Tag Archives: Antonio Brown

New England Patriots News 3-10, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
March 10, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 03-10 and AFC East Notes.

Quick Hitters:

Van Noy Defense – As if Van Noy needed anything else to endear himself to the fan base. After Colts TE Eric Ebron took a veiled shot at the Patriots when he tweeted  “nobody wanna do that Patriot way bull- #COLTure.” But Van Noy quickly answered that by tweeting a picture of two rings with a winking emoticon.

Gronk Selling Condo: On a day with some exciting trade news, one item that could have people thinking worst case scenarios was the news that Rob Gronkowski is selling his Boston seaport condo. Gronk’s luxury condo located at 21 Wormwood St. located on the waterfront can be yours for a cool $2,375,000. Does this mean the big guy is retiring? Not so fast. While it could be just that, it should be noted that he bought the place just a few years ago for $1.8 million. Just another sound financial investment.

Jamie Collins redux? With the news that the Cleveland Browns were parting ways with linebacker Jamie Collins, many fans and media members were wondering about a reunion for the two. As we see it here, that ship has sailed and he won’t be returning to New England. We don’t see it as a need as the LBer position isn’t in bad shape.

Et Tu Amendola: Danny Amendola was released by the Dolphins on Friday. The cost-cutting move is expected to clear a salary-cap space that Miami may use to entice Trey Flowers to South Florida. Now many are hoping for a reunion with Amendola and the Patriots.

Well, no one has been a bigger Amendola supporter than we’ve been on these pages. While we’d love to see him back in Foxboro this spring, the situation may preclude that from happening. The team needs to get younger at the position and with the cupboard bare, they may play a waiting game to see how the rest of FA/Draft plays out before making a decision. By then, I’d expect Amendola to be signed elsewhere.

Brown Has His Cake, But Won’t Share it With Buffalo: Pittsburgh WR Antonio Brown may have effectively forced his way out of Pittsburgh by demanding a trade, and now is stipulating where he won’t go. The Steelers and Bills had a deal supposedly agreed to in principle but Brown put the kibosh on it, stating he won’t go to Buffalo.  

After a few tweets and videos that may have effectively ruined whatever compensation, the Steelers could have gotten for him, Brown now halted a trade. One has to wonder if he may paint himself into a corner where the Steelers (and rightfully so), give him the option to return to the team or sit out the season.

Bennett Trade, One The Team Couldn’t Bypass:

The Philadelphia Eagles are trading DL Michael Bennett and their 7th Round draft pick in the 2020 NFL Draft to the Patriots for New England’s 5th round pick in 2020. In terms of compensation, the deal is a steal. Bennett is still a very productive player and even at 33 logged more sacks (9) and QB hits (30) than anyone on New England and fourth most (QB hits) in the league.  

Bennett’s contract isn’t going to break the bank either. He’s due $7.2 million in salary and game day bonuses and $8 million in 2020. The Patriots tried to swing a deal with the Seahawks to get Bennett last spring, but the Eagles had pounced first and he was dealt to Philadephia.

Does this mean that the team is washing their hands of Trey Flowers in free agency? Not necessarily. We’ve been of the mind here that Flowers’ chances of resigning here have been slim. Especially now with so many of the edge rushers being tagged by their respective teams. But that doesn’t mean the team won’t try to retain Flowers. Bennett’s trade was something that just popped up on the radar that was too good to pass up for a player that they tried to bring in last spring.

He wasn’t brought in as a replacement for Flowers, although it could seem like that if indeed he does walk in free agency. But the thought of watching the two on the field together in the Pats defense is an exciting one. Will it happen? Stay tuned.

Brady Extension Coming?

We heard thru someone we know (and someone who would know) that a contract extension for Tom Brady was going to be done soon and the team would lock him up for another three years, that would take him to the age 45 limit that he said he envisioned.  

The guys on “Patriots Unfiltered”, what used to be known as PFW in Progress on the Patriots team website invited me on the show on Thursday and we spoke about it for a few minutes. It can be heard here:

Free Agency “Legal Tampering” Season Is Here:

Now is when things get interesting. The Patriots still have a slew of free agents to either resign or let walk including both kickers and still look for ways to improve the team.  So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at certain positions and see who the team has out there and who they could bring in.

Interior Defensive Line:  With both Malcom Brown and Danny Shelton unrestricted free agents, there is certainly a case to be made that neither returns. However, if I had to pick one… I’d go with Brown as being the one player closer to return, but not by much. Like a 52-48 ratio.  

There are some intriguing free agents out there, Sheldon Richardson (Vikings), Brandon Mebane (Chargers), Johnathan Hankins (Raiders), but I don’t see the Patriots laying out the money that those guys would draw in free agency. On our 4th and 2 podcast, I mentioned Jets FA Mike Pennel as a guy the Patriots may target. A huge, 6’4, 330, two-gapping space eater, the Patriots are one of the few teams that still covet those type of players. Not a sexy signing, but one that will pay dividends in the season.

Tight End: Will he or won’t he? If Rob Gronkowski retires, it will free up $11.6 million in cap space, and the position becomes of critical need. if he doesn’t, it is still a position in dire need of young(er) blood. They currently have Gronkowski, Jacob Hollister, Ryan Izzo, and the sleeper Stephen Anderson under contract. Hollister has looked good but can’t stay on the field. Izzo was an intriguing kid and Anderson has unlocked potential.

With the release of Dwayne Allen, the team needs an injection of talent and youth. One guy who’ll be the perfect #2 TE with the team, (especially in the two-TE sets) is Pittsburgh’s, Jesse James. He’s been a favorite here to pick up all winter. He’s big  (6’7, 260), is a very good blocker and productive as a receiver. He’s only 25 and has 112 catches in three seasons being the #4 or lower target.

Wide Receiver: With a slew of free agents (Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, and Cordarrelle Patterson), and only Julian Edelman and untested Braxton Berrios coming back, adding youth at WR is also critical. Will they bring back any of those three? I could see Patterson and maybe one or the other to return but they need some talent to help Edelman and Brady in 2019.

Free agents rumored to be linked to the Patriots include Golden Tate, Adam Humphries, Cole Beasley, Randall Cobb, Jamison Crowder, Eli Rogers,  and Danny Amendola. As much as we’d love to see Tate in this offense as well as Humphries, the money those two would be looking at may be prohibitive.

Look for the Patriots to make a move on Jamison Crowder. That still would be a difficult proposition, however, because even though he’s coming off an ankle injury that forced him to miss seven games, he’s still expected to fetch in the neighborhood of $8-10 million dollars in free agency. The draft, which the Patriots have struggled to find suitable wide receivers, may end up being the answer here.

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Beane Says Brown Trade to Bills “Didn’t Make Sense”:

The Buffalo Bills inquired about and were close to making a trade for disgruntled Pittsburgh wide receiver Antonio Brown earlier this week. Then Brown put any hopes of that deal materializing by stating that he wouldn’t commit to showing up if the trade went thru. In the end, Bills GM Brandon Beane took the high road and in a statement. “We had positive discussions, but ultimately it didn’t make sense for either side. As great a player as Antonio Brown is, we have moved on and our focus is on free agency.”

The trade for Brown would have made total sense, from a football perspective for the Bills. They invested heavily into a young QB last year in Josh Allen. But he had a dearth of viable weapons to throw to plus an aging RB in LeSean McCoy. It would have made less sense, as it will for any other team since no one knows if Brown will tow the line in his next assignment.

