Tag Archives: Ben Roethlisberger

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.

2017 Playoffs: Predicting the Patriots Opponents

Ian Logue
January 2, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

With a bye week coming up for the Patriots, it’s safe to say that every fan in New England will be waiting with anticipation to find out who the first opponent will be one week from Saturday when they next take the field.

Looking at the two games in play for the AFC next weekend, it presents a couple of good match-ups that should set up an interesting postseason run for this year’s Patriots team.

Up first will see the Titans head out to Kansas City to face the Chiefs.  Looking at this game, the odds are pretty good that Tennessee won’t be able to handle a Chiefs team that really came on at the end of the year and ran off four straight victories and seems to have the momentum.  Tennessee, meanwhile, managed to eek out a win against Jacksonville but had lost three in a row prior to that game.

The biggest X-factor in that match-up will be which Marcus Mariota we’ll see in that game.  Mariota threw for less than 200 yards in four of Tennessee’s final six games and only threw for more than one touchdown three times all season.  In fact, he threw more interceptions (15) than touchdowns (13) in 2017.

But one of the biggest moments in Sunday’s win was a run by Mariota on 3rd-and-5 where he willed his way to a first down with just over 2-minutes left in the game, keeping the chains moving while allowing Tennessee to keep the ball out of Blake Bortles’ hands until there was just 0:18 left to play to essentially secure the victory.

However, against the Chiefs, he’ll have to put up points if he hopes to keep his team in the game.  Kansas City has scored 27 or more points in all but one of their home games, compiling a 6-2 record over that span.  That seems unlikely and unless he can keep the Titans in the game, it would be hard to see Tennessee winning this one. Needless to say, the more likely opponent for New England next weekend will probably be the Chiefs.

Predicted Divisional Round Opponent: Chiefs


It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Jaguars upset Pittsburgh and end up in Foxboro. (USA TODAY Images)

Meanwhile, the Jaguars had their way against the Steelers earlier this season, showing no fear at Heinz Field as they forced five interceptions by Ben Roethlisberger, who was so distraught after the game he was questioning his future.

Despite their loss to Tennessee this past Sunday, the Jaguars are still playing good defense and it wouldn’t be a surprise if they upset the Bills and advance into the Divisional round.  That’s where things get a little interesting if the Patriots are able to get redemption against Kansas City.

With a potential match-up against New England riding on their success in this game, it’s entirely possible the Steelers could be looking a little too far ahead when the Jaguars come into Pittsburgh.  As a result, seeing  Jacksonville shock the Steelers’ faithful and force an early playoff exit doesn’t seem as much of a longshot as some may think.  The Jaguars have already done it once and if they’re able to beat Buffalo, it will be another confidence boost to use against an opponent who should have every reason to be afraid of a Jacksonville club who has already surprised everyone to get to where they are.

It would be pretty hilarious to see Pittsburgh be one-and-done, which would probably set up an interesting offseason after another squandered season by a group that had championship aspirations.

Last year, Roethlisberger was pondering retirement after New England knocked them out. If Pittsburgh goes down against Jacksonville, expect a similar situation after this one as well.

Predicted AFC Championship Opponent*:  Jacksonville
(*if NE advances)

It should be a fun couple of weeks and hopefully, it’s New England who is left standing by the time it’s over.  This is what Belichick’s club has fought so hard for to get to this point, so we’ll see how the second season plays out when they next hit the field in two weeks.

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.

Five Takeaways From The Patriots Win Over Pittsburgh

Ian Logue
December 18, 2017 at 5:00 am ET

Sunday’s win over Pittsburgh came down to the wire and certainly had some tense moments but fortunately, the Patriots came away with a 27-24 win to clinch the AFC East and put them in control of the top seed in the AFC with two games to play.

Looking back at the victory, here are some thoughts after the Patriots improved to 11-3 on the season.

