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4 winners and 2 losers from the Patriots’ 21-18 win over the Steelers

Here is who caught our eye, for better or worse, in the Patriots’ Week 14 win.

New England Patriots v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The New England Patriots snapped a five game losing streak in Week 14 with a 21-18 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers to improve to 3-10 on the year.

Here is who caught our eye for better or worse upon live viewing.

Winner: QB Bailey Zappe. After last week’s shutout, Zappe came out red-hot Thursday night becoming the first Patriots quarterback since Tom Brady to throw three touchdowns in the first half. Zappe again looked comfortable in the pocket while his third touchdown to Hunter Henry was a dart in in the cover-two hole down the left sideline. It wasn't as smooth in the second half — which included a bad decision on the INT — but the 21 first-half points was enough for a victory.

“We had a great first half,” Zappe said. “There’s things that we’re gonna clean up in the second half that we didn't do very well, personally me. But, it’s great to win and it’s a great feeling.”

Winner: RB Ezekiel Elliott. With Rhamondre Stevenson sidelined, Elliott took played what Bill Belichick described as a “pro performance” — totaling 52 of 57 offensive snaps. Elliott managed just 68 rushing yards on 23 carries, but continued to make a large impact in the passing attack hauling in seven passes for 72 yards and the opening touchdown. He also made a noticeable hustle play to chase down a Pittsburgh cornerback after an interception to potentially save a touchdown.

Loser: Special Teams. Another week, another poor showing from the special teams unit. It was highlighted by a blocked punt early in the fourth quarter which helped get Pittsburgh back in the game. The operation seemed smooth, but Ty Montgomery could not hold his block leading to the block. He was then replaced by Kyle Dugger on the wing.

Additionally, New England was gifted a false start penalty on Pittsburgh’s long snapper when Jahlani Tavai appeared to jump offsides on a punt block. On fourth-and-two, it should have gifted the Steelers a fresh set of downs with five minutes remaining. Brenden Schooler was also flagged for an unnecessary roughness penalty, his fourth penalty of the season.

Winner: TE Hunter Henry and WR JuJu Smith-Schuster. Henry celebrated his 29th birthday with a pair of scores while totaling three receptions for 40 yards. Smith-Schuster also had his best game of the season in his return to Pittsburgh. The wideout has had opportunities the past few weeks in the intermediate area of the field but had not gotten the football. He got chances today in that area and downfield en route to leading New England with 90 yards.

Loser: CB J.C. Jackson. While Pittsburgh’s receivers were quiet in an ugly passing attack led by Mitch Trubisky, Jackson appeared to be at the wrong end of numerous plays. That included Diontae Johnson’s 25-yard touchdown, as well as getting flagged for pass interference early in the first half.

Honorable mentions:

  • After struggling last week against Khalil Mack, it seemed much better in live time for Michael Onwenu against T.J. Watt. New England’s offensive line did seem to allow some interior pressure on the two sacks allowed.
  • New England’s defense talked last week about creating turnover, and no surprise Jabrill Peppers was the one involved on Sunday. It came on a unique blitz design that led to pressure from Kyle Dugger and Myles Bryant.
  • Speaking of Bryant, the versatile cornerback had a strong game beyond the pressure. Bryant also tallied a tackle for loss on a well read trick play (along with Deatrich Wise) and a pass deflection. Cornerback Jonathan Jones was also strong again, specifically with his coverage on the fourth-and-2 go ball that fell incomplete.
  • Another strong showing for Jahlani Tavai. Despite the special teams gaffe he got away with, Tavai led the team with 15 total tackles. Mack Wilson Sr. was also noticeable for the second straight week at the linebacker position, while Anfernee Jennings was again a force against the run.