As we mentioned above, Brown is painting himself into a corner, trying to force a trade to where he wants to go. For the Bills, they’ll approach free agency with about $80 million and the opportunity to sign lesser talented players but who will be more about the team than themselves.

Dolphins Clearing Cap Space, Release Three Veterans:

The Miami Dolphins have done a house cleaning in South Florida. By bringing in Brian Flores as the new head coach, he’s starting from scratch. Miami is expected to move on from QB Ryan Tannehill and that will be the first order of business for the new regime. But the team released three veteran players which will aid their salary cap situation.

Miami released wide receiver Danny Amendola, 33, in the move toward youth as well as DE Andre Branch and G Ted Larsen. The release of Amendola frees up $6 million and coupled with the other two vets gives Miami $22 million in cap space. Miami is also expected to decline the 5th-year option for WR Devante Parker making him a free agent this week. That will add another $9.4 million in cap space.

Amendola led Miami with 59 catches and 575 receiving yards in 2018. Now, Miami drafting in the first round with the 13th pick will have to decide whether to move up in the draft to get a QB they like, hope one falls to them in their spot, or wait until next year when the QB class is expected to be better. Free agency has the most intriguing name in Nick Foles, but the Jacksonville Jaguars released a slew of players adding $30 million to their salary cap and are expected to make a big push for the 30-year old QB.

Jets Have Money to Spend in Free Agency:

The New York Jets have nearly $100 million in salary cap space in 2019 and are in a position to make some big splashes in free agency. With that amount of money, they can front load some of those contracts to make the Jets the favorites to any team that they may be bidding against. However, they also have several (as many as 10) starting positions that need to be addressed.

New York is rumored to be in on the LeVeon Bell sweepstakes and signing the very talented running back would ease the growing pains on young QB Sam Darnold. On the flip side of the ball, the Jets are also expected to make a run at the very versatile and talented LB Anthony Barr who has spent the first five years of his career with the Vikings. He’d fill a great need for the Jets.

Barr is a sideline-to-sideline linebacker who has been a Pro Bowler for the past four years with the Vikings. He’s adept at stopping the run, dropping into coverage and rushing off the edge. The team needs help at wide receiver as well as at edge rusher besides Barr. The Jets can be big players this spring with a ton of cap space. Look for them to make a splash or three.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

Best Of Social Media: Julian Edelman and The McCourty Twins Attend 2019 Grammy Awards

Robert Alvarez
February 11, 2019 at 10:22 pm ET

Winning a Super Bowl has a variety of special perks.

During Sunday nights 61st Annual Grammy Awards ceremony, New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman and safety Devin McCourty were selected as the presenters to announce the winner for the
 “Best Pop Duo or Group Performance” category.

Lady Gaga won the Grammy Award for her song “Shallow”, sung by Gaga in the film “A Star Is Born” with actor Bradley Cooper.

McCourty and Edelman’s appearance garnered a few boo’s from the Los Angeles crowd, but Devin made light of the situation joking, “LA, thank you for your cheers. Also, thank you for your boos. I appreciate you supporting your community.” 

After the show, Edelman shared photographs of himself with Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, actor Mark Wahlberg, musician Rob Thomas, and Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown.

View this post on Instagram

Danger Russ. #CliveDavisPreGrammyParty

A post shared by Julian Edelman (@edelman11) on

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Not crazy, just a little unwell.

A post shared by Julian Edelman (@edelman11) on

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Tony toe taps. #Grammys

A post shared by Julian Edelman (@edelman11) on

The McCourty twins shared a backstage photo with former First Lady Michelle Obama and actress Jada Pinkett Smith.

New England Patriots News 01-06, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
January 6, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 01-06, & AFC East Notes.

Some Quick Hitters this morning:

No…This IS 41: Last week in the aftermath of the Jets game, another hot-take artist of Fox Sports radio with an ax to grind, first complained that the league conspired to get the Patriots the bye because of what he called a terrible call of roughing the passer by the Jets against Brady. “NFL badly needed the Patriots to get that #2 seed. This call is total garbage. Patriots eventually score, up 21-3.”

Then he cherry-picked a missed throw by Brady to Hogan in the end zone to claim, “This is 41.” The funny part was the next day, he called out another writer for having a “garbage take” on the Antonio Brown saga. Glass houses, especially when in the game against the Jets, Brady completed over 70 percent of his throws, threw 4 TDs and had a passer rating of 133.8.

But we can cherry pick too, so…here’s your “This is 41”

Did you Know? Since 2001, the Patriots have had 13 byes, the most in the NFL. The next closest teams are the Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh Steelers with 5. This is the ninth consecutive year earning a bye, the most prior to this Patriots run has been four. . Dallas and San Francisco earned four straight byes from 1992 through 1995 and Denver had four straight from 2012 through 2015.

Did you Know Pt. 2: The only NFL team to win a championship and is no longer in the league was from New England. The Providence Steamroller was part of the league from 1925 -1931 and won the NFL Championship in 1928. Besides being one of two teams (Chicago Cardinals) to be the first to play a night game in 1929, Providence, due to a scheduling snafu and bad weather played four games in a six-day stretch which the night game, attended by 6000 fans was the second game of the stretch.

Patriots Unveil 2018 Playoff Motto: The Patriots, as part of their M.O., have unveiled a motto for the playoffs this year, “Everything We Got.” They unveiled a short video that showed many of the national pundits calling for the demise of the Pats dynastic run.

Then the video shows the team in a quick series of vignettes and then the narrator says:
To get everything,
It’s going to take everything.
So we’re going to give everything.
EVERYTHING WE GOT.

Is it as good as “Do Your Job”? Nope. But it is a step up from “One More” in our opinion. Enjoy the Wildcard Weekend’s slate of the games. There were 12 good teams entering the playoffs this weekend, 11 of them will lose their last game of the year. That’s why our motto, which we’d steal from Hollywood, would be. “There Can Be Only One!”

With McDaniels and Flores Being Courted, Focus on O’Shea, Bielema:

Like clockwork, the staff of Bill Belichick is being raided again as multiple teams have requested interviews with coordinators Josh McDaniels and Brian Flores. McDaniels is rumored to be the top choice for the Green Bay Packers and is very much in the mix for Cleveland, he turned down a request to interview with Cincinnati. It might sound strange but the better job overall and probably better for McDaniels may be Cleveland.

The Packers have a 36-year old QB who got his last coach fired. The offense runs through Rodgers, it is doubtful, he’s going to want to learn a new system at this stage of his career. Cleveland has a good young defense, an exciting rookie QB that knows how to win and is a team trending up.

But we digress… If one, or both leave who will take over the reins as the coordinators for the Patriots in 2019? On offense, it seems like a no-brainer in that Chad O’Shea will take over the play calling there. He’s been being groomed for that spot for some time now. O’Shea has been with the team for 10 years and called the plays during the preseason last summer. That one seems like a slam-dunk. However, O’Shea’s name is being floated around as a possible Offensive Coordinator for Matt Patricia in Detroit. We’ll have to monitor that situation.

Defensively, the situation will be difficult as they have no clear-cut coach lined up to take the reins. In reality, Flores isn’t even a “true” defensive coordinator, as he’s not been even given the title of it yet… why, is a story for another time.

Bill Belichick would probably take most of the onus on himself as the defensive coordinator for 2019, however, there isn’t a clear-cut successor ready yet. The best choice? Bret Bielema who was a head coach at both Wisconsin and Arkansas. Brendan Daly, who coaches the Defensive Line, may become a candidate in a year or two, but right now, the odds would be against him.

