Tag Archives: Mike Tomlin

Patriots Week 1 Report Card, All Systems Go in Blowout Win Over the Steelers

Steve Balestrieri
September 9, 2019 at 11:47 am ET

  The Patriots didn’t show any effects of having a Super Bowl hangover, an aging roster, or facing the last team to beat them, the Pittsburgh Steelers on opening night. The Patriots dominated the Steelers again at home from start to finish in a very impressive win to kickstart the 2019 season.

They looked like a much better-prepared team than their opponents, who after beating the Patriots last December, were looking to erase a lot of bad history when they play the Patriots on the road. Ben Roethlisberger’s only win in Gillette came in 2008, against Matt Cassel as that was the year that Tom Brady blew out his knee in Week 1. 

The Patriots coaches put together a superb game plan and the players executed to near flawless perfection. This was a tremendous win to start the 2019 season, as we’re off and running.  

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

Quarterback: A

Tom Brady, was in midseason form last night as he methodically and surgically picked apart the Steelers’ defense as he’s done so many times in the past  Brady was sharp, slid well in the pocket and was able to manipulate the safeties with his eyes as the offense rolled up 465 yards of offense.

Brady finished 24-36 for 341 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. He spread the ball around to a number of different receivers and backs, and Pittsburgh had no answers for. 

His best throw was a dime to Phillip Dorsett for a 25-yard touchdown that was perfectly placed down the seam. Later he Dorsett again for a 52-yard touchdown where the WR was all alone. Dave Brown from the Concord Monitor referenced the hot take artists with his call of “Brady’s macaroni elbow was supposed to be the downfall of this team.” That is classic!

Running Backs: A-

The Patriots running backs were pegged by us as a key component to beating the Steelers last night. We thought they’d have to run the ball effectively and factor out of the backfield into the passing game. They did just that. Running out of a heavy set early, they picked up a couple of first downs before spreading the defense out and picking them apart. 

James White and Rex Burkhead were both outstanding in this game, each combining for over 80+ yards on the ground and in the air. White had 5 catches for 56 yards and added 26 more on the ground. Burkhead also had five catches for 41 yards and he added 44 yards on the ground. The team also got Brandon Bolden involved early, the do-everything back had an early carry for seven yards. 

The only downside was that the team couldn’t get Sony Michel involved effectively. The Steelers made a concerted effort to make other backs beat them and Michel was frequently hit in the backfield. He had only 14 yards on 15 carries. 

Wide Receivers: A

Questions, questions, questions about this group before the game last night. Not a peep this morning. The starting trio of Julian Edelman, Phillip Dorsett, and Josh Gordon was terrific last night. The trio combined for  13 catches and 251 yards with three touchdowns.

Combined with the game the backs had out of the backfield, Brady just spread the wealth around nearly equally and the Steelers had no answer. Phillip Dorsett had four catches for 95 yards with two touchdowns [25 and 52], while Gordon had just three catches but for 73 yards and a score. His 20-yarder shows how difficult he can be in the open field to take down and he and Brady combined for a 44-yard bomb later in the game.

Julian Edelman looked in mid-season form, doing the dirty work underneath and across the middle and being a pain in the backside to anyone trying to cover him. He’s virtually uncoverable at times off the line and showed zero signs of the thumb ailment. Edelman had six catches for 83 yards. He had one carry for eight yards. 

Jakobi Meyers played only a handful of snaps but had a nice 22-yard reception where he took a big hit, was able to hold onto the ball and get yards after contact. The Patriots perimeter receivers averaged 23.75 yards per reception last night. Dink and Dunk? And they played without Demaryius Thomas, Antonio Brown, and rookie N’Keal Harry. Let that sink in a second.

Tight Ends: B-

Rob Gronkowski is retired and everyone wants to know “Who replaces Gronk?” The short answer….the wide receivers and backs. James Develin and Ryan Izzo did a good job in the running game but they didn’t contribute much in the passing game. Izzo had one catch for three yards

They should receive a boost if Matt LaCosse is able to go in Miami but I wouldn’t expect bigger things from them until Ben Watson returns.