1) Without Van Noy, the defense continues to struggle – The Patriots were still without Kyle Van Noy on Sunday and it’s obvious that he’s been one of the key difference-makers who has allowed the team to survive the loss of Dont’a Hightower and still be relatively successful.  The only problem is, New England’s defense has struggled in his absence, which was evident last weekend in Miami and again on Sunday.

The Steelers piled up 143-yards running the football, with the Patriots struggling to stop a Steelers’ team that converted 10-of-16 (63%) on third down and had difficulty at times getting them off the field.  With Pittsburgh having success sustaining drives, it allowed them to control the clock and keep Tom Brady and the offense on the sideline as the Steelers held the ball for 19:53 in the first half, compared to just 10:07 for the Patriots.

The veteran linebacker was downgraded to out prior to Sunday’s game, with Van Noy having last played back on December 3rd during New England’s win over the Bills in Buffalo.  Coming into Sunday’s game he was second on the team in tackles with 73, as well as second in sacks with 5.5.

Fortunately, on Sunday the Patriots survived without him but it’s clear that heading into the final two games and into the postseason, they’re certainly going to be much better off if he’s able to come back healthy.

2) Patriots are lucky the 69-yard play they gave up at the end of the game didn’t cost them – Staying on the subject of the defense, there were definitely some rough moments, including one key miscue at the end of the game that nearly cost them.

The play came following New England’s go-ahead touchdown in the final moments, which looking back at how it unfolded, it’s safe to say that it will most definitely be a point of emphasis in the film room this week.

Clinging to a 3-point lead, the Steelers had 0:52 left to work with, which was still a fair amount of time to get from their own 21-yard line into field goal range to potentially force overtime. But it felt like, at the time, the Patriots finally had the momentum and were back in control of the game at that point.  The only thing they needed was for their defense to put together one final stop and close the game out.

Instead, their beleaguered group gave it all back and then some in just one play.  On the snap, Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster came across the middle and beat Eric Rowe, with Ben Roethlisberger hitting him in stride as he came across.  From there, Smith-Schuster made a mad dash toward the sideline and safety Devin McCourty came flying in toward him to try and help Rowe out and seemingly had the angle he needed to push him out of bounds.  The only problem was, Jordan Richards was locked up with Le’Veon Bell near the sideline.  Richards dove at Smith-Schuster as he ran past, and unfortunately, he took McCourty out of the play, leaving Rowe having to continue chasing after him.

By the time Duron Harmon wrapped him up, Smith-Schuster was at New England’s 10-yard line and the Steelers seemingly had just the play they needed to at least force overtime.

You could see the frustration on the face of Tom Brady after the play, who isn’t exactly a stranger to being on the wrong end of those situations given some of the losses he’s been through.  However, fortunately, Harmon came up with the play they needed to put the game away, and New England finds themselves right where they want to be heading into the final weeks of the 2017 regular season.


There was no stopping Gronkowski on Sunday.

3) Gronkowski reminded everyone what a difference-maker he is – Having Rob Gronkowski back in action on Sunday was obviously huge, and watching him take over the game in the fourth quarter was certainly impressive.

Gronkowski hauled in 9 catches for 168 yards during the victory, including 3 receptions for 69 yards on the team’s game-winning drive, which he polished off with a 2-point conversion following Dion Lewis’ 8-yard touchdown.

He was in the zone all afternoon, making some terrific catches and his performance over the final two minutes was just ridiculous.  On his first reception, he picked up 26-yards after beating safety Sean Davis on a post coming across from the left side of the field just before the two-minute warning.

They went right back to a similar route on the next play, picking up another 26-yards after Gronkowski got behind Davis again, with Brady hitting the veteran tight end in stride between two defenders.  Gronkowski took a big shot from safety Mike Mitchell, who hit him low and wrapped him up for the tackle. But it didn’t affect him as Gronkowski was fired up at that point, flexing and clearly on a mission after back-to-back 26-yard receptions.