AB to the Pats? Not Happening:

When the news broke about the deteriorating situation in Pittsburgh with Antonio Brown, it was amazing how dysfunctional that team truly is. Mike Tomlin has always run a loose ship and that has come home to roost. But as soon as the story broke about Brown requesting a trade, Patriots fans jumped all over the story, wanting Belichick to swing a deal for Brown.

But there is no way that’s happening. For one, the Steelers would still be on the hook for Brown’s huge 2019 cap hit. They’ll probably try to mend the relationship between Brown, QB Ben Roethlisberger, and Tomlin. Barring that, if they do decide to trade him, one place they never would trade Brown to would be New England.

And as ridiculously talented Brown is, I can’t imagine that there would be a mutual interest in bringing him here. Can you imagine Brown’s Facebook Live video going on while Belichick is addressing the team in a post-game setting? And Brown, although in the midst of a terrific season, was mad because Roethlisberger was making JuJu Smith-Schuster, who had an even better 2018, the focal point. I can’t see Brown accepting a role where he’s not “the guy” that the offense runs thru.

After last season and the tabloid-like story on the divorce of Brady/Belichick, while the team was going 13-3 and on their way to another Super Bowl, is there going to be a big breaking piece on the disintegration of the Steelers’ locker room? Their two most talented offensive players quit on their team this season…but we’re not holding our breath on that one.

Young QBs Have Fans Excited in Several Markets:

The NFL had an influx of young QBs this year and many of them played big roles for their teams right off the bat. And it is a great thing for several NFL franchises that have been downtrodden for a number of years as these young QBs generate hope and excitement for the next generation.

The league has their established stars in QBs like Brady, Drew Brees, and Aaron Rodgers but the story this season really wasn’t about any of them but Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes, while technically not a rookie lit the league on fire this fall. While perennial bottom feeders in Cleveland now have an exciting young QB, Baker Mayfield who has instantly brought hope and respectability to the franchise. Lamar Jackson, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, and Josh Rosen have had different levels of success but at least have their fans tuning in.

No one knows if any of these young studs can keep up the long-term success that they’ve found in their first year of playing.  There are no guarantees, injuries occur as well as other issues that can arise, but right now, the 2019 season looks to be, on paper one to really look forward to.

Who You Have This Week? NFL Wildcard Weekend Predictions:

Last week: 12-4 Final Regular Season 165-89-2

Wildcard Weekend:

Saturday – Houston over Indy,
                 Seattle over Dallas
Sunday –   Baltimore over LA Chargers (tough start time for West Coast teams)
                Chicago over Philadelphia

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Have Their Man in Josh Allen, Now Need a Surrounding Cast:

The Buffalo Bills picked their guy in the QB Class of 2018 in the person of Allen, the big, strong-armed youngster from Wyoming who had a very up-and-down year, which isn’t a rarity for rookie QBs.

Allen has some obvious flaws in his game. He can be woefully inaccurate at times, but those are mechanical issues that can be solved thru coaching. But for a big guy (6’5, 237) he runs deceptively fast from the pocket.

The Bills need to surround Allen with better weapons next year. Although they have Zay Jones and Robert Foster, they could use another WR, RB, TE and a heckuva lot better support along the offensive line.

Allen ended the season in dramatic fashion, throwing for three TDs and running for two more, the first Bills QB to account for five TDs in a game since Jim Kelly. That left fans in Western NY, itching for a winner, looking forward to 2019. That may even stop them from throwing sex toys on the field during games… Maybe not.

Dolphins Search For the Next Head Coach:

The Miami Dolphins, in a mild surprise, fired head coach Adam Gase after the season was over, but the way the team finished their final quarter of the season, it shouldn’t have been. After an improbable, last-second fluke win over the Patriots, Miami was blown out in Minnesota, lost by 10 to Jacksonville and by 25 to Buffalo.

The Dolphins are busy trying to find their next head coach. GM Chris Grier has interviewed the Patriots’ Brian Flores, Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and now are set to interview Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen. For Bieniemy, this season was just his first as a coordinator but it was his fourth interview this week. He also met with the New York Jets and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the Cincinnati Bengals.

Other names included in the search include Vic Fangio, Mike Munchak, Jim Harbaugh, and Dolphins’ Special Teams Coach Darren Rizzi.

Jets May Have Interest in Baylor HC Matt Ruhle :

The New York Jets are in Texas this weekend, interviewing Cowboys’ assistant coach Kris Richard but multiple sources are reporting that the Jets may also have a lot of interest in Baylor head coach Matt Ruhle.

Ruhle would be an interesting choice as he’s been instrumental in turning around a couple of college programs. Ruhle was born in New York City and spent a year on Tom Coughlin’s staff as an assistant offensive line coach.

He was the QB coach and offensive coordinator at Temple before becoming the head coach for four seasons. His last two in Temple, the team won 10 games, the only time in the program’s history that they accomplished that.  He then moved to Baylor to a program that had been rocked by a sexual assault scandal. In 2017, his team went 1-11. This season, they went 7-6. Ruhle got some interest from the Colts last year in their coaching search. He’d be a good coach it is believed to work with Sam Darnold.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news.

Patriots Week 15 Report Card, Mistakes Galore In Another Ugly Loss

Steve Balestrieri
December 18, 2018 at 6:35 am ET

The Patriots road woes continued once again and the team finished the regular season on the road at a dreadful 3-5, losing their last two in particularly ugly fashion. This week’s loss against the Steelers was a continuation of that. Terrible mental mistakes, unforced errors, drops, penalties. Poor offensive line play when it counted and absolutely awful run defense.

We’ve been waiting for this team to get its act together and show who they are. It is becoming increasingly (and frustratingly) clear that this IS who they are in 2018. An inconsistent, and undisciplined group on the road. At home, this team can beat anyone. On the road, they can lose to anyone.

So, check out our grades and see how the team fared in this week’s close win.

Quarterback: B-

Tom Brady, in the grand scheme of things actually didn’t play very badly. He finished 25-36 for 279 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT. Drive killing drops by Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon on third down. Another by James White was behind him where it wasn’t a great throw by Brady but it is one White has made in the past. The interception was a pass he was trying to throw away but the pressure on him caused him to float it.

Penalties were absolute killers. On a first and goal from the 5-yard line, Sony Michel ran to the 2, but a holding call pushed them back to the 15-yard line. On a 2nd and 5 from the Pittsburgh 11-yard line on their final drive, another holding penalty on Shaq Mason pushed them back to the 21. Two passes in the end zone Gronkowski and one to Edelman sealed it.

Brady wasn’t getting his usual support on Sunday that much is for sure. But to score 10 points on a Pittsburgh defense that he’s routinely shredded for 18 years? That isn’t going to get it done.

Running Backs: C+

The Patriots running backs were ineffective running in the first half, they got it going for a short while early in the second half but being down caused them to ditch the running game and concentrate on the pass. Sony Michel (13 rushes, 59 yards, 4.5 avg), Rex Burkhead (4 rushes 25 yards, 6.3 avg.) and James White (2 carries, 12 yards) totaled up 96 yards on 19 carries, a 5.1-yard average, wasn’t bad. But they couldn’t sustain anything and of course, the holding and false start penalties were killers.

White wasn’t used much in the passing game with five catches for just 25 yards and it seemed like they went away from him late in the game. Burkhead had three catches for 18 yards and James Develin had two for 18.

Wide Receivers: D

Not a great day for the wide receivers, on the surface it appeared Julian Edelman had a really big day with seven catches for 90 yards but he had a key drop and then picked up two costly penalties. And he was at the head of the class. Chris Hogan had the huge 63-yard TD on their first possession. But then he had just one more catch for five yards the rest of the game.