Offensive Line: A-

The offensive line was a big question mark coming into this game. Isaiah Wynn was playing in his first NFL game and Ted Karras was starting for David Andrews at center after the veteran went on IR. It is safe to say they aced their first test.

Facing a very good Steelers front seven that led the league in sacks a year ago, Brady was able to operate clean virtually the entire game. Overall, the pass protection was excellent. The run blocking was good but not great, but one should remember that Pittsburgh was the sixth-best team against the run last year. 

One thing to monitor is the status of Marcus Cannon who left the game with a shoulder injury and was seen with his arm in a sling. That could be a big loss if he’s out for an extended period of time.

Defensive Line: B

The defensive line was outstanding against the run, limiting the Steelers to just 32 yards on the ground. James Conner had just 21 yards on 10 carries. Jaylen Samuels had a pair of carries for four yards. Last year Samuels had 142 yards in the game at Pittsburgh. The linemen were holding at the point of attack and allowing the linebackers to make plays.

The only downside was the pass rush against that outstanding Steelers offensive line was negligible. The only sack by Deatrich Wise, where he stripped Roethlisberger of the ball was more of a coverage sack than anything else. But an overall very strong effort.

Linebackers: A-

The Patriots linebackers were excellent last night. They filled the gaps in the running game, got some QB pressure and covered the backs well out of the backfield. The defense allowed just 87 yards and four first downs in the first half. 

Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, and Ja’Whaun Bentley were never out of position and consistently disrupting plays. With the top receivers blanketed, Ben Roethlisberger was looking for his secondary targets, and the linebackers helped shut those down as well. 

The front seven was suffocating, Roethlisberger was 27-47 for 277 yards and one interception. Many of those yards came with garbage time drives. He simply had no where to go and no one to throw to.

And their arguably best playmaker, Kyle Van Noy was inactive as his wife was having a baby on Sunday night. Van Noy was watching, however, and tweeted out “How about that defense?!?!?!?!? Them boys hungraaaayyyyyy!! My guys!!!!”

Secondary: A

The secondary has been a source of tremendous optimism since the spring. And they had a fantastic game against a fast and potent Pittsburgh offense. This secondary was lights out and taking away everything the Steelers tried to do. 

Stephon Gilmore was tasked with shadowing JuJu Smith-Schuster and took him out of the game. Don’t be fooled by some meaningless catches long after the game was decided, Gilmore easily won this matchup. Jonathan Jones was terrific in the slot. Jason McCourty similarly was very solid except for one deep pass to James Washington where he inexplicably pulled up, which resulted in a 45-yard completion.

Pat Chung was outstanding and took Vance McDonald out of the equation as well as providing excellent run support down low in the box. Devin McCourty had the only interception of the game. 

Special Teams: A-

The Special Teams had a very solid night. Stephen Gostkowski was a perfect three for three on extra points and four for four on field goal attempts. No issues were detected on the holds for his kicks with new punter Jake Bailey which had been an issue during the preseason. Bailey had one booming punt, one short one and one so-so punt. 

Gunner Olszewski had two punt returns, one for 20 yards and the other for 15 and looks very solid in the return game. The coverage units were solid

Coaches: A

The Patriots coaching staff totally dominated the matchup with Mike Tomlin and his staff. Josh McDaniels had a tremendous game plan, going at times with “20 personnel” [2 RBs, 0 TEs, 3WRs] to make up for the loss of Gronkowski. He constantly kept the Steelers guessing and defensively the plan was to take away Smith-Schuster and make the Steelers beat them with other options. It worked to a tee.

Bill Belichick had the team excellently prepared and it was clear, the preparation on the Patriots side paid big dividends. We’re on to Miami.

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.

Win Over Steelers Proves Antonio Brown Needs the Patriots More than They Need Him

Ian Logue
at 10:15 am ET

One thing Antonio Brown hopefully realized Sunday night is that there’s a stark difference between where he’s been and how Tom Brady and Bill Belichick do things in Foxboro.

Even more importantly, he needs to stay humble and do what he’s told because Sunday night’s beating of his former team should be a clear reminder that the team he’s joining is already pretty solid without him.

