By: Bob George/
November 03, 2013

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FOXBOROUGH -- Looks like it's a good idea that Rob Gronkowski stays healthy and stays out of jail.

In a game that featured two quarterbacks with five Super Bowl titles between them on their game and not much defense, Tom Brady lit it up against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday at Gillette Stadium, while the Patriots did just enough on defense to curtail Ben Roethlisberger when they had to. The Patriots came within four points of their franchise record, blasting the Steelers 55-31 with a stunning 610 yards of total offense, third highest in team history. The 55 points allowed by Pittsburgh is the most in franchise history.

The Patriots ravaged a subpar Steeler defense mired in the throes of a losing season. Brady finished with 23 of 33 passing for 432 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions, and a rating of 151.8. Three Patriot receivers had 120 or more receiving yards, the leader being Gronkowski with 143 yards on nine catches and a touchdown. Rookie Aaron Dobson sparkled with five catches for 130 yards, including an 81-yard touchdown catch late in the game, his second of the afternoon. Danny Amendola had four catches for 122 yards and a touchdown.

Stevan Ridley added balance to the attack, with 115 yards rushing and a 4.4 yards per carry average. The Patriots as a team had 197 yards rushing and a 5.6 yards per carry average.

The Patriot record for most total yards in a game is 622, set at Miami two seasons ago on the night Brady hit Wes Welker for a 99-yard touchdown pass. They also rang up 619 yards in 2009 on that snowy afternoon when they shut out Tennessee, 59-0. The previous third place total was 579 yards from the 56-3 win over the Jets in 1979.

It is a good thing that Brady and his offensive mates were hot. The defense still misses Vince Wilfork, Aqib Talib, Tommy Kelly and Jerod Mayo. Roethlisberger put up some glittering numbers also, throwing for 28 of 48 for exactly 400 yards and four touchdowns. Big Ben had two picks which dropped his rating to 95.8. Six different Steeler receivers had double figures in receiving yards.

The two teams combined for 1,089 yards of total offense. The Patriots were way too vulnerable in passing defense, though Roethlisberger remains one of the best quarterbacks in the league in improvising on the fly and completing passes with tons of commotion going on around him. Ex-Jet Jerricho Cotchery caught three of Roethlisberger's touchdown passes, covered mostly by Kyle Arrington. Cotchery led the Steelers with seven catches.

The Patriots were able to build a 24-10 halftime lead, and had the ball to start the third quarter. But the Steelers scored two fairly quick touchdowns in the third quarter to tie the game at 24. What seemed to turn the game in the Steelers' favor was on the first possession for the Patriots in the second half. Facing first and ten at their own 35, Ridley took a pass in the right flat and was blasted at the line of scrimmage by Troy Polamalu. Polamalu was able to strip the ball from Ridley and Lamarr Woodley recovered at the Patriot 36.

Five plays later, Roethlisberger was able to hit Cotchery for a 20-yard touchdown pass to pull the Steelers within a touchdown at 24-17. Cotchery ran a nice slant in route in the slot while the outside receivers drew the safeties to the outside.

The Patriots went three and out on their next possession. On third and two at their own 23, Josh McDaniels called for a deep lob pass to Dobson, who failed to look to his inside shoulder and could not make the catch. A short run might have been a better call instead of a low percentage pass. The Steelers got the ball back and scored the tying touchdown five plays later, with Le'Veon Bell ripping off a 25-yard run, Heath Miller catching a slant pass for 15 yards, and Cotchery finishing it off with an eight yard grab after beating Logan Ryan off the line of scrimmage.

It had been shaping up as a frustrating game for the Patriot defense. On the final play of the first quarter, the Steelers were at their own 29 facing third down and 30. But the Steelers converted, as Bell took a screen toss in the left flat, ran right by an out of position Duron Harmon and picked up 29 yards, then converted on fourth down to begin the second quarter. This conversion did not hurt the Patriots as they would later go for a first down on fourth and one at the Patriot 32, but Bell was stopped by Donte Hightower and Chris Jones.

On most nights, 400 passing yards by Roethlisberger and four touchdowns would be plenty to beat any opponent. But the Steeler defense is a far cry from what it used to be. And Brady, feeling incredibly comfortable with Gronkowski back in the fold, combined with the contributions from Dobson and Amendola, looked like the superstar he has always been and was a joy to see for all the fans at Gillette Stadium.

With the return of Shane Vereen on the horizon and the Patriots heading into the bye week, the Patriots have a chance to really load up on offense and make a strong late season push towards another division title and a high playoff seeding. The Patriots will get an improved Carolina team at home in two weeks, and then a huge matchup with Denver at home on national television. Brady will no doubt be well rested and ready to regain his old offensive chops.

The defense is another story. Having just given up 479 yards of offense yet able to win by 24, with Cam Newton and Peyton Manning next up on the agenda, something has to be done to retool the defense. Rob Ninkovich and Steve Gregory left Sunday's game with injuries, Talib is still not cleared to play and Kelly was just placed on injured reserve. Newly acquired nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga had a steady if not spectacular game, Chandler Jones had two of the five sacks of Roethlisberger, and Alfonzo Dennard had some nice defensed passes.

The Patriots need their defense to help them make a deep playoff run, as well as getting in the position to make a run in the first place. They will not win this sort of a shootout against Denver. The defense needs to put the clamps on the opposing quarterbacks, put more pressure on them, and jam the receivers at the line of scrimmage better. All this, and the Patriots still remain the second worst run defense in the league. The defense has lots of work to do in this bye week, but Talib's healing has to be the biggest concern.

If Bill Belichick were told in the beginning of the year that he would be handed a 7-2 record at the bye with all the injuries this team has sustained, he would take it. The Patriots lost two games they could have won, Brady has had some nights where he has lost his composure, and things still don't look completely right on either side of the ball. But 7-2 is still pretty good.

Jon Lester, Jonny Gomes and others brought the Red Sox World Championship Trophy to the game on Sunday, and the loudspeaker blared Bob Marley's Three Little Birds to the delight of the crowd. If this will inspire Brady to put up the numbers he did, this sort of thing should continue.