But as if that wasn’t enough, the catch he made on the ensuing play was just incredible.  After lining up again in the left slot, Gronkowski ran a route across the middle and Brady, who was under pressure by Pittsburgh’s defense on that play, managed to slide away and while moving to his left fired the football to Gronkowski, but the throw was slightly off target and low, reaching him mere inches from the ground.  However, Gronkowski managed to reach down and snatch the football just above the turf, pulling it into his body before somersaulting and rising to his feet.

At that point, you could see in his eyes that there was no stopping him.  Lewis would score on the next play, and Gronkowski slipped past the defender and made a twisting leaping grab for the two-point conversion.  It capped an incredible afternoon after spending the previous week as a spectator thanks to his suspension.  He admitted after the game, he was happy to be back.

“I missed the boys,” said Gronkowski of his teammates.  “They are always grinding every single week. These guys are my teammates and they are great to be around. I definitely miss them and it’s great to be back.”

And after what we saw on Sunday, they were clearly lucky to have him.

4) Expect a rule change again this offseason thanks to the James play – As we know, the NFL isn’t a fan of their own rules when it works in favor of the Patriots, and the controversial play at the end of regulation involving Steelers’ tight end Jesse James’ apparent touchdown will likely spark a discussion with the competition committee during this next offseason.

After what initially looked like a 10-yard touchdown reception that would have sealed the game, the officials reviewed the play and ultimately overturned it after ruling that James didn’t control the ball all the way to the ground.  Looking back at the film, James caught the football above his head and then twisted his body back toward the end zone, while reaching the ball across the goal line.  The only problem was, as his body and the ball hit the ground, James lost his grip on the football.

According to referee Tony Corrente, they ruled that James “just didn’t survive to the ground.”

“In order to have a completed pass, a receiver must survive going to the ground,” Corrente told the field reporter after the game.  “In this case, [James] had control of the football but he was going to the ground.  As he hit the ball, the ball began to roll and rotate and the ball hit the ground and that’s the end of it at that point.”

That play obviously changed everything because it left the door open for Harmon’s interception, which we’ll get to next.


Roethlisberger and Tomlin didn’t appear to be on the same page Sunday.

5) Tomlin and Roethlisberger were clearly not on the same page – For two people who have worked together as long as they have, it sounds like Ben Roethlisberger and Mike Tomlin were definitely not on the same page at the end of Sunday’s game.

Following Darrius Heyward-Bey’s 3-yard reception with 20 seconds left to play, Malcolm Butler tackled him in bounds, which had the game clock running.  Initially, Roethlisberger brought everyone up to the line and was ready to spike the ball to stop the clock, but he claims “the sideline” didn’t want him too, which lead to some confusion.

“It wasn’t a fake spike,” Roethlisberger told reporters after the game. “I was yelling ‘clock it’ because I felt like that was the thing to do,  clock it and get yourself one play. And it came from the sideline, ‘Don’t clock it. Don’t clock it.’ Well, at that time, everyone thinks it’s clocked so you don’t have any time to get everyone lined up.”

Roethlisberger snapped the ball with 0:09 left on the clock and it was obvious there were some players who weren’t quite sure what was happening.  The entire left side of the field saw his receivers standing around, while Eli Rogers continued his route into three Patriots’ defenders.

https://twitter.com/NFL/status/942549852595949568

“Eli (Rogers) kinda ran a quick slant in there and at that time you’ve just got to try to make a big play,” said Roethlisberger.  “I didn’t make a good enough throw.”

Roethlisberger did go through the act of faking like he was going to spike it, and then looked at Rogers and double-clutched the throw, which allowed Rowe just the amount of time he needed to close and dive out in front, knocking the ball away.  Harmon alertly picked off the football, and just like that, you could hear the collective gasp from everyone on hand at Heinz Field who were all stunned by what they had just seen.

Tomlin said after the game he had no issue with Roethlisberger’s decision to go for the end zone in that situation, despite the fact it cost them the game.

“No. No, man. We play and play to win,” said Tomlin.  “That’s what we do.”

Unfortunately for Tomlin, those types of moments have been what his team has done in these situations against a team they just can’t quite figure out how to beat.