The former Steelers receiver created plenty of noise over the past month thanks to his antics in Oakland, which played a large role in orchestrating his way to being released and creating this opportunity. That’s been the topic of discussion for much of the weekend and Sunday night’s beatdown of the Steelers further poked the hornets nest full of the critics outside New England who are frustrated that they’ve added the superstar receiver.

But things will be different here in New England for Brown, who has normally been a player with enough leverage to call the shots since he’s generally been arguably one of the few best players in his team’s respective locker rooms. Here in New England, he’s instead surrounded by guys who collectively are all terrific players, making him just a piece of another potential championship-caliber Patriots team. The mantra here has always been “next man up” and one thing we’ve learned over the years is even when some of the most talented players have fallen, this team continues on and for the most part, doesn’t miss a beat.

As a result, what Brown needs to realize is that he’s fortunate to be here and that he needs the Patriots far more than they need him.

Sunday night should have proven that. With a chance to make a statement on opening night and potentially come into Foxboro and take control of the AFC, Mike Tomlin and the Steelers were shell-shocked against a Patriots team that completely shut Pittsburgh down and probably left a few players in the Steelers’ locker room wishing they could join Brown here in New England.

It was embarrassing, including one of the most notable moments of the night where, trailing 20-3 to begin the third quarter, Tomlin saw Pittsburgh’s offense come up with a 45-yard play that put them in New England territory. From there, they managed to fight their way down to the Patriots one-yard line and appeared to potentially be on the verge of getting back into the game. But instead of trying to instill some confidence in his club, Tomlin cowered and opted to settle for a meaningless field goal.

The Patriots responded with Tom Brady dropping a bomb on Pittsburgh just four plays later, hitting Phillip Dorsett for a 58-yard touchdown which seemingly blew up whatever was left of the Steelers’ confidence and also shattered whatever reasoning Tomlin may have had for that call.

Reasons like that are why Brown is probably glad he’s finally on the right side of things. But Sunday night should also be a reminder that the machine in Foxboro is already running quite well. Brady finished this one completing 24-of-36 for 341-yards and 3 touchdowns, even without the prolific receiver.

For Brown, his one job will be to potentially make it run a little more efficiently since even despite the 33-3 margin, there were clearly some plays that Brady would likely love to have back that could have made this one even more lopsided.

Needless to say hopefully Brown knows he’s lucky to be here, not the other way around. If he can stick to that realization and play football the way he’s capable of in this offense, 2019 should be a productive year for him.

If he puts in the work and does what he’s told, he’ll fit in just fine and there won’t be an issue. If not, Sunday night should be a reminder that unlike Pittsburgh and Oakland, Brown is now on a train that is running strong and certainly won’t have any issue kicking him off and leaving him behind if he acts up.

Let’s hope, for his sake, that won’t be an issue and he’ll make the most of this opportunity.

Patriots-Steelers Wk 1 Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
September 5, 2019 at 9:10 am ET

The Patriots begin their 2019 regular season with a very familiar foe as they take on the Pittsburgh Steelers at Gillette Stadium for the first Sunday Night Football broadcast of the year. Prior to kickoff, the team will unfurl their sixth Super Bowl banner as only the Patriots and Steelers have won as many Lombardi Trophies during the SB era.

This week’s game will be broadcast by NBC 10 in Boston. Al Michaels will handle the play-by-play with Cris Collinsworth doing the color commentary while 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 (11-5) are coming off last year’s Super Bowl win over the Rams after beating the Chargers at home in the divisional round and the Chiefs on the road in a dramatic overtime win.

The Steelers (9-6-1) had another late 4th quarter comeback and pulled off a dramatic 39-38 win over the Baltima disappointing 2018 where they missed the playoffs and finished second in the division to the Ravens.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2019 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 33rd time where the teams are tied 16-16 overall. Pittsburgh owns a 15-12 advantage in the regular season while the Patriots own a 4-1 advantage in the postseason. However, during the Bill Belichick era the Patriots are 11-4 against the Steelers and have won the last five meetings in Gillette Stadium. 

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 New England

The Patriots running game should be a key strength of the team moving forward in 2019, as they were fifth in the NFL in rushing a year ago. Sony Michel looked strong in his only preseason cameo and is backed up by James White, Rex Burkhead, Brandon Bolden, fullback James Develin and rookie Damien Harris. They have depth and versatility here to be very effective. 

