Reality is, the Patriots are simply not a great team
PITTSBURGH — Instant Analysis from the Patriots’ 17-10 loss to the Steelers:
■ This was a disappointing and potentially season-killing loss for the Patriots, but this is who they have been on the road all year: committing bad penalties and costly mistakes, not stopping the run or getting off the field on defense, and not pushing the ball downfield on offense. The Patriots dropped to 3-5 on the road, only the second time in 18 years that they have had a losing record (2-6 in 2009). The reality is that the Patriots are simply not a great team.
■ Tom Brady’s interception midway through the fourth quarter was one of the worst decisions not only of his season, but maybe his career. It looked as if Brady was trying to throw the ball away as he got hit by Stephon Tuitt and Cam Heyward, but Brady couldn’t get enough on the throw. It was his first red-zone interception since December 2016, and cost the Patriots a golden opportunity to take the lead, or cut the deficit to 14-13. We don’t often see Brady cost his team in the fourth quarter, but it happened on Sunday.
■ Bill Belichick is going to blow his top with regard to all of the penalties. The Patriots finished with a season-high 14 for 106 yards, including a back-breaking holding call on Marcus Cannon that moved the Patriots back and led to Brady’s interception, and a holding penalty on Shaq Mason in the final minute with the Patriots threatening to score. Not only were the Patriots committing penalties, but many were presnap penalties — false starts, illegal formations, and the like. The 14 penalties were their most since 2014, and they committed five false starts — yes, five. Totally unacceptable.
■ Credit the Steelers’ defense for calming down after the Patriots’ opening drive, when Chris Hogan scored a 63-yard touchdown on a terrible coverage breakdown. But the Steelers played it safe for most of the day and dropped seven and eight into coverage, and Brady couldn’t get much going with the passing game. The Patriots punted five straight times for the first time since the Week 17 loss to the Dolphins in 2015. The Patriots had just two completions of more than 20 yards besides Hogan’s touchdown. They also went just 2 for 8 on third down, as they continually came up small.
■ And credit the Steelers for making the Patriots’ top playmakers invisible. Rob Gronkowski didn’t have a catch until 12:40 remained in the fourth quarter, and finished with just two for 21 yards. Josh Gordon only had two targets, with one catch for 19 yards and a really bad drop on third down. James White only had two catches for 5 yards before the final drive, and strangely hasn’t been as involved in the offense in recent weeks. Julian Edelman had two costly drops. The Patriots’ offense didn’t have any explosion, like on the road all season.
■ The Steelers didn’t look like they wanted to win for much of the game. Before the Patriots wasted a golden red-zone opportunity, the Steelers had one of their own, scoring no points after getting first and goal at the 4. Chris Boswell looked like he wanted to crawl into a hole after missing a 32-yarder. And the Steelers were incredibly lucky that Brady threw a boneheaded interception deep in the red zone.
■ The Steelers were able to move the ball well for most of the day by spreading out the Patriots in four- and five-wide, and Ben Roethlisberger did a good job dinking and dunking down the field. He went right after rookie cornerback J.C. Jackson, who held his own against JuJu Smith-Schuster, limiting him to four catches on 10 targets for 40 yards. The Steelers didn’t get many chunk plays either, but Roethlisberger was able to move the chains, converting 4 of 9 third downs. The Patriots had the Steelers pinned at the 1, and the Steelers promptly picked up gains of 12, 24, and 18 yards. The only thing keeping this game close was Roethlisberger’s two interceptions to Duron Harmon.
■ The Patriots’ rushing defense was terrible for the third straight week. They have been gashed by Dalvin Cook, Kenyan Drake, and Brandon Bolden, and, on Sunday by Jaylen Samuels, who had 19 rushes for 142 yards, a 7.5-yard average.
■ The Patriots sent some blitzes at Roethlisberger, and sacked him twice (including a beautifully timed one by Kyle Van Noy), but otherwise did not get much pressure on the Steelers’ QB.