Cordarrelle Patterson had three catches for 20 yards but it was the one yard that was taken away that hurt. On a third down, Patterson was stopped about four yards short of the sticks but on the second effort bulled his way to pick it up. But the play was reviewed and they moved his forward progress back to a 4th and 1 and the Patriots punted.

Josh Gordon had his worst game as a Patriot on Sunday. He had just one catch for 19 yards and he too had a very costly drop on 3rd down that was right in his hands and that killed a drive. It was the first time he’s struggled since signing with New England and came at a bad time. He was targeted just those two times and wasn’t even on the field for the final series inside the Steelers’ red zone.

Tight Ends: D-

Rob Gronkowski went from one of his better games of the season to invisible again in the passing game. The Steelers couldn’t cover Jared Cook a week ago and then Gronkowski could manage only one catch in each half. He ended up with 2 for 21 yards….nuff said.

Offensive Line: D-

The offensive line did reasonably well in spurts in the running game and they averaged 5.1 yards per rush. But they couldn’t sustain anything and in the passing game at crunch time, they folded under Pittsburgh’s pressure.

The offensive line was called for six penalties. Two of the holding calls wiped out red zone scoring opportunities. Another holding call wiped out a 25-yard run by Michel, which has happened far too often this year. Michel should have about 1100 yards rushing.

Like the defensive line, the Patriots OL gets pushed around on the road and yesterday it really cost them.

Defensive Line: F

The defensive line got decent but not great pressure on Ben Roethlisberger and notched 5 QB hits with Trey Flowers and Lawrence Guy each with two apiece…that is the good news. The bad news is that they were totally gashed by the run again.

Jaylen Samuels had just 59 yards rushing for the year before Sunday’s game. He ripped the Patriots for 142 on Sunday afternoon on just 19 carries (7.5-yard average), part of the Steelers’ 158 yards on the ground. The defensive line was manhandled at the point of attack and it has been a common occurrence in every Patriots loss this season that the DL has been dominated in the trenches.

We gave them the benefit of the doubt against the Vikings as they went to very light packages to get after the QB and stop them from passing. But Miami and Pittsburgh were two of the worst running teams in the NFL and they have combined for 347 yards rushing the past two weeks. That is a recipe for losing.  

Linebackers: C

The Patriots linebackers can share in the gaffes in run support with the defensive line. They too in run support frequently got washed out. On one play Dont’a Hightower flew up into the line and filled the wrong gap and Samuels shot into the unoccupied space for a big gain.

Kyle Van Noy got a sack when he perfectly anticipated the snap and blew thru the Steelers OL and got Roethlisberger in a bear hug and wouldn’t let go. But the linebackers actually did a really good job in coverage. We were worried about Samuels more in the passing game coming into this one and he wasn’t a big factor in the passing game. In some good news, the linebackers did a good job of securing the middle of the field.

Secondary: A-

The secondary had a rough start to the game. The Steelers began the game by spreading the Patriots defense out and they had great success with it and went down the field with ease on their first drive. On that TD pass, one of two by Roethlisberger, Vance McDonald beat Pat Chung easily for a 5-yard score. Antonio Brown later beat Jason McCourty badly for a 17-yard score. But the secondary did their job and well.

Despite gashing the Patriots in the running game, the Steelers insisted on trying to throw it down the field and Roethlisberger had only 235 yards on the day. He had two TDs and two INTs, both by Duron Harmon. Jonathan Jones was the victim of what we thought was a horrible 26-yard pass interference penalty.

Stephon Gilmore and rookie J.C. Jackson were both outstanding on the perimeter. They held Antonio Brown (4 catches, 49 yards on 7 targets) and JuJu Smith-Schuster (4 catches, 40 yards on 10 targets) in check. Harmon had the two interceptions and the Patriots defense at the end of the day held Pittsburgh to just 17 points.

Special Teams: A-

The Special Teams had the Pats best play of the day. Ryan Allen punted for the far left corner of the end zone. The ball bounced and appeared to be rolling toward the Steelers’ end zone. Jonathan Jones dove and popped the ball straight up. The Rex Burkhead dove into the end zone and knocked the ball out of the air to be downed at the Steelers’ one-yard line. It was a fantastic effort all around.

Allen was excellent all game with his directional punting but got flagged on a false start… as a holder for a field goal. I can honestly say that I’ve been following the NFL for over 50 years and have never seen that one before.

Stephen Gostkowski nailed his only field goal attempt after having a rough afternoon in Miami last week.

Coaches: D

The Patriots coaching staff has a dilemma, which I don’t think is fixable…this year. How can this team play so well at home and be so undisciplined and terrible on the road? It is an issue that may eventually cost them in January. They certainly are capable enough of playing well against good teams.

Once again, the play calling and some of the personnel packages are mystifying. The Steelers were flooding the middle of the field and trying to take away where the Patriots like to work. So on a 3rd and 4, why call a bubble screen to Edelman with only Chris Hogan out there to block for him. The Steelers had too many bodies there and that one had little chance of success.

And on the final series, Josh Gordon wasn’t even on the field as they went with Patterson, who isn’t the route runner Gordon is…head scratcher.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]
Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news.

Steelers Down Patriots 17-10, Knock Them Out of a Bye

Steve Balestrieri
December 16, 2018 at 9:14 pm ET

Steelers Down Patriots 17-10, Knock Them Out of a Bye

Mistakes, mistakes, mistakes. They keep piling up on the 2018 Patriots on the road and it cost them dearly again on Sunday down in Pittsburgh.

Dropped passes, missed opportunities and generally, poor play has the team now on the outside looking in for one of the two teams earning a bye in the AFC. The Patriots, like a week ago in Miami, earned that loss this afternoon in Pittsburgh. They were outplayed, and once again were owned at the line of scrimmage in the Steelers 17-10 win.

Their second loss in a row drops the team to 9-5 and the #3 seed, forcing them to now have to beat the Bills next week at home to win the division. After that, they close out against the Jets and they have to hope that they win out at home while hoping for the Texans to stumble against either the Eagles or the Jaguars in the final two weeks. Other than that, they will be playing on Wild Card Weekend.

The Steelers went to an empty formation early in the game so that the Patriots couldn’t effectively double their wide receivers. It was a great tactic and they easily sliced and diced the defense by mixing in well-designed runs and scored easily on the opening possession.

The Patriots answered when the Steelers totally blew a coverage and left Chris Hogan all alone on a cross from left to right. Brady hit Hogan in stride and he cruised 63-yards without a Steeler in sight. It looked like it was going to be another shootout.

But only one more touchdown would be scored, a Roethlisberger 17-yard pass to Antonio Brown one play after a horrible pass interference penalty on the Patriots for 26 yards set the Steelers up inside the red zone. Pittsburgh went 92 yards in eight plays to take a 14-7 lead. The teams would just trade field goals for the rest of the game.

The game against the Steelers can be summed by the A. Penalties, B. Red Zone and C. Run Defense. And all three of those areas, the Patriots rate A’s this week. Eh…you say. Yes, A’s as in Appalling, Awful and Atrocious.

Penalties: A as in Appalling

The Patriots had 14 penalties on Sunday….That is totally unacceptable on any level. Sony Michel had a 25-yard run wiped out by a holding call at the line of scrimmage after he was clearly past the line and into the second level. That just isn’t smart football.

Another holding call pushed them from the 2-yard line on a Michel run on first and goal at the 5-yard line to the 15. Two plays later Brady was picked off by Joe Haden when trying to throw the ball out of bounds.