The offensive line took a big hit when center David Andrews was placed on IR with a blood clot in his lung. Ted Karras takes over and he’ll be a focal point in both the run game and in pass protection. Isaiah Wynn, last year’s top draft pick takes over at left tackle and will be playing in his first NFL game

The Steelers were stout against the run in 2018 finishing 6th best. It starts up front with Stephon Tuitt, Cameron Heyward, and Javon Hargrave who stop things at the point of attack which allows the linebackers to clean up and make plays. 

Look for a lot of two-back sets as the Patriots will try to move the defense around and hit them with runs between the tackles. Michel, Burkhead, and Harris should see plenty of play here. Develin will play a key role as he may line up as a TE or H-back in some of the different formations. 

Patriots WRs vs Steelers Secondary – Razor’s Edge Pittsburgh

The Patriots passing game on paper looks daunting for opponents to stop. Josh Gordon and Demaryius Thomas have traditionally given the Steelers trouble in the past. But those two and Julian Edelman had virtually no training camp reps and very little preseason action. Their timing with Tom Brady, may not be as crisp as they want on Sunday night. Phillip Dorsett was the only WR to get a lot of time working with Brady this summer. He may see a lot of snaps here.

James White, Burkhead, and Harris may see plenty of reps in the passing game as well. This was an area that the Patriots tried to attack during the December game last year. But the Steelers defended it well holding White, Burkhead, and Develin to 10 catches for 61 yards. They are better suited now to counter those moves with rookie Devin Bush and Mark Barron who they signed from the Rams.

The Steelers led the league with 52 sacks a year ago. They are more than capable of bringing pressure right up the middle which doesn’t allow Brady to step up and slide in the pocket. This will be a key area to watch. With Joe Haden and Steven Nelson at the corner, the Pittsburgh defense can play more man coverage than the Tampa 2 zones which Brady has traditionally eviscerated, especially in Foxboro. 

Next up the Pittsburgh offense:

Steelers RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England

The Steelers replaced Le’Veon Bell with James Conner a year ago and haven’t looked back. Conner rushed for 973 yards and a dozen touchdowns in essentially 12 games and gives the offense a nice weapon running and receiving. He’s back by Jaylen Samuels who roasted the Patriots for 142 yards on the ground last December. The Pittsburgh offensive line is outstanding and always presents a tough challenge. 

The Patriots look much better prepared to stop the run this year. Danny Shelton had a very good summer. He, Lawrence Guy, and Adam Butler are the anchors inside. This allows the inside linebackers Elandon Roberts and thumper Ja’Whaun Bentley to clean up and make plays at or behind the line of scrimmage. 

The Steelers were badly skewed in the run/pass ratio a year ago, running the ball on just 33.4 percent of the time while passing 66.6 percent. So, stopping the run early will be a priority and then forcing them into a more predictable pattern. 

Steelers WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Pittsburgh

Ben Roethlisberger lost one of the more talented wide receivers in the league in Antonio Brown and although he may not admit it, he is probably happier for it. Brown has immense talent, he’s also an immense pain in the ass. His on-field production will be missed but the Steelers have a knack at developing quality WRs.

JuJu Smith-Schuster is the team’s go-to guy, he had 1426 yards a year ago. He’s backed by Donte Moncrief, who is now their #2, James Washington, Ryan Switzer, TE Vance McDonald as well as Samuels and Conner out of the backfield. And they drafted Diontae Johnson in this spring’s draft. 

The Patriots have plenty of cornerbacks in Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones, and rookie Joejuan Williams. It will be interesting to see who they match up with Smith-Schuster [Gilmore seems to be favorite], but we’ve seen in the past where they’ll put their 2nd corner on the top WR with safety help and then try to take away the #2 with their best coverage man. 

The Patriots pass rush, which was outstanding this summer is key here. They can’t allow Roethlisberger to extend plays and hit secondary targets down the field. But that offensive line won’t be an easy nut to crack.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The kickers for both teams Stephen Gostkowski for New England and Chris Boswell for the Steelers had their issues a year ago. Gostkowski had some misses in the preseason which may have been an issue with going to a new holder, rookie punter Jake Bailey.

