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Patriots 27, Steelers 16

It didn’t look good, but Patriots outrun Steelers

LeGarrette Blount scored almost untouched to give the Patriots a 14-0 lead in the second quarter. Barry Chin/Globe Staff

PITTSBURGH — The Patriots came to Pittsburgh expecting a big win against a depleted Steelers team. Eventually, that’s what they got, though the 27-16 victory was marred by miscues and missed opportunities.

The Steelers came out in the first half determined on stopping the Patriots’ tight end tandem of Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett. Seeing nickel packages on the other side of the field, the Patriots countered with a run-heavy approach in the first half, going up, 14-0, after touchdowns by running backs James White and LeGarrette Blount.

Bennett, who had a season-low 5 yards on one catch, said the Steelers played more Cover 2 defense than the Patriots were expecting. The Patriots countered by using the tight ends heavily in the blocking game and letting Blount run.

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“They tried to play some nickel defense against Rob and Bennett and we were able to get some good runs going with Blount,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “That kind of offset some of the defense they were playing there.”

Blount, the former Steeler, finished with 127 yards on 24 carries and two scores.

The coverage also allowed the Patriots to work the underneath routes and get Julian Edelman more involved, as Tom Brady pointed out.

“They were certainly aware of [Gronkowski] and Martellus Bennett,” Brady said. “Julian Edelman got a lot of opportunities today. He hasn’t gotten a ton in the last few weeks.”

Blount picked up 53 yards and a touchdown and Edelman caught seven of eight targets in the first half, however, so the Steelers adjusted, which allowed Brady to go back to his top tight end.

Gronkowski picked up 80 yards and a touchdown in the second half after gaining 13 yards in the first half, and the Steelers could only counter with field goals. Brady finished 19 of 26 for 222 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions.

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Steelers quarterback Landry Jones ultimately had 281 passing yards with one touchdown and one interception, and running back Le’Veon Bell gained 81 yards on the ground and 68 through the air.

Without Ben Roethlisberger and their top defender in Cameron Heyward, however, the Steelers couldn’t keep up with the Patriots’ shapeshifting, even though New England’s missed opportunities left the door open.

The Steelers seemed to be expecting more plays to the tight ends early in the game, then got surprised when the Patriots changed their tune as the game went on.

“They didn’t throw the ball to him a lot in the first half,” said Steelers linebacker Jarvis Jones. “They came out in the second half and had two big plays that set them up for a touchdown. They were huge plays in the second half and ended up why the game transpired the way it did.”

■  The Patriots were lucky their fumbles didn’t cost them. Chris Hogan lost the ball on the very first offensive play for the Patriots. Jarvis Jones knocked the ball loose and recovered it, giving the Steelers possession at the New England 45.

“I have to understand that there is going to be people coming from behind looking to strip,” Hogan said. “I was a little careless with it and I had to move on after that, but obviously, I’ll be working on ball security drills throughout the week.”

The Patriots couldn’t stop a 25-yard completion to Antonio Brown off a JV-level play-action fake or two big gains by Bell, but Landry Jones bailed out the New England defense by throwing a pick in the end zone in the first quarter.

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Edelman’s fumble on a punt return in the fourth quarter gave the Steelers, who were down by 11 at the time, an extra possession at the Patriots’ 44-yard line, but Steelers coach Mike Tomlin chose to have his kicker attempt a 54-yarder on fourth and 3, which went wide right.

“We were down there, we had an opportunity to make it a one-score game. I took that chance,” said Tomlin, who also said he did not consider going for it.

■  Tomlin’s ill-advised decision to challenge a clear catch by Gronkowski in the second quarter also spotted the Patriots some points. Nearing halftime, Landry Jones was running a commendable two-minute drill with the chance to tie the score at 14, but he ran out of time and was forced to settle for a field goal.

Darrius Heyward-Bey also cost his quarterback several precious seconds off the clock by cutting inside instead of running out of bounds after catching a 9-yard pass that moved the Steelers into Patriots’ territory.

There were 43 seconds left in the half after the play. Pittsburgh got into the red zone, but Malcolm Butler broke up Landry Jones’s pass to Heyward-Bey and the Steelers had to kick a 32-yard field goal with only six seconds left.

■  Brown picked up 106 yards, but did minimal damage by his sky-high standards. Nearly half of his production came on a 51-yard completion off a beautiful deep ball by Landry Jones. It was the first play of more than 40 yards the Patriots have allowed this season.

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Brown caught seven of 11 targets, but didn’t kill the Patriots or Butler, who got another shot at the receiver who burned him in his first NFL start.

“He was on [Brown] a lot the way we set it up. There were good throws and good routes by Brown. They got us on a couple but I thought we completed hard,” Belichick said.

Butler finished with six combined tackles, an interception, and three passes defended. He wasn’t perfect against Brown, who outran Butler when he got a first step, but showcased his growth over the past year in being challenged with a difficult assignment.

“[Brown is] one of the best, if not the best. He’s one or two. He has no flaws,” Butler said.

Video: A few thoughts on the Patriots-Steelers game

Photos from the game

Box score: Patriots 27, Steelers 16


Nora Princiotti can be reached at nora.princiotti@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @NoraPrinciotti.