On the final drive, facing a 2nd and 5 at the Pittsburgh 11-yard line, yet another holding call pushes them back to the 21. On third down, Brady throws it out the back of the end zone and misses James White standing all alone in the flat. He had an easy 8-10 and would have made the 4th down pass much more manageable.

Red Zone:  A as in Awful

When you go 0-3 in the red zone and a combined 3-11 on third and fourth down attempts, you’re not going to win many football games. The Steelers were getting good pressure on Brady and were intent on taking away the middle of the field….which they did. Which begs to the question, why didn’t Josh McDaniels adjust?

Josh Gordon was MIA in this one, he wasn’t even on the field for the final series inside the Pittsburgh red zone. After his big TD catch, Chris Hogan was rendered invisible as well. Very curious play calling in this one.

Run Defense: A as in Atrocious

Jaylen Samuels sliced and diced the front seven to the tune of 142 yards and a 7.2-yard average. Pittsburgh has been awful at running the football, just like Miami was before last week. And once again the offensive line of the Steelers totally dominated the point of attack all game.

The Patriots front seven doesn’t travel well because in every loss this season, they’ve been blown off the ball. This doesn’t bode well for a team on the outside looking in for a bye in the playoffs.

The Patriots limp home after an abbreviated by disastrous 0-2 road trip. Instead of fighting for the #1 seed and locking up the division, now they are no closer to the division and any chance of the #1 seed are gone.

The run defense is scary to watch…and not in a good way. And the offense is still searching for an identity after 14 games.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news.

Players To Watch Patriots-Steelers Week 15

Steve Balestrieri
December 15, 2018 at 9:10 am ET

Playoffs Start Early For Both Teams


The New England Patriots head to what seems an annual trip to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers in a very important game for both teams. The Patriots, courtesy of a bizarre last play of the game in Miami blew a golden opportunity to take over the #1 seed if they win tomorrow. The Chiefs were beaten by the Chargers in another wacky finish and New England owns the tiebreaker with KC.

Pittsburgh is reeling right now at 7-5-1, having lost three in a row including the last two in bizarre fashion. Their lead in the AFC North is down to just a half-game over the Ravens and with the Patriots and Saints back-to-back in the next two weeks, the playoffs start now for the Steelers.

Yesterday we posted our keys to the game and key matchups where we broke down the game positionally.

So, from a Patriots perspective, here are our Players to Watch on Sunday:

Tom Brady:

Most times the old cliché, “Player A owns Team B” is really overused and just that a cliché. But in this instance, it is really hard to make that argument. Brady overall is 11-2 against the Steelers but since 2006, he’s 7-1 against what is always one of the best teams in the AFC. In the last four regular-season meetings, Brady has thrown 11 TDs, just 1 INT, completing 70.6 percent of his passes for 1240 yard (an average of 310 yards per game and 9.84 per pass) for a passer rating of 127.7.

The Steelers haven’t changed the way they approach the way they play defense against Brady and the Patriots since Brady’s first matchup with them back in 2001 playoffs. The only time they really changed things up was back in the 2011 season, a Steelers 25-17 win. They rely on their pass rush getting home and creating pressure. The Steelers are 2nd in the NFL with 45 sacks on the season. T.J. Watt has 10 and they have four players with five or more sacks.  But against the three best QBs they’ve faced this season (Patrick Mahomes, Philip Rivers, and Matt Ryan), they’ve allowed 910 yards, 8 TDs 0 Ints for a passer rating of 126.7.

Brady has always known how to attack this Pittsburgh defense, it holds no allusions for him. Unless they change the way they approach things tomorrow, there is no reason to believe that the trend won’t continue.

Rob Gronkowski:

The Patriots big tight end has had unprecedented success against the Steelers as well as Brady. In six career games against Pittsburgh, Gronkowski has reeled in 39 catches, 664 yards, and 8 TDs. His 110.6 yards per game average is the most he’s had against any team that he’s played more than once.

The Steelers defense has struggled against tight ends. Travis Kelce earlier in the season hurt them for seven catches, 109 yards, and 2 TDs. Last week, they played five different defenders on Raiders tight end, Jared Cook and still couldn’t stop him as he had seven catches for 116 yards. Gronkowski took over the game in the fourth quarter a year ago in Pittsburgh hauling in 9 passes for 168 yards and a two-point conversion.

The Steelers have said that they’re going to change up the way they cover Gronkowski this week and may switch up their looks on the big tight end. With lingering back and ankle injuries, he’s been slowed considerably this season. But bad news for the Steelers this week?  He had arguably his best game of the season against Miami last week catching 8 passes for 107 yards and a touchdown.

Stephon Gilmore:

The Patriots best cornerback will have his work cut out for him this week. The Steelers have several excellent targets in the passing game. But Gilmore will be worried about the just the top two, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown. We’d expect that Gilmore will be covering both at times on Sunday and neither will be an easy receiver to shadow. Brown has been the Steelers go-to guy since he entered the league but this year, Smith-Schuster has had more receptions and yards.

Gilmore is having a fantastic Pro-Bowl-type of a season for the Patriots and has been their best at covering the opposition’s best wide receiver this year. Pro Football Focus had him as their 2nd rated CB on 3rd or 4th down this season behind just Marlon Humphrey of the Ravens. An interesting tidbit via Jeff Howe of the Atlantic. The Patriots are 8-0 when Gordon doesn’t allow a TD and 1-4 when he does. Gilmore is currently tied for 3rd place among all CBs with passes defensed with 13.

The feeling here is that Gilmore will go one-on-one with Smith-Schuster which should be a fascinating matchup to watch. He does better against bigger receivers and Smith-Schuster is 6’1 while Brown is 5’10. I’d expect Brown to be doubled with a corner and a safety. Eli Rogers is expected to be back this week which will be another tough matchup.

Josh Gordon:

The Patriots big wide receiver is someone who has had pretty good success against the Steelers in the past and played them often while a member of the Browns. Included in that was a 17-yard touchdown late in regulation that tied the opener, which ended up in a tie. Now he’ll be going with a much better cast of characters against the same Steelers team that he’s faced before. And with a much better quarterback.

Gordon has gradually learned the Patriots offense on the fly since making his first appearance in the Week 4 game against Miami. And since then, he’s put up some very decent numbers (39 catches for 701 yards and three touchdowns) which is very impressive considering he had to learn the Patriots offense in mid-stream. How many WRs have struggled here after having an entire offseason to learn the WR route tree? Gordon’s 18-yards per catch average is the best among NFL WRs since Week 4. And that is troubling to Pittsburgh Defensive Coordinator Keith Butler. “Shoot, he’s a big man that can run,” he said. “He’s a deep-ball guy. If you look for anybody that’s going deep for them, it’s probably him.”

With the Steelers putting a lot of stock in slowing down Gronkowski this week, that will mean a lot of single coverage on Gordon. And this might be the time for him to have that one big monster game that has been lacking from his resume this season.

Devin McCourty:

The Patriots captain and their center fielder at the back end of their defense will have to have a big game on Sunday against a very potent Steelers passing attack. Between Brown and Smith-Schuster they have two of the more explosive wide receivers in the game. Added into the mix is Eli Rogers who tore his ACL in the playoff loss to Jacksonville last year and has spent the season on PUP. Now he’s healthy and is expected to be activated for Sunday’s game. That gives McCourty, even more, to be worried about on the back end.

Rogers career high for catches and yards? The 2017 AFC Championship Game against the Patriots where he caught seven passes for 66 yards. He’s someone that will have to be on the Patriots and McCourty’s radar if he gets his hands on the ball.