But Gostkowski is very solid and at home gives the Patriots the edge in the kicking game. It is going to be intriguing to watch Bailey in his first NFL action. He has a tremendous leg and can flip field position which is the reason he was brought here.

The return game will feature Ryan Switzer for the Steelers while it isn’t clear if Julian Edelman or rookie Gunner Olszewski will handle punt returns for the Patriots. The UDFA looked good enough to carve out a role for himself this summer. 

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

Another year, another Patriots-Steelers classic. Both teams want to start the season well, something even more important to Pittsburgh as they’ve traditionally been slow starters under Mike Tomlin. The Patriots too have started slowly in September. 

The first games of the season are always the hardest to get a feel for as no one really knows how all the pieces are going to fit together once the rubber hits the road. 

Keys to the game from a Patriots perspective:

Run the Ball Effectively, Especially Early: The Patriots are going to lean on the ground game and with the passing attack trying to find their feet, it is especially true early this season. The offense has to get into third and manageable situations in this game. Pittsburgh’s defense has a lot of speed and can get after the QB. Third and long situations play right into their ability to get after it. 

Therefore, Michel and Burkhead will be key players to watch in this one. If they can keep the chains moving and the defense on the field, it will slow the pass rush and possibly wear them down in the second half where conditioning may play a part. No one has played an entire game during the preseason. Then the passing game may start having more success with Brady having more time to throw. Pre-snap penalties? Last year in Pittsburgh, they had far too many…can’t have it.

Third Down Defense is Key This Week: The Patriots are going to try to take away Smith-Schuster and force Ben Roethlisberger to look elsewhere. Last year they did a pretty fair job of it, holding him to four catches for 40 yards. But with Moncrief, Washington [who had a solid game a year ago], Switzer et.al. they have a lot of weapons to bear. 

Two players to watch in this one are Vance McDonald and Samuels. It would easy to see both of them becoming very valuable third-down targets this year with Brown gone. And consequently, it will be important for the Patriots to play solidly on third down and get off the field. 

Jamie Collins is a key player to watch this week. The Patriots brought him back this spring and he’s got the ability to be a huge chess piece that they can move around and influence the play.  

Finish Drives: Against the Steelers last year, the Patriots had plenty of opportunities to put points on the board and failed to do so. After a horribly blown coverage which resulted in a way too easy and early Chris Hogan touchdown, they managed three points the rest of the way. 

Finishing drives is always important but especially against this team, as you don’t want to be playing from behind with their pass rush. Brady and Josh McDaniels will have to use the big men Gordon and Thomas [if he plays], down in the red zone to take some of the routes that Gronk ran in the past. 

___________

This one won’t be as high scoring as some people think, both teams may not be executing at the level that they will later on down the road. The Steelers may have an adjustment of their own for a bit with no Brown on the field. It should be another excellent football game between two of the best teams in the past decade. The Patriots are dropping banner #6 and hold serve at home. Patriots 24-21

“Knocking on Seven’s Door” begins Sunday night

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 and breakdown game analysis

Patriots 2019 Opponents, First Impressions of the Steelers

Steve Balestrieri
September 3, 2019 at 7:30 am ET

The NFL regular season is back. The 2019 NFL season is finally here. This is the first meaningful game for New England since the Patriots – Rams Super Bowl. Every year we begin the week with a quick overview of the Patriots opponent and this year will be no different. 

The Patriots 2019 season begins with a very familiar foe coming to Foxboro. Although the Pittsburgh Steelers reside in the AFC North, it seems like a date with Pittsburgh is slated for every year, to where the two teams are now almost in the realm of divisional opponents. With both teams being annual front-runners to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, this one will begin with the Patriots unfurling their sixth Super Bowl banner, and the only other team to have six? The Steelers.

Last year, the Steelers rode a tremendous defensive effort and the running of Jaylen Samuels, who roasted New England’s defense for 142 yards on 19 carries to down the Patriots 17-10. That was the last game that the Patriots lost, winning their final two regular-season games against Buffalo and the Jets and then winning all three playoff contests to nail down Super Bowl LIII. 

