be another low scoring affair, Bailey Zappe and the New England Patriots offense came out firing in the first half in Pittsburgh. Zappe threw three touchdowns en route to 21 first half points, which was enough to withstand a second-half surge from the Steelers to win 21-18.

Here’s everything that went down Thursday night.

Final Score: (3-10) Patriots 21 : 18 Steelers (7-6)

Thursday, December 7, 8:15 p.m. ET | Acrisure Stadium, Pittsburgh, PA | Broadcast information | Inactives | Game day roster

First Quarter

The Steelers won the toss and deferred, putting Bailey Zappe and the Patriots on the field first. They started things on the ground with Ezekiel Elliott for no gain, before a check down to the back then picked up an early first-down. New England then struck downfield, as Zappe lofted one to JuJu Smith-Schuster who hauled in an impressive snag for 37 yards. Facing a then third-and-nine outside the red area, Zappe found open space to convert on the ground. Two plays later, Zappe connected with Elliott again out of the backfield who took it 11 yards for a score. [Patriots 7 : 0 Steelers]

Mitch Trubisky found open space on Pittsburgh’s first play from scrimmage, pulling it down en route to a 15-yard gain. Two straight runs then set up a third-and-six from midfield, where Trubisky’s pass was originally intercepted by J.C. Jackson - but was negated due to a penalty on the corner. On the following third-and-eight, Trubisky attempted to escape the pocket but was brought down for a sack. Chris Boswell then knocked home a 56-yard field goal. [Patriots 7 : 3 Steelers]

New England started their next drive with a shot to Tyquan Thornton - which found the turf. A short run by Elliott set up a third-and-seven, where Zappe hit Hunter Henry over the middle - but a pass interference penalty on Henry instead set up a third-and-17. A screen to Elliott then led to a punt.

A first-play incompletion then run by Najee Harris set the Steelers up with a third-and-six, where Trubisky uncorked one deep downfield that fell incomplete.

Zappe got off to a fast start back with the ball, hitting Tyquan Thornton and Smith-Schuster on back-to-back passes for 11 and 17 yards, respectively. Two incompletions then set up a third-and-10 just across midfield, in which a pass to JuJu was incomplete.

Two straight touches to their two backs - Harris and Jaylen Warren - resulted in an opening first-down for Pittsburgh. After two runs by Harris and Trubisky set up a third-and-10 where the quarterback’s pass went straight to Jabrill Peppers for an interception.

Second Quarter

New England took over at the 11-yard line following the turnover, where Zappe needed just two plays to find Hunter Henry in the end zone. [Patriots 14 : 3 Steelers]

Another run stop from Anfernee Jennings moved Pittsburgh backwards, eventually setting them up with a third-and-eight. Trubisky’s pass out left was in-and-out of cornerback’s Alex Austin’s hands leading to a punt.

A negative handoff and incompletion to Elliott set Zappe up with a third-and-11, where the QB checked it down to the back again short of the sticks.

Pittsburgh was set up with an opening third-and-five after a Trubisky scramble and Warren two-yard run. Despite the down and distance, Trubisky took a shot down the right sideline to Diontae Johnson which fell incomplete.

New England started their next possession with a third-and-three just shy of midfield, where a wide open Smith-Schuster picked up 28 yards on a catch-and-run. One play later, Zappe fired in a dart down the left sideline to Henry for a 24-yard touchdown. [Patriots 21 : 3 Steelers]

Now trailing by 18, Pittsburgh dug into the back of tricks with a double reverse to help spring back-to-back first downs. The Steelers then picked up another pair of firsts - one due to a Kyle Dugger pass interference penalty - to move outside the red area. From the 25-yard line, Trubisky lobbed one to Johnson in the end zone for their first touchdown of the night. [Patriots 21 : 10 Steelers]

An unnecessary roughness penalty on the kickoff set New England’s offense up at their own 11-yard line with 2:46 left in the half. New England got on the move as Zappe found Ty Montgomery on second-down for a 17-yard gain. Then set up with a third-and-seven, Zappe stuck one in to Henry for a first-down. Former Patriot Elandon Roberts then got home for a sack to set up a second-and-20, where a handoff to Elliott went backwards. Another handoff to Elliott ran the clock down to 29 seconds before a punt.