Thankfully, it obviously worked out for the Patriots, who improved to 11-3 on the season with a rematch against the Bills up next this weekend.

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.

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

Steve Balestrieri
December 16, 2017 at 8:30 am ET

The Patriots go back out on the road for their fifth game in the last six and their last in the 2017 regular season as they take on the Pittsburgh Steelers. This is still a hat and t-shirt game for the Patriots. With a win or a tie, the Patriots clinch the AFC East once again for the ninth straight time and the 17th since Robert Kraft took over the team in 1994.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS on Sunday, December 17 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 (10-3) are coming off an ugly 27-20 loss to Miami on Monday night. The offense struggled all night long and the defense couldn’t stop Kenyan Drake either running or receiving. They’ll be looking for a bounce-back game.

The Steelers (11-2) 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 2017 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 31st time and the Steeler and Patriots are tied with 15 wins each. However, during the Bill Belichick era the Patriots are 10-3 against the Steelers and have won the last four meetings including the 2016 AFC Championship Game  36-17 in Gillette Stadium last January.

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 Push

The Patriots running game was steadily gaining momentum with the duo of Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead giving them big-play potential. The gained nearly 200 yards two weeks in a row against Miami and Buffalo before hitting the wall last week against the Dolphins and abandoning the running game too soon.

The Steelers run defense has been pretty good all season but in a short week after losing LB Ryan Shazier to a potential career-threatening injury, they were gashed by the Ravens for 152 yards while averaging 5.8 yards per carry.

Now they’ve had time to work out the kinks of replacing Shazier and this will be a key area to watch. If Lewis and Burkhead regain their game this week, it will go a long way in negating the Steelers pass rush and make their job of slowing down Tom Brady and Co. much, much harder. The key from a New England perspective is getting the running game going early and opening up the middle of the field.

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

The Patriots passing game is still tops in the NFL and this week they get Rob Gronkowski back from his one-game suspension. Chris Hogan returned from a shoulder injury last week but was ineffective last week. Ditto for Brandin Cooks. The versatility of the Patriots lies with the multiple running backs they can utilize in the passing game, Lewis, Burkhead and James White. And Danny Amendola does nothing but move the sticks every time he catches the ball.

Pittsburgh’s pass defense is the #4 unit in the league, while second in sacks with 41. They can get after the passer in a variety of ways with Cameron Heyward providing them with a career year with nine sacks, Vince Williams with seven and rookie T.J. Watt has six. The Steelers have only allowed an opposing QB to throw for more than 264 yards once (M.Stafford). The pressure on Brady will be the key for them… And will they change their defense from their zone to more of a man scheme?

We don’t have to repeat the stats Brady has against Pittsburgh, he’s had his way with them for 16 years. And with the Patriots offense, it is all about spreading the ball around. Gronkowski leads the team with 55 receptions, White and Cooks have 54 each while Amendola has 52. Hogan who missed four games has 34. While everything goes thru Gronkowski, for Brady it is about sharing the wealth. If he has time to throw.

Next up the Pittsburgh offense:

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

The Steelers running game is based on the incredibly patient Le’Veon Bell who has the vision and physical tools to wait for the slightest crack in the defense and then burst thru the hole. Bell not only leads the league in rushing with 1105 yards rushing, but has 75 catches for 579 yards. He carries a tremendous workload on his shoulders and behind a very good offensive line is a guy who can easily take over a game by himself.

The Patriots run defense has suffered all season. Injuries have piled up both on the edge and inside, the latest with Alan Branch who will miss Sunday’s game is a big blow for a Patriots unit that has struggled to stand up inside.

This matchup is a clear, big advantage for the Steelers. Bell can control the game either on the ground or in the passing game and the Patriots will be hard pressed to keep him in check this week. If he consistently can grind out big gains on 1st and 2nd down, it will make the potent Pittsburgh air attack more deadly.