One of the more underrated aspects of McCourty’s game and that of the Patriots defense is tackling. This week, in particular, the Patriots have to limit the YAC (yards after the catch). When they’ve been successful, they’ve not allowed teams to run after they’ve caught the ball. McCourty will be a big, big part of that this week.  

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news.

Patriots-Steelers Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
December 14, 2018 at 7:00 am ET

Patriots-Steelers Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

The Patriots go back on the road for their final regular season road game of 2018 with a trip to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers. This is, in essence, a playoff game for both teams. Each needs to win to try to lock down the #2 seed.

For Pittsburgh, it is even more important as they’ve dropped three in a row and their lead in the division has dwindled to just a half-game over the suddenly surging Ravens. By the time that the game starts, they should know the results of the Ravens-Bucs game. However, Baltimore ends the season with games at the Chargers and home against the Browns who are playing much better. Pittsburgh has New England this week, New Orleans next week and then the Bengals.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS on Sunday, December 16 at 4:25 p.m. ET and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4 in Boston. Jim Nantz will handle play-by-play duties with Tony Romo as the color analyst. Tracy Wolfson will work the sidelines. The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.

The Patriots (9-4) are coming off an awful loss in Miami, just like a year ago on the last play of the game.  The run defense was terrible as was the run blocking for the offense. But Tom Brady had a big day throwing the ball, tossing for 358 yards and three TDs.

The Steelers (7-5-1) had another late 4th quarter comeback and pulled off a dramatic 39-38 win over the Baltimore Ravens where Ben Roethlisberger threw for over 500 yards and Antonio Brown had 213 yards receiving.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2018 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:

The Patriots and Steelers are meeting for the 32nd time and the Patriots with a slight 16-15 edge. However, during the Bill Belichick era the Patriots are 11-3 against the Steelers and have won the last five meetings including last years meeting in Pittsburgh.

Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge.

First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots RBs vs Steelers Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Slightly to New England

The Patriots running game has been very good this season until they hit a snag against one of the worst run defenses in the league in Miami last week. Sony Michel has been the workhorse for the Patriots in the running game with James White and Rex Burkhead in support roles.

The Steelers have the #6 run defense (96.9 yards a game) in the league and still use the same 3-4 defense that they’ve been running seemingly forever. It starts up front with the big men, Jason Hargrave at the nose tackle and Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Heyward at the ends. The linebackers are quick and aggressive and will shoot the gaps.

Look for Josh McDaniels to throw in order to run this week. Look for the Patriots to try to take advantage of the Steelers aggressiveness at getting after the passer and try to get Michel going in that way. Some quick hitters with White and Burkhead could be on the agenda this week. The same with some Jet sweeps with Julian Edelman and Cordarrelle Patterson.

Patriots WRs vs Steelers Secondary – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots passing game is ranked 15th in the league but much of that has to do with the slow start that they got off to in the first month of the season. Since Josh Gordon has arrived, Brady’s numbers are about the same as they were in 2017 when he was the league’s MVP. The good news is they are getting healthy, Rob Gronkowski had his best game of the season last week. Gordon is heating up and has traditionally played well against Pittsburgh. Rob Gronkowski and Brady have always played well against the Steelers. Brady also Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Patterson and White and Burkhead out of the backfield.

Pittsburgh is ranked 12th in pass defense allowing just 233.9 yards per game. They get after the QB very well with T.J. Watt leading the way with 10 sacks, Jason Hargrave has 6.5 from the nose which will be very telling in this game. The key to stopping Brady is pressure up the middle, if he can step up in the pocket, he will be very successful. Heyward has 6 sacks and Bud Dupree has 5.5.

It will be interesting to see how Pittsburgh decides to defend Gronkowski. Last year they played him almost exclusively with Sean Davis and he torched them in the second half. They’ll have to decide on whether to go with Joe Haden on Gordon or Coty Sensabaugh. Edelman will also be a tough matchup for them. In the past, the Steelers have played the same defense they always have against Brady. Will they mix things up this week? Or will they continue to just run their defense and try to out-execute the Patriots? Under Mike Tomlin, that is their M.O. they preach execution but they aren’t a big adjustment defense.

Next up the Pittsburgh offense:

Steelers RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Pittsburgh

The Steelers running game is mired in 29th place in the NFL averaging just 89 yards per game. They haven’t shown the patience with it, even with James Conner in the lineup to stick with it. With Conner banged up and questionable to play, it will be interesting to watch if they do this week.

The Patriots rush defense is in the middle of the pack 15th in the league. But last week, against another team that struggles to run in Miami they were gashed for 189 yards on 21 carries. The defensive line was pushed around at the point of attack and the linebackers in run support were awful.

The Pittsburgh OL is one of the better lines in the league, and if they stay patient with the running game, even without Connor, they could dictate the pace and keep New England’s offense on the bench. From an NE perspective, the DL and LBs will have to play much better than a week ago.

Steelers WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Pittsburgh

Ben Roethlisberger has a dynamic duo in JuJu Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown on the outside for as good a 1-2 punch as there is in the NFL. Smith-Schuster has 91 catches for 1237 yards and 6 TDs. Brown has 86 for 1063 yards and 12 TDs. Ryan Switzer is the third option outside. Vance McDonald is having a career year with 44 catches at tight end while Jesse James is still out there as well. Jaylen Samuels will be a player to watch this week. We really liked him coming out of the draft this spring and he’s an intriguing player to watch.

The Patriots pass defense has been going thru ebbs and flows. Two weeks ago they had arguably their best game shutting down Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs from the Vikings. But last week Kenny Stills gave them fits in Miami. They will no doubt try to roll their double teams from Smith-Schuster to Brown and disguise them. They have been good at getting pressure on opposing QBs but bad at getting home with sacks.

Look for Roethlisberger to work the middle of the field this week with McDonald and James to set up his top 2 WRs. They’ll try to isolate their TEs on the NE LBs which will be a mismatch.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The kickers in this one, the Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski and the Steelers Chris Boswell both had a rough week. But Boswell has been struggling most of the season. The team brought in former kicker Shaun Suisham to work with him. Boswell is just 3-8 from 40-49 yards this year. Despite missing an extra point and a field goal last week, the Patriots have a big edge here in the kicking game with Gostkowski.

Ryan Switzer has done a good job with the return game for the Steelers but with Patterson and Edelman, I’m going to give the edge to the Patriots here as well.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This one should be another Patriots-Steelers classic. Both teams really need this game, last year at this time it was about the #1 seed, this season it is about #2. The Texans are right on their heels in the conference and the Steelers can’t afford to lose their fourth in a row. Even for a team that never puts coaches on a hot seat, if Tomlin were to lose four in a row after a 7-2-1 start, he will start to feel the heat.

Keys to the game from a Patriots perspective:

Put the Ball in Brady’s Hands: He’s had remarkable success against the Steelers thru the years. I know they want to push the running game, but this week, let #12 take the reins and trust in him to get it done.

Target the Big Men: I just have a feeling that the bigger WRs (Gordon and Patterson) are a more difficult matchup for the Steeler secondary this week. This is a situation the Patriots haven’t had much of thru the years. Their WRs tend to be the smaller quicker ones. But both Gordon and Patterson are big and very athletic. Add Gronk to the mix and they’ll be difficult to stop.

Play a Clean Game: The team can’t afford any turnovers this week. The Steelers offense is explosive and can score quickly and they don’t need to be giving them any short fields, especially on the road. No turnovers and win third downs and the red zone.

