By: Derek Havens
The 39-26 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers proved to be special in many ways. The Patriots played very well and came away with their biggest victory of the season. Many thought this game would be a measuring stick type of game for the Patriots, and they measured up to one of the better teams in the NFL on Sunday night.
After a crushing defeat in Cleveland a week ago, the Patriots rebounded against a formidable opponent on the road. This game proved to be a deceiving battle. Even though the Patriots seemed to have control over the game, the Steelers kept it close. Fortunately, the Patriots made more plays than the Steelers, and that was the ultimate factor in the game.
Not too many negatives during the game’s entirety, but there were a few mistakes made. A few penalties by the Pats haunted them throughout the game. There was a chop block by BenJarvus Green-Ellis that turned a first and goal into a Shayne Graham field goal. Then Rob Gronkowski’s fourth down catch in Steeler territory was wiped out for offensive pass interference, which forced the Patriots to punt. Usually this team is one of the more disciplined teams in the league, and I expect them to clean this up in the coming week of practice.
In all three phases of the game, the Patriots had success. They hit the Steelers in the mouth and were relentless, here were a few of my notes from the game:
Brady’s intensity helped fire up his teammates during Sunday night’s win. (PHOTO:Icon/SMI)
Tom Brady was spectacular on Sunday night. After a week of scrutiny for his lackluster performance against the Browns, he responded in MVP fashion – finishing 30-of-43 for 350 yards, and 3 TDs with no interceptions. He seemed to be fired up during the game and his decision-making was remarkable. I felt this was one of his best games since he has returned from injury two seasons ago.
The offense put up 33 points against a very good Steelers defense. The Steelers allowed only 15.4 points per game before Sunday night. After this unit had continued to struggle in the post Moss era, it was nice to see they could move the chains while spreading the ball around. Surprisingly, Aaron Hernandez was held without a catch but Brady still found eight other targets that hauled in receptions.
The Patriots rushed for over 100 yards in the match-up. This is significant because prior to the game, the Steelers were the first team in NFL history to not allow an opponent to rush for more than 75 yards in a game through eight weeks. The Pittsburgh defense had been allowing only 2.6 yard per carry average prior to the game, yet Green-Ellis pounded away for 87 yards. The team threw the ball a large majority if the time but when they did run, they did have some success.
Who would have thought that the Patriots could outplay the Steelers on defense? The Patriots defense returned to its ‘bend but don’t break’ form. They also tallied a season high 5 sacks by rejuvenating their pass-rush and returned an interception for a touchdown. Although their performance in the fourth quarter was ugly, that did not take away from their strong performance in the first three.
I loved the defensive play calling throughout the game. The Steelers offensive line has been depleted with injuries and the Patriots took advantage. The sub-packages and different blitzing schemes were very effective. The whole defensive unit was shifting around: using stunts, twists, and disguising the play call. I would love to see this aggressiveness moving forward.
After being inactive for two straight weeks with a knee injury, Patrick Chung took the field Sunday night. His presence was felt within the unit and he was flying all over the field. Even though this is only his second year, he has become a key cog in this Patriot defense. When he is playing, the squad seems to play at a much higher level. His health could be crucial to this team moving forward.
I was disappointed to see second year player Darius Butler be one of the eight inactives for the game. After a strong rookie campaign, he has fallen off the radar and is obviously not showing the coaching staff enough in practice. I am not ready to write him off as a pro but at this stage in the season, he is simply not getting the job done.
After losing Stephen Gostkowski for the season earlier in the week, Shayne Graham stepped up and played well. He did miss an extra point, but there was a bad snap which Zoltan Mesko had to corral that may have contributed to the missed try. Graham was also 2 for 2 in field goals on the night.
Rookie punter Zoltan Mesko had a fantastic night with 3 out of his 5 total punts downed inside the Steelers 20 yard line. His consistency was tremendous and he contributed to Pittsburgh’s poor field position.
Overall, what impressed me the most about Sunday’s victory was how the team carried themselves. High energy, focused, and executed in every facet of the game. After the Browns debacle the week before, I was worried about this team’s confidence level moving forward. I was glad to be one of the prognosticators proved wrong as the entire team played exceptional.
This game was the biggest for either franchise so far this season, and I was pleasantly surprised to see the Pats show up the way they did. This type of emotional road victory can sometimes propel the club to a new level. I believe this team can build on this win and return home for another tough challenge against Indianapolis next week. This victory could very well help the club gain momentum moving forward into the latter part of the season.
After a week of searching for answers, the Patriots proved once again they belong as an elite team in this league.