The two teams have met 32 times and the overall series is tied 16-16. The Steelers have the edge 15-12 in the regular season while the Patriots own a 4-1 advantage in the postseason. However, the vast majority of games [22] have been played in Pittsburgh. This will be just the 11th time the two teams have met in Foxboro. Since taking over the Patriots Bill Belichick is 11-4 against the Steelers while Mike Tomlin is 3-7 against the Patriots. 

So, here are our first impressions of the Steelers of 2019:

JuJu Smith-Schuster is the Unquestioned “Go-To Guy” in the Steelers Offense:

Antonio Brown is now a Raider and LaVeon Bell is a member of the Jets. While many were predicting the demise of the Steelers’ offense with those two gone, it may end up being addition by subtraction. This summer, the Steelers training camp was all about football and none of the drama that surrounded them in recent years.  

Smith-Schuster capped off a fantastic season in 2018 with 111 catches for 1426 yards and seven touchdowns. He has developed a fantastic rapport with Ben Roethlisberger and is now clearly the top receiver on the team. He received gushing praise from Bill Belichick before the game last season that was entirely warranted. 

He and Roethlisberger can work the short or deep game depending on how the defense is lining up and he’s primed to be even better in 2019. If there is any slight concern for this season, it is without Brown on the field, Smith-Schuster should now be facing the top corners for each team. While it may make his job a little bit harder, it makes the matchups that much more intriguing. 

Lining up mainly against rookie J.C. Jackson last year, the Patriots did a good job of holding him in check [4 catches for 40 yards on 10 targets], this year, it will be intriguing to see who the Patriots matchup with Smith-Schuster. Stephon Gilmore would be the obvious choice but with James Washington, Donte Moncrief, slot receiver Ryan Switzer, and Diontae Johnson, Pittsburgh has a tremendous amount of speed outside. 

Look for More Balance This Year in Pittsburgh’s Offense:

With Bell now far in the rear-view mirror, the running game is now the sole responsibility of James Conner. Conner had a very solid 2018, appearing in 13 games with 12 starts and carried the ball 271 times for 973 yards [4.5 yard average per run] with 12 touchdowns. He was also targeted 71 times in the passing game and caught 55 for 497 yards and another touchdown. He missed the Patriots game but the Steelers, as we mentioned above gashed the run defense with Samuels.

The Steelers had the worst run/pass ratio in the league last year, throwing the ball on 66.6 percent of the plays and running just 33.4 percent of the offense plays. One of the things they look to do this season is to mix things up and run the ball a bit more to keep opposing defenses off balance. And Conner, entering his third season is primed to make that happen with little loss of offensive production. If anything, it should improve their offensive efficiency.

Conner while not a burner, has shown to be explosive, averaging a 20-yard run in every 24 carries and very reliable in the red zone. While Bell held out for a big dollar contract with the Jets, it was still less than what the Steelers had offered him. But in his last four years with the Steelers, Bell had 19 touchdowns. Conner had 12 last year alone. 

Devin Bush and Mark Barron Are Transforming the Middle of the Defense:

The middle of the field has been the kryptonite for the Steelers defense since Ryan Shazier was injured. But the Steelers addressed this area of their defense this spring. They picked up Mark Barron in free agency from the Rams, the 29-year old hybrid linebacker/safety is undersized but very athletic and can cover in sub-packages The Steelers gave him a two-year contract worth $12 million dollars. Then they moved up in the draft and selected Devin Bush, the linebacker from Michigan with the 10th pick in this year’s NFL Draft. 

Bush has impressed the man the Steelers were looking to replace in Shazier, who was severely injured in 2017. “You’ve seen the way he plays. He had 10 tackles in the first half (against the Buccaneers). Sometimes it’s hard for people to get 10 tackles in two games,” Shazier said.

“I think he’s going to make a lot of splash for us. He’s going to be a big-time player for us. I don’t want to put too many expectations on him but I know one of his goals is to win defensive MVP, and I want to do whatever I can to help him out. I think he’s not gonna be that far away from it. I think he’s gonna have a great year.”

They also added FA Steven Nelson from the Chiefs who should be an upgrade from Coty Sensabaugh and Artie Burns.