I think this one will go down to the wire, but the Patriots go home with a very close win. Brady works his magic in Pittsburgh once again. Patriots 31-27

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Antonio Brown Jabs Brady Dropped Catch, Forget’s He’s Sitting Home

Robert Alvarez
February 8, 2018 at 9:01 pm ET

Not a whole lot went the Patriots way during Super Bowl LI, but unlike 15 other AFC teams, they still managed to claw their way to an eighth NFL title game appearance under head coach Bill Belichick.

One of those losing teams was the Pittsburgh Steelers, who went one and done in the postseason and will enter 2018 without a championship ring in the last nine seasons.

Despite their head coach proclaiming “we expect to be there” and players chirping about a rematch with the Patriots, it never came to fruition as Steelers were sent packing for the Pro Bowl by the Jaguars.

Which takes us to Monday, Over his Instagram account Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown decided to poke a little fun at Tom Brady’s dropped reception and old teammate James Harrison.

So to recap, despite not having a win against the Patriots since 2011, Brown for whatever reason fired a slight shot when they were down and out, because the only place the Steelers can beat New England of late is behind a screen.

Patriots  Week 15  Report Card, Patriots Beat Steelers 27-24

Steve Balestrieri
December 19, 2017 at 9:00 am ET

Sometimes it doesn’t matter how you start but how you finish. Although the Steelers controlled the vast majority of this game with their offense dominating in terms of time of possession, it never really carried over to the scoreboard. Even when the Patriots were down by 8 points in the second half, you never had the feeling that they were out of this game and they were still only down by a single score.

The one thing we know about this team is that they are a resilient bunch and that if you’re going to beat them, you need to play a full 60 minutes. Pittsburgh controlled the majority of the game, but the last few minutes belonged to Tom Brady and company. Followed by a wild and wacky finish where there was a long pass play, a disallowed touchdown and an interception to seal the deal, it was a satisfying win that not only clinched the AFC East but put the Patriots back in control of the AFC with two games to play. Perfect? Far from it. Satisfying? You bet and the coaches will take it.

So we’ll go thru the positions after rewatching the tape and see what the grades say this week.

Quarterback: B

Tom Brady had a very good game considering the circumstances. His wide receiver corps was thinned even further with no Chris Hogan and then lost Rex Burkhead and James White during the game but he persevered.

Pittsburgh played much more man coverage in this game when they tried to sprinkle in some zone, Brady immediately hit Cooks with a 43-yard pass down the left side. They got good pressure on him all game long which made him uncomfortable in the pocket.

That pressure forced him into a bad interception in the third quarter with Vince Williams being the first Steeler to pick him in a dozen years. He nearly had another in the final two minutes on a tipped pass at the line.

But after that he was brilliant. Brady was 5-7 on throws of more than 20 yards in the air. So much for the dink-dunk myth or that his arm strength is failing. He realized that Pittsburgh still has no answer for Rob Gronkowski and they did what they always do to the Steeler secondary, they eviscerated it in the second half. On the key 4th and 1 play, Brady recognized the defense and signaled Gronkowski, who was one-on-one with Sean Davis. The result was an easy 10 yard gain, which led to a touchdown to Cooks.

Running Backs: C+

The Patriots didn’t run the ball very much in this one as they were mostly playing from behind this week. But when they did there was some hit and miss. Dion Lewis had 12 carries for 67 yards including the game-winning run from eight yards out that totally caught the Steelers off-guard after Gronk tortured them down the field. But he didn’t  seem to get enough work between the tackles.

Rex Burkhead went down with what looked like a serious knee injury but luckily that wasn’t the case. He had a nice touchdown run inside. James White went down during the game but was able to return.

What was surprising was how little production the backs had in the passing game. Lewis had one catch for 13 yards, White had two catches for eight although Brady overthrew him when he had a lot of open space and Burkhead had one catch for five. James Develin had an uncharacteristic drop but was mostly good in the running game opening up holes for the backs when they did run

Wide Receivers: C

The wide receivers weren’t a big factor in the game, part of that is on them, partly on the Pittsburgh secondary. Brandin Cooks had a 43-yard reception early and a nice touchdown in the back of the end zone but he ran a deep, double move pattern too close to the sideline. That allowed the defender to ride him out of bounds. That wiped out a huge gain on what was Brady’s best throw of the game.

Chris Hogan was out, Kenny Britt made an early contribution after just a few days on the team. He’ll be looked at more as the schedule plays out. Danny Amendola had just two catches on the day and Phillip Dorsett had just one. Not enough production

Tight Ends: A++

Rob Gronkowski came back from his one-week suspension and played like a man possessed, especially in the second half. Gronkowski finished with 9 catches for 168 yards, where 135 of them were after halftime. He was simply dominating the game.

Pittsburgh had no answer for him and they were simply outmatched by his strength and speed. It is one thing saying that you’re going to be physical with him, it is another thing entirely going out and doing it.

He owned the field on the final Patriots touchdown drive gaining 26 yards on back to back plays taking the Patriots from deep in their own end to the Steelers 25 yard line. Then showing incredible flexibility, (TB 12 Clinc?) he reached down to pluck a low Brady pass off the turf and rumbled for 17 more setting up Dion Lewis’ touchdown run. On that play, both he and Dwayne Allen put punishing blocks on the Steelers defensive line.

And he’ll still hear it in the film room, he dropped a touchdown that he’d normally make the catch on. But his overall play more than made up for that. As games go this was a dominating performance as you’ll see.

Offensive Line: B-

The offensive line had a mixed game, they were allowing too much pressure, once again Joe Thuney struggled, as did Shaq Mason in pass protection and they didn’t get the consistent push in the running game but it was good enough. As is the norm with them, when the chips were on the line, they held up really well. Nate Solder had one of his best games of the year. Did anyone hear T.J. Watt’s name once in the game? He’s been a disruptor for the Pittsburgh defense and Solder kept him far away from Brady all day. Nice bounce back type of game for Dante Scarnecchia’s crew after the Miami mess of a week ago.

Defensive Line: C

Trey Flowers was back and he made his presence felt getting some pressure in the passing game. But overall the pass rush is still an issue and it is a case of them “almost getting there” it seems. No Alan Branch this week and the Steelers ran at the interior early but the middle of the line, Lawrence Guy, Malcom Brown and Ricky Jean-Francois did a pretty good job of gumming up the middle. Where the Steelers ran very effectively was on the edge. Both Deatrich Wise and Eric Lee were consistently washed out or pushed inside and Le’Veon Bell was eating them up on the outside.

Lee missed a sack that he should have had against Roethlisberger, he’s not as mobile as he used to be and Lee should have made that. The team dropped Flowers into the flat on a few passing plays and he was abused by Bell.

Linebackers: D

This is an area to watch moving forward and a possible Achilles Heel in January, especially with no Kyle Van Noy. Elandon Roberts, David Harris, and Marquis Flowers had games that won’t be pretty in the film room this week.

They were consistently blown up in the running game by the Steelers offensive line who once they got to the second level owned them. Roberts flew up into the wrong gap and had a handful of air on Bell’s touchdown run and looked lost there. Harris, whose specialty is the run game, was blown up quite a few times, too many.

Coverage isn’t their strong suit which is why the Steelers were successful on those shallow crosses. Matt Patricia tried blitzing them and they had an o-fer. Every time they blitzed Roethlisberger made them pay going a perfect 6-6 for 80 yards and a score.Ugly day again for the linebackers.