Steelers WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Pittsburgh

Ben Roethlisberger has a plethora of weapons, arguably the best he’s ever had in a Steelers uniform to use in the passing game. Antonio Brown easily leads the NFL with 99 catches for 1509 yards and nine touchdowns. Brown is another guy that can take over a game and he had 213 yards against the Ravens last Sunday night. Roethlisberger uses Bell out of the backfield, Jesse James at the tight end position as well as JuJu Smith Schuster, Martavis Bryant and Eli Rogers. They’re heating up at just the right time of the year.

The Patriots pass defense has undergone a transformation in the past seven games. Since a horrible start in September, the New England pass defense in the last seven is allowing an average of 193.1 yards per game. The secondary with Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler, Eric Rowe and Jonathan Jones at corner have really picked up their game. And they’ll need to against this Pittsburgh talented group of receivers.

Obviously, the keys from a New England perspective is how well they can slow down Brown and Bell, they won’t stop them. Even in games where the Patriots have won comfortably, have got their yards. The key is getting a few stops in the red zone. They’ll have to manufacture some pass rush pressure on Roethlisberger who has been sacked just 19 times this season. And force him into getting rid of the ball before he can find one of his receivers downfield.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The kickers in this one, the Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski, and the Steelers’ Chris Boswell are both having outstanding seasons. Both have been money on big kicks from long range. What has made Gostkowski so special this season are his kickoffs, which are pinning teams deep.  The Patriots’ outstanding coverage units are smothering the opposition. They’ve also gotten some big plays from Special Teams. The Steelers units rank lower to the bottom of the league in punt and kick returns. The Patriots could use a big play on Special Teams this week on the road.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This one should be another Patriots-Steelers instant classic. With the top seed of the AFC on the line, whoever wins this one will have the inside track for home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Pittsburgh has been openly clamoring for this one since March and have proclaimed themselves to be “a team of destiny.” Coach Mike Tomlin hasn’t shied away from it either saying the Steelers should win the Super Bowl.

The contrast is, of course, Bill Belichick, while the Patriots know what is at stake, he never lets the team’s focus get too far ahead. To them, this week is a big game, obviously but they say that about every week.

Everything is breaking right for the Steelers, they’re hitting their peak at just the right time and get a Patriots team that is banged up with 13 players on IR and 10 more questionable to play on Sunday. Plus they get it at home where they have a better home record in the last decade-plus than anyone…except New England.

A lot has been made about the changes to the Steelers defense, but until they show those changes on the field, Brady’s dominance over them for the past 16 years is the driving factor here. It will go down to the wire, but the Patriots go home with a very close win. Patriots 30-28

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.

Daily Notebook: Wednesday Patriots News and Notes 5/10

Ian Logue
May 10, 2017 at 5:00 am ET

We’re already at the half way point of the week, and here’s a look at today’s top stories.

Cooks Gets to Work – As exciting as the news of Brandin Cooks’ acquisition was back in March, hearing how the acclimation has been for the new receiver so far on Tuesday was even more interesting as he met with the media at Gillette Stadium.

Cooks admitted that he’s already noticed a difference of how differently things are done compared to in New Orleans in just the short time he’s been here, and he loves it.

“Right away, I love it,” said Cooks during his media session on Tuesday.  “I love the way they run things here. It’s a blessing to be able to be a part of this organization. I’m just happy to be here.”

Team numbers were revealed yesterday and the fact that Cooks is set to wear #14 was one thing that certainly stood out, especially considering he wore #10 in New Orleans.  That number currently belongs to Jimmy Garoppolo, who Cooks admitted that he didn’t even bother asking him because  it’s a “new opportunity” so he “wanted something different”.

As for the reason behind wearing #14, Cooks said there wasn’t any significance, although he tried to link it to his college number when he was asked by the media.

“No big significance at all, really,” said Cooks. “I was [No.] 7 in college, so the way that I like to think about it is double-7. Yeah, no big significance.”

Coming from New Orleans playing both in a warm climate and in an indoor facility will probably take a little getting used to, which Cooks admitted will be a little different.  He’s already had a little time to get used to the area, and he’s looking forward to the opportunity.