Baringer’s punt rolled to the nine-yard line, leading to a kneel down.

Third Quarter

Starting the second half trailing by 11, Pittsburgh faced an opening third-and-four where Trubisky hit an easy conversion on an option route to tight end Pat Freiermuth. A similar trick play from earlier then failed to confuse New England as Deatrich Wise helped blow it up for a seven-yard loss. A then check down on third-and-10 converted as Heyward hurdled Jonathan Jones and broke free of Dugger. After moving across midfield, Pittsburgh was set up with a third-and-eight where Trubisky was sacked on the same pressure that earlier led to the Peppers interception.

New England started the second-half with a screen to Elliott who picked up 16 yards. A holding call on Conor McDermott then backed them up. Two touches for Zeke led to a third-and-seven in which Zappe was sacked by Cam Heyward.

Pittsburgh faced an opening third-and-six on their next possession. Trubisky’s pass was sagged by George Pickens with one hand, but Jonathan Jones brought him down short of the sticks leading to a punt.

Back with the ball, two runs from Elliott set the Patriots up with third-and-two. They kept it on the ground with Zeke who powered through for a first-down. The next play, Zappe’s pass was deflected by Elandon Roberts and intercepted by Mykal Walker.

Taking over at the New England 16-yard line following the interception, a short run and throwaway set up a third-and-nine. Trubisky was able to escape pressure but could not reach the first-down marker. Pittsburgh left the offense on the field on fourth-and-two where a pass to Warren was completed but only picked up one-yard.

Fourth Quarter

The Patriots started at their own seven-yard line following the turnover on downs and failed to move the chains as Zappe’s third-and-two pass was nearly intercepted.

New England’s special teams continued their struggles, as Bryce Baringer’s punt was blocked to set Pittsburgh up at the 26-yard line. A play-action pass to Darnell Washington moved the Steelers inside the 10-yard line. Trubisky then looked for his other tight end Freiermuth in the end zone, which J.C. Jackson was called for a pass interference. After a field fake, Trubisky plunged forward for a touchdown. A two-point conversion to Freiermuth was successful. [Patriots 21 : 18 Steelers]

Now just up three, New England went back to Elliott to start their next drive as the back picked up a first-down on two straight touches. Then facing third-and-10, a quick pass to Smith-Schuster was short of the sticks by inches. New England punted.

A check down and then errant throw from Trubisky set Pittsburgh up with a third-and-five. Trubisky’s pass was completed to Freiermuth, but was inches short of the sticks. After a timeout, they opted to go for it at their own 29-yard line where Trubisky kept it himself for a conversion. Two straight short completions to George Pickens set up another third-down, where pressure forced a throwaway. Pittsburgh then opted for a punt on fourth-and-three where Jahlani Tavai seemed to jump offside, but a false start on the snapper was called instead.

New England got the ball back at their own 14-yard line with 4:58 left. Two runs again set up a third-and-short, where they kept it on the ground with Elliott who was stuffed. Baringer punted back to Pittsburgh.

Trailing by three with just under three minutes remaining, Trubisky’s check down to Harris got the Steelers on the move by picking up a first-down. A pair of incompletions and a quick pass to Johnson then set up a fourth-and-two. With the game on the line, Trubisky took a shot downfield to Johnson and the pass fell incomplete with Jonathan Jones in coverage.

The Patriots got the ball back with 1:55 left in the game with Pittsburgh having one timeout remaining. Elliott’s second-and-13 handoff set up a third-and-inches, in which a ‘Tush Push’ style QB sneak was stopped short. New England then had to punt back to Pittsburgh with 22 seconds remaining.

With 15 seconds left, Trubisky hit Johnson over the middle of the field who took it 24 yards while being able to also run out of bounds. Then with seven second left, a pass was complete to Allen Robinson for 22 yards but the ball was put on the ground during a lateral attempt ending the game. [Patriots 21 : 18 Steelers]

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