Secondary: B-

The secondary had its problems with the Pittsburgh speedy group of wide receivers. Overall the Steelers were 10-16 on third down which is very good, but the team stopped them on their final three attempts. When they’re having that kind of success, the secondary has to bear a lot of the burden but it goes hand-in-hand with the pass rush as well. Rewatching the film, Roethlisberger had so much time, the receivers had time to shake themselves open.

Stephon Gilmore had a rough day with Martavis Bryant who was giving him trouble with his combination of size and speed. Malcolm Butler didn’t have to cover Antonio Brown for long as he was injured, but made a great play tackling Heyward-Bey inbounds on the Steelers final drive keeping the clock moving… under the radar great play.

Eric Rowe made the tip on the final interception that Duron Harmon picked off. Don’t pay attention to that knucklehead on the radio. Harmon is a money player who is always around the ball. Devin McCourty and Pat Chung were solid as always. Jordan Richards? What in the wide world of sports was that attempt on the JuJu Schuster-Smith catch and run? That was singularly awful and nearly cost them the game. That’s a tackle he has to make and to whiff like that? Inexcusable.

The secondary as a whole deserves high marks for not falling for the fake spike. Roethlisberger threw that into triple coverage, something that been lost in the shuffle among the hysterical fan/media outrage over the James drop in the end zone.

Special Teams: B-

Stephen Gostkowski missed an extra point but that was because of a rare snap miscue by Joe Cardona. Ryan Allen had to adjust and didn’t have a good hold, it forced Gostkowski’s timing off and he shanked it.
Allen had a net 47 yards on his punts and Gostkowski’s kickoffs consistently put the Steelers deep, behind the 20-25 yard line. Other than the one miscue, they were fine, but it could have been costly. Matthew Slater had a great play on a sliding downing of an Allen punt pinning the Steelers deep.

Coaches: B

Bill Belichick always preaches situational football, that’s why the Patriots pull out so many of these close games and opponents fail. No one bit on the fake spike, and the Steelers were unprepared for the final few plays after the James score was overturned. That is something the Patriots never have to worry about. Josh McDaniels’ crew couldn’t convert third downs again in the first half, but once he locked in on the Brady-Gronk connection, he rode it. Matt Patricia’s beat up crew on defense couldn’t get off the field on third down. It wasn’t for lack of trying, but they got the final three third downs including the final pick.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Killer B’s (Brady, Belichick) Pull Out Wild Win Over Pittsburgh 27-24

Steve Balestrieri
December 17, 2017 at 9:23 pm ET

The Patriots beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh 27-24 and clinched the AFC East for the ninth year in a row. Improving to 11-3, the team now owns the tie-breaker over the Steelers for the top spot in the AFC.

First things first, I hate the rule where no one knows what a catch is or isn’t, but in this case, there was clear evidence the ball hit the ground, where Jesse James reached for the end zone (what you’re supposed to do). We’ve seen too many of these over the past few years. We’ve seen touchdowns get called back. Does it suck? Yes, absolutely. But it is what it is.

This was a fantastic game between two very good football teams. This had a little bit of everything for everyone. Both teams left it all out on the field and in the end, it took a vintage Tom Brady killer drive taking the Patriots 77 yards in just five plays to take a 27-24 lead. Brady and Rob Gronkowski owned that final drive as if it were a seven-on-seven matchup.

But after a three-yard shallow cross by JuJu Smith-Schuster turned into a 69-yard scamper to the Patriots 10-yard line, it was looking like the Steelers were going to pull another cardiac finish. Malcolm Butler made a huge play tackling Darius Heyward-Bey inbounds keeping the clock running at the seven-yard line. On second down Roethlisberger ran a nifty pick play and James dove for the end zone where the play was overturned. On third down, Roethlisberger faked a spike and tried a quick slant for Eli Rogers. Eric Rowe made a fantastic play diving and deflecting the ball straight up where Duron Harmon intercepted it in the end zone for the win.

Pittsburgh controlled the majority of the game and the tempo with a good running game from Le’Veon Bell, coupled with outstanding play from Roethlisberger, was solid, especially on third down. He was fantastic on third down converting 10-of-16, constantly keeping the Patriots defense on the field and bleeding the clock.

His first touchdown to Eli Rogers was an outstanding throw where he put the ball in perfectly with Rowe in very tight coverage. If that ball is two inches back, it gets knocked away.

But the Steelers failed on their final two third downs, one of their only three-and-outs on the day, which give Brady a chance to pull it out. The Patriots practice situational football more than anyone, and today, when it mattered, they produced.

Other observations include:


It was a great day for Gronk.

Rob Gronkowski Is in a Class All His Own:In the first half, the Steelers played “keep away” as the Patriots ran only 20 plays and Gronk had 33 yards. In the second half, the big man was simply on another plane. The Steelers were doing all they could to play him physical and bang him on every down but he came up big, going for 135 yards.

On the Patriots final drive on a 2nd and 10, Brady hit him down the seam for 26 yards to the 49-yard line. On the next play, Brady hit him for 26 more down to the Steelers 25. Then Gronk pulled a low Brady pass off the turf and rumbled for 17 more down to the eight-yard line. Dion Lewis powered it in for the touchdown and then Gronk abused Sean Davis on a two-point conversion fade in the corner of the end zone.

For all the talk about the Steelers playing more man coverage, they still haven’t figured out how to contain Gronkowski and he and Brady took over this one.

Both Teams Suffered Key Injuries: One thing you hate to see is a player from either team, never mind a star, go down and be helped off the field. Antonio Brown suffered a partially torn calf muscle in the end zone and had to be helped off.

Later, Rex Burkhead suffered an injury that you knew was serious when three Steelers defenders were motioning for the Patriots sideline to come quickly to his aid.

Brown is said to able to come back for the playoffs. As for Burkhead? His status is unknown, but something tells me this is a long-term injury, which is too bad. He’s been a key contributor on offense and special teams this season.

Brady Comes Off the Mat Again: To the blowhard, “hot take” artists that overpopulate the airwaves (yes, we’re looking at you Wright and Parker) Tom Brady showed once again that it is very premature to “sound the alarm” and he’s still the cool customer he always has been. We also were subjected to members of the Pittsburgh media who polluted the airwaves yet again with talk of cameras and deflated footballs as an excuse for over a decade and a half of being dominated.

Brady finished 22-of-35 for 298 yards with a touchdown and a pick. His interception was his worst decision of the day and it cost the team a score. By the way, it was also his first interception against Pittsburgh in 12 years and 300 pass attempts.

Two-minute drill? Sound the alarm on that nincompoop. Ask Ben Roethlisberger or Mike Tomlin if he’s going over a cliff.

What’s Next Tomlin? Speaking of the Steelers coach, this has to be a shocking turn of events for him. He’s been openly calling for this game since March. He was talking about it weeks ago and you’ve pumped up your team and they’re openly talking about Super Bowls and being a “team of destiny” and we’re still in the regular season. You had the Patriots coming in all beat up physically and had the game at home.

Then Brady pulls his magic and you come out on the short end of the stick again. How do you convince your team that you’re going to flip the script in Foxboro next month, if it comes to that?

Shazier Comes to the Game, Ignites the Crowd: One of the nicer things to see today was Steelers LB Ryan Shazier, who suffered a scary spinal injury two weeks ago, come to the game in a luxury box and cheer on his teammates. The crowd absolutely erupted.

They showed him on the big screen when Tom Brady and the offense came on the field for the first time. It was so loud, Brady turned to look at the big screen to see what was the commotion.

The team returns home after playing five out six on the road to finish out the season against the Bills and Jets. Thankfully, they’re AFC East Champions and in control of their own fate, again.