“It’s a new transition,” said Cooks.  “You know, a little cold coming from New Orleans, but I love it. I originally grew up on the West Coast, so I’m obviously halfway across the country now – or across the country – but it’s a great atmosphere. Going down to the city is amazing. I live in Oregon now during the offseason, so I’m used to a little bit of cold, rainy days, but it’s a little different out here, so we’ll see.”


Cooks is already learning the “Patriot Way”.

Inside the facility has been a different story.  He’s had a chance now to see the inner workings of the team he’s now a part of, and he’s been impressed.  Obviously it starts with the coaching staff, which he called “amazing”.

“Their focus,” said Cooks when asked about his first impressions of the coaches.  “Their attention to detail, once again, here is amazing. But, you know what, everything is going so fast right now, so I’m not looking at those type of things. I’m just, once again, looking at what I have to do to be the best I can be here.”

The same held true for when Cooks met Brady, who shares those same characteristics.

“His attention to detail and how focused he is,” said Cooks when asked about what’s stood out about Brady. “It’s something that I look at him and I try to strive for, to be just like that. Obviously, the game on TV, he’s amazing, but to see him now in person in his study habits is awesome.”

For now Cooks said he’s excited about the opportunity but at this point it’s just all about trying to get up to speed both with his conditioning and mentally so he’s not left behind.

“Well, first off, just being well-conditioned – that’s what this part’s about,” said Cooks on getting to work with his new team.  “And then just as much as I can to learn the offense so I can catch up to the guys that have been here so we can keep going and not have to wait on me.”

Sounds like he’ll fit in just fine.

Tomlin Mentions Patriots During Commencement Speech – Mike Tomlin is well known for being outspoken, and his comments caught on Antonio Brown’s Facebook Live broadcast following Pittsburgh’s win in the Divisional round made waves after Brown’s poor judgement put the spotlight on them leading up to the AFC Championship game against New England.

“Let’s say very little moving forward. Let’s start our preparations,” Tomlin said in the video via CBS Local out of Pittsburgh. “We spotted those [expletive] a day and a half. They played yesterday. Our game got moved to tonight. We gonna touch down at 4 o’clock in the [expletive] morning. So be it. We’ll be ready for that ass. But you ain’t gotta tell them we coming … Keep a low profile.”

That obviously didn’t work out too well, especially after the Patriots easily handled them during their 36-17 win to advance to the Super Bowl. The frustration after that game seemed to boil over in Pittsburgh, to the point where even Ben Roethlisberger seemed so annoyed with the poor coaching performance that he seemed to be pondering retirement.

But, here we are, three months later and fortunately for Patriots fans, Tomlin is still the coach and Roethlisberger is still the quarterback, which bodes well for New England’s chances against them for the foreseeable future.

As for Tomlin, very little has changed and he was on hand at Robert Morris University and mentioned the Patriots during his 16-minute speech where he referenced New England while making light of his previous comments.

“I’ll proceed with a couple of assumptions,” the Pittsburgh Steelers coach said. “And I realize that assumptions are very dangerous. There’s a cliché about assuming, isn’t it? It can make Patriots out of you and me.”

He’s a funny guy, isn’t he?

No Compensatory Picks for Blount or Floyd? – Both LeGarrette Blount and Michael Floyd remain unsigned and for any fans hoping to see New England end up with a couple of compensatory picks for these players, it’s not going to happen.

As Kevin Duffy of MassLive.com pointed out, the deadline for those two players to sign with a new club in order for the Patriots to have had a shot at receiving compensatory picks was 4pm Tuesday.

Neither player signed a contract, so that notion is now off the table.

Adam Schefter reported that Floyd had been potentially linked to Minnesota, while the latest rumors surrounding Blount potentially had him on Baltimore’s radar.

Prior to that the Giants had shown interest, but all indications seem to point to the fact that ship has sailed, so it looks like we can cross that off as a possibility.

