The Patriots got off to a solid start on Sunday night, making a statement in front of the home crowd after embarrassing the Steelers with a 33-3 win at Gillette Stadium. Here are some thoughts on the victory as New England gets off to a 1-0 start to begin the 2019 season.
1) With or without Antonio Brown, at 42-years old, Tom Brady certainly didn’t show any signs of a drop off to kickoff the season after putting together an impressive outing. Brady threw the football Sunday night about as good as we’ve ever seen him, hitting throws from pretty much every distance on the field, including two long bombs, one of which was an impressive 58-yard strike to Phillip Dorsett that delivered the knockout blow early in the 3rd quarter after it put the Patriots up 27-3. That came just 4-plays after the Steelers, trailing 20-3, fought their way down to New England’s one-yard line, only to settle for a field goal.
It was a nice start for Brady, who finished the night with over 300-yards passing, the 88th time in his career he’s reached that mark. He also completed passes to 7 different receivers. Needless to say, teams around the league should be concerned that New England is about to add Brown to an offense that put up over 30-points on opening night and only appears to be just getting started.
2) Given the amount of talent that Pittsburgh has offensively, you can’t say enough about how well New England’s defense played in this game. They were disruptive all night, getting pressure on Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and they also didn’t show any mercy with Pittsburgh’s ground game, holding the Steelers to just 2.5-yards per carry. But one of the most impressive stats of the night was the fact that they held the Steelers to just five carries of over 3-yards.
The tackling was one of the most impressive aspects of the game, with each of New England’s defensive players really doing a terrific job. There really wasn’t a play all night where a Patriots defender didn’t immediately wrap up and they made some big tackles in key moments, stopping the Steelers for either no gain or a loss on 3 plays, including twice on third down.
As good as the offense was, it was good to see such a terrific performance on that side of the football and one they’ll hopefully continue building on in the weeks to come.
Dorsett had a solid night for the Patriots.
3) Phillip Dorsett has been one of the most reliable receivers for Tom Brady in New England’s offense since he joined the team and Sunday night was another reminder of how valuable Dorsett is to this football team.
One of the interesting aspects for Dorsett is the fact that 2018 saw somewhat of a transformation in his targets, with the veteran receiver really improving on the perimeter part of his game. Prior to last season, one of the knocks on Dorsett was the fact he was often targeted by Brady primarily on deep attempts downfield, which didn’t see the two players have quite the success that they probably hoped for very often. However, Dorsett was used in a larger variety of routes last season, which ended up making him a much more dangerous target offensively.
To take it a step further, the precision in which Brady has found him has been pretty impressive. Brady was a perfect 4-of-4 targeting him last night for 95-yards, including two touchdowns. He’s actually got a solid streak with Dorsett which, not counting the postseason, started in last year’s outing against the Colts in Week 5. Brady finished last year’s regular-season 15-of-15 targeting Dorsett and last night’s performance extends their regular-season streak to 19-of-19.
Needless to say, in a stable of receivers that is pretty crowded at this point, Dorsett continues to make himself a valuable asset. Last night was another reminder of how far he’s come and it’s certainly been fun watching him evolve into such a lethal weapon for Brady and the offense.
4) One of the biggest things that stood out last night was the success the Patriots had on early downs, with Brady doing most of his damage on first down. Brady was 16-of-18 (89%) for 180-yards and two touchdowns against the Steelers’ defense on first down alone, which mixed things up and kept Pittsburgh off-balance.
Between the success Brady had, along with the fact they did a good job running the football, it made life difficult for a Steelers team that never really figured it out. It also left them vulnerable because it opened up opportunities for Brady to hit some deep plays, with the quarterback hitting on a combined five plays of 20+ yards on first and second down.
That success was one of the key reasons why they were able to take control of this one early and play the game on their terms as they got up early on Pittsburgh and never looked back.
Jason McCourty rebounded nicely after giving up a big play.
5) For the Patriots, the only real bad play of the night came on a 45-yard strike from Roethlisberger to receiver James Washington to begin the 3rd quarter. Trailing 20-3, the Steelers appeared to be on the verge of getting back into the game after Washington got behind cornerback Jason McCourty and pulled away, putting the Steelers at New England’s 18-yard line.
It was a frustrating play as McCourty wasn’t able to close on Washington and it appeared as though it could have been a costly miscue. Instead, after getting down to the one-yard line, New England’s defense kept the pressure on and forced Pittsburgh to settle for the field goal, ending the potential scoring threat.
Either way, credit McCourty for shaking it off because he came back and made a terrific play on the next snap against Donte Moncrief and it didn’t affect him the rest of the game. The veteran cornerback put it behind him and continued making plays, playing a key role in holding Moncrief to 3 receptions on a team-high 10 targets for Pittsburgh as the Patriots defense continued the relentless stranglehold they had on the Steelers’ offense.
6) There’s no way to finish this out without giving plenty of credit to Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who quietly finished with a terrific performance.
After a shaky preseason, which also included the transition to a new holder in new punter Jake Bailey, Gostkowski looked back to his old self Sunday night. The veteran went out and drilled all four of his field-goal attempts, hitting kicks of 25, 41, 35 and 39-yards respectively, accounting for 12 of the team’s 33-points.
There was never any doubt in any of his attempts, all of which hit right down the middle. It’s a nice start for a player who last season was a perfect 21/21 from 20-39 yards, with just two misses from 40-49 yards during the regular season, while hitting 2/5 from 50+. He also hit 4/5 during the postseason.
It was obvious in the preseason that working out the kinks was a focus and Sunday night was about as perfect as you could have asked for. In a game where their execution was pretty solid all the way around, Gostkowski certainly did his part in New England’s blowout win.
The Patriots will now spend the week getting ready to travel to Miami to take on the Dolphins next Sunday afternoon.