Without Ben Roethlisberger, the Pittsburgh Steelers couldn’t muster enough offense to keep pace with Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. Pittsburgh suffered its first home loss of the season, 27-16.
There was a lot of talk leading up to Sunday’s game about how the Patriots would stroll into Heinz Field and run all over the Steelers. Nobody wanted to give the Steelers a chance against Tom Brady and the 5-1 Patriots—for good reason. Pittsburgh was missing key players on both sides of the ball.
Behind backup Landry Jones, the Steelers welcomed the challenge.
Two early turnovers, one from each side, indicated potential for an ugly game. But the Patriots did what the Patriots do best, and used two 80-plus yard drives to take a 14-0 lead with 11 minutes remaining in the first half.
Jones channeled his inner-Roethlisberger in an attempt to lead a comeback, and three times got the Steelers within four or less points, but the Patriots widened the gap each time.
Offense ran out of gas: Despite not having Big Ben the offense moved the ball effectively between the 30’s. Once the Steelers got inside New England’s 30-yard line, they couldn’t move the ball. The Steelers attempted five field goals in the game—four of which were inside New England’s 30-yard line—one inside the 20. To be fair, the redzone field goal came at the end of the first half. However, the inability to put six points on the board proved costly for Pittsburgh.
Missed opportunities: When playing against a team like the Patriots, points can be hard to come by. But most importantly you need to capitalize off of opportunities. The Steelers failed to do so. The Steelers forced a fumble on New England’s first offensive play—setting them up with first-and-10 at the Patriots 45-yard line. Five plays later, on third-and-6 at the 16, Jones threw a bad pass to Antonio Brown in the endzone—resulting in an interception. Another opportunity presented itself in the second half for Pittsburgh when New England’s Julian Edelman fumbled a punt. Pittsburgh recovered at the Patriots 43. Trailing 27-16, Pittsburgh gained only three yards, and Chris Boswell missed a 54-yard field goal.
Pre-snap/post-snap penalties: There is nothing more detrimental to a team than turning the ball over and committing penalties. More unnerving is the pre-snap penalty. The Steelers only had three, but the timing of those penalties was consequential. Two of the three came on a drive where Pittsburgh had to settle for a field goal. A holding call on third-and-four from New England’s 14-yard line negated a game-tying touchdown by Darrius Heyward-Bey. Instead the drive ultimately resulted in a missed field goal. A would-be 14-14 game stayed a 14-7 New England lead.
Defensive struggles against the run: For the second week in a row Pittsburgh allowed a 100-yard game on the ground, and two touchdowns. Mike Tomlin indicated before the game that Pittsburgh was prepared to surrender to the run if it meant minimizing the pass, but the conservative nature against the rush did more harm than good. After a heavy dose of LeGarrette Blount, Brady was able to take advantage of some Pittsburgh miscues in the second half. Blount ended the game with 127 rushing yards to go along with his two touchdowns. The Steelers have allowed 362 rushing yards in the past two weeks.
Poor time management: Whether the bulk of this blame goes to Tomlin, Jones or offensive coordinator Todd Haley, there wasn’t much urgency from the Steelers at any point in the game, let alone when they were trailing by two scores late.