Jamison Hensley of ESPN made a strong case for Blount coming to Baltimore in a column Tuesday, and he believes it’s the best fit for the former Patriots running back.

Unfortunately the fact that Blount hasn’t lured a suitor before now has worked against his former team, who despite the lack of compensation, will continue to move on without him.

Mangold Doesn’t Have Patriots On His Radar – While the Patriots may just have David Andrews at center, free agent Nick Mangold doesn’t seem to see Foxboro as his landing spot.

According to Mangold, who spent 11-years in New York with the Jets, he doesn’t believe that Bill Belichick would be interested in his services considering some of the fierce battles the two teams have had during his career.

“That would be awfully difficult,” he said Tuesday on SiriusXM NFL radio via ESPN. “I’ve got to assume that after years of all the battles that I’ve had with New England, I don’t think Bill’s all that fond of me.”

Mangold was cut by the Jets back in February in what appeared to be a salary cap related move following a season where he missed eight games due to a foot injury in 2016.

The battles have certainly been heated, including an incident initiated by Mangold in a match-up back during a 13-10 win over New York in 2013 where the Jets center put a vicious shot on former defensive back Aqib Talib following a game-sealing interception.

Looking back, Mangold clearly went low at Talib as the defensive back was going out of bounds, although he didn’t believe he did anything wrong after on play.

“I made the tackle. He was obviously along the sideline and I thought he was still in inbounds. I thought it was a good tackle and apparently it was not and that’s how they saw it and it started a little ruckus,” he said via the NY Daily News. “Obviously it’s an intense game and an intense rivalry and tempers flare.”

Mangold wasn’t fined after the game, although New England’s Michael Buchanan, Alfonzo Dennard and Vince Wilfork were hit with a penalty of $7,875 each after the league went back and reviewed the footage and determined they threw punches during the exchange that broke out after the play.  Chandler Jones was also fined $15,750 for a hit on Jets QB Geno Smith, where the league deemed that he hit Smith in the head and neck area.

While the league determined there was nothing wrong with Mangold’s hit, Belichick clearly didn’t think very highly of it, with the coach visibly heated and yelling at the Jets’ center after the play.

Mangold mocked him after the game, questioning the coach’s poise.

“He got a little heated about it, and I was a little surprised by that. I figured he’d have a little more poise,” quipped Mangold.  “There was decent amount of yelling, but I guess you’ll have to go to the NFL (microphones). I’m sure they got plenty.”

Yeah…maybe Belichick wouldn’t want him after all.


Bill Polian seems to be hoping Brady retires sooner rather than later.

Polian Spouts off – This was left until the end because Bill Polian’s issues just boggle the mind and while ignoring it would have been preferable, it’s too relevant and ridiculous to just let it go.

The old saying, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should” should have applied here but on his show on SiriusXM NFL Radio,  Polian couldn’t resist taking advantage of the fact he had a microphone in front of him and decided to add some locker room material during the month of May as he took some verbal shots at the team that continues to make him miserable.

According to WEEI’s Ryan Hannable, who caught the segment, Polian was asked by a caller about how the Bills can ever compete with the Patriots in the AFC East?

Brace yourself.  Your IQ is about to drop.

“Tom Brady was a quarter away from losing the Super Bowl last year pretty decisively,” Polian said. “They are a great team. They are not as great as people think they are.”

“They’re not invincible. What they are is exceptionally well-constructed and exceptionally well-coached. But, Tom Brady isn’t going to play forever. He showed some signs of being human last year on a number of occasions, including in the Super Bowl.”

Please…just make it stop.

Polian left out the fact that while the Patriots aren’t invincible, Indianapolis is in the middle of a seven game losing streak dating back to 2010.  So maybe his comments had more to do with his own inner monologue hoping Brady will hang it up and Belichick will leave the coaching ranks.

The bad news is, the two are still going strong with no signs of slowing down.  That leaves Polian without much to look forward to aside from his radio show, and he’s clearly trying to make the most of it.