Patriots paid penalty for letting opportunities go to waste
PITTSBURGH — Trailing, 14-10, with 7:51 left, Tom Brady had the offense on the move and on second down from the Steelers 16 dropped back to pass. The pressure got to him. The Steelers’ pressure, that is.
Scrambling away from the pass rush, Brady lobbed a pass off his back foot in the direction of Julian Edelman that was picked off by cornerback Joe Haden. It was Brady’s first red zone interception since 2016, a span of 180 pass attempts.
Brady later acknowledged that he was just trying to throw it away.
“I was just trying to flick it out of bounds and didn’t,’’ he said. “Just didn’t want to take a sack. It shouldn’t happen.’’
A key play on the drive was a holding penalty on Marcus Cannon on Sony Michel’s 3-yard run to the Pittsburgh 2 on first and goal from the 5, one of a season-high 14 penalties for 106 yards for New England.
“We’re not playing well enough to win, and that can come in a lot of different ways, turnovers, just missed opportunities,’’ Brady said. “Too many plays where we got opportunities to do stuff with it and we don’t. That’s football. Wish the outcomes were different, this week and last week, but we have to just get back to work.”
As for the holding calls in the red zone, Brady said he was told by referee John Parry that they’re trying to call those tighter. “I don’t have the replay, I don’t know how tight they are,” Brady said. “Obviously there’s holding on every play in the NFL, that’s what we do, we hold. It’s just whether you get called or not. If they’re calling it, then you have to do a little less of it. That’s how you block, you hold.”
“You know, they say penalties in the red area are pretty much the difference in a game, so we need to do a better job there,’’ said coach Bill Belichick, who dismissed the notion that crowd noise played a factor in five false start penalties. “We play half our games on the road.”
Gronk was limited
It was a quiet afternoon for Rob Gronkowski, who had just two catches for 21 yards in the city where he’s had some of his most memorable performances.
In last season’s victory here, Gronkowski made four catches for 69 yards on the Patriots’ winning drive. He wasn’t able to pull off a miracle in this one and, in fact, had three straight incompletions to him on New England’s last drive.
“I’m not sure,’’ said Brady when asked about not being able to get the ball more to his tight end. “I think they were conscious of where he was. They had doubles on him, some doubles on Julian Edelman. Rob made some big plays for us.’’
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said he used multiple guys to try and put the clamps on Gronkowski.
“We mixed a variety of people on him and concepts on him, but he had his moments,’’ said Tomlin. “There was a possession down in that red zone before [Haden’s] interception that he converted and I think we had two people assigned to him. He’s a special guy but so is 12. They are a special tandem.’’
Shelton inactive again
Danny Shelton was inactive for the third straight game as the Patriots again chose to lean on Malcom Brown and Lawrence Guy as their main defensive tackles with Adam Butler coming in on sub packages.
Shelton was acquired in the offseason in part for his ability to anchor against the run, but he has seen his snaps slip in the weeks leading up to Week 12, when he was a healthy scratch for the first time against the Vikings.
Also inactive for the Patriots were tight end Jacob Hollister; center/guard James Ferentz; defensive ends Keionta Davis and Derek Rivers; safety Obi Melifonwu; and defensive back Duke Dawson.
Dawson, the team’s second-round pick, has yet to make his professional debut since being activated to the 53-man roster Nov. 13. Shortly after the inactives were announced Dawson tweeted “Patience.”
As expected, the Steelers were without top running back James Conner, who suffered a high ankle sprain two weeks ago.
Also inactive for the Steelers: QB Mason Rudolph; safety Marcus Allen; cornerback Brian Allen; offensive tackle Zach Banner; linebacker Olasunkanmi Adeniyi; and defensive end L.T. Walton.
Samuels stepped up
Steelers running back Jaylen Samuels started in the backfield for the second straight game in the absence of Conner and rushed for 142 yards on 19 carries while adding two receptions for 30 yards.
Samuels, a converted tight end who played mostly receiver and wildcat quarterback in high school, had never had that kind of a workload before.
“I never had 19 carries,’’ he said. “I feel good. It was a heck of a workload, but that’s what comes with playing running back in the National Football League. It was a good test tonight against a great team.’’
While in town for the game, Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Edelman continued to show their support for the Jewish community following the mass shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue that killed 11 and injured six others during Shabbat morning services on Oct. 27.
According to NFL Network, Kraft arrived in Pittsburgh a day early to visit the Tree of Life synagogue before attending services at another local synagogue, Rodef Shalom. He addressed the congregation at the rabbi’s request, telling the group that his visit with them was “bigger” to him than Sunday’s highly anticipated AFC matchup. The 77-year-old, who has spearheaded multiple trips to Israel as an NFL ambassador, spoke partly in Hebrew.
Against the Steelers on Sunday, Edelman wore a pair of customized cleats in remembrance of those fallen at the Tree of Life synagogue. He posted a photo of the cleats on social media and included the names of the 11 victims in his caption.
Sunday is not the first time Edelman has shown his support in the months since the massacre. For New England’s game against the Green Bay Packers on Nov. 4, he wore an Israeli baseball cap in solidarity.
“Just let the people out in Pittsburgh know we’re thinking about them,” he said. “We’re sending them vibes and our prayers. That was a big hit to the community and it’s uncalled for. Just letting them know, ‘Hey, I’m behind you and I’m supporting you.’ ”
White passes Collins
James White had five catches for 25 yards and set season franchise records for receptions by a running back (81) and receiving yards by a running back (699). Tony Collins (77, 684) set the previous marks in 1986 . . . The Patriots fell to 0-3 when trailing at halftime . . . Brady’s 63-yard touchdown pass to Chris Hogan was the team’s longest play from scrimmage this season . . . Trey Flowers chucked Stevan Ridley’s cleat about 20 yards downfield after the Steeler back’s 3-yard run in the fourth. Ridley has been a vocal critic of the Patriots, his original team, recently . . . Dwayne Allen returned after missing three games because of a knee injury the tight end suffered in Nashville. He played a handful of snaps but wasn’t targeted in the passing game . . . Cordarrelle Patterson posed for a pregame picture with Steelers rookie Rudolph, who is a fellow Rock Hill, S.C., native . . . Several Patriots stayed on the field after the game to chat with Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier, who is still battling his way back from a career-threatening spinal injury against the Bengals last December.