Having these playmakers on defense should help the one area that the defense really struggled with…turnovers. For a team that led the league in sacks, the secondary had only eight interceptions. Usually, those two things go hand in hand. But in 2018, they didn’t. By adding those two in the middle of the defense, look for Pittsburgh to force more picks this year.

Vance McDonald and Samuels Should Evolve Into Big 3rd Down Targets in 2019

With the loss of solid tight end Jesse James in free agency this year, [we were calling for the Patriots to show interest there], the Steelers aren’t deep at TE, but in Vance McDonald, the Steelers have a very good option to attack the middle of the field and get more looks in the offense now that Antonio Brown is in Oakland. 

McDonald had 50 catches last year, good for 610 yards and four touchdowns. He’s backed by blocking tight end Xavier Grimble and rookie Zach Gentry who the team picked up in the 5th round of the 2019 NFL Draft with the 141st overall pick. 

McDonald and Jaylen Samuels should see a big uptick in third-down snaps this year with plenty of opportunities to increase their productivity this season. I’d look for both to get lots of looks from Roethlisberger, starting on Sunday night. 

Tuzar Skipper is the Steelers Feel Good Story of the Summer:

This summer Patriots fans got behind the efforts of UDFA Gunner Olszewski, a defensive back from tiny Div.II Bemidji State who they turned into a WR/KR. Pittsburgh fans were treated to a similar story. Tuzar Skipper was a UDFA from Toledo who went for a tryout with the Kansas City Chiefs but was turned away. The Steelers invited him to tryout at their rookie minicamp and signed him to their 90-man offseason roster. 

He came into training camp at the very bottom of the depth chart but consistently impressed the coaches every day with solid play, which should also sound familiar. In his first preseason game, he registered a sack of the QB against the Buccaneers. Against the Chiefs, he added another. He finished the preseason with 5 sacks, the most in the league. 

Skipper leapfrogged several players and has earned a spot on the 53-man roster. And like Olszewski with the Patriots, he’s quickly become a fan favorite of the Steelers faithful. 

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 myself 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.

New England Patriots News 12-24, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
December 24, 2017 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 12-24, & AFC East Notes.

RIP to Dick Enberg, one of the best announcers we’ve had the pleasure of listening to. He had a style all of his own and was universally lauded as one of the great guys in the game. We miss his signature “Oh My!” during the games.

The Patriots and Bills are playing in a playoff game today. The Pats need this game to keep their hold on the #1 seed for the AFC. The Bills are trying to hold off Baltimore et al that are chasing them for the 6th and final playoff spot. A Buffalo win could … conceivably set up a third meeting of these two teams down the road in a few weeks.

However, one thing to keep in mind today is that Buffalo has only defeated Brady once in Foxboro. That was in the season finale of 2014. The Patriots rested most of their starters and Brady, whose primary target that day was Brian Tyms, played only the first half of the game.

Brady, Belichick, and Guerrero Aren’t (IMHO) The Big Story It is Being Portrayed:
We got a few messages this week and asking why we haven’t had more about the ongoing saga which we feel is way overblown on the Alex Guerrero story. Look, I don’t blame the bigger site Pats beat writers, they have editors and they’re being told to ask the questions, and that’s what they get paid for. But to us… there isn’t enough information to accurately come up with enough of a narrative to publish anything that isn’t all conjecture. And for me personally, it isn’t that big of a story. But it won’t go away so, here’s our two cents.

We do know that Tom Brady swears by Alex Guerrero and his training methods and says publicly that Guerrero is the reason that his career has stayed so productive at an age where he should be retired. Now Rob Gronkowski and several other players are going to Guerrero as well. No harm, no foul there.

Here’s the one issue. Guerrero’s methods differ from the Patriots training staff, there was a blurb last week where the team’s training staff told a player to do squats and while meeting with Guerrero he advised against it. The player refused to do them. Now, the training staff is hired by the team and there certainly has to be a bit of jealousy there. And… they are being evaluated for their own jobs on how they produce with the players. Something has to give. Belichick can’t allow Guerrero on the sidelines because it opens the door for other players to want “their guy” on the sidelines as well. For Belichick, there can be only one voice on the sideline, the team’s and so he nipped it in the bud.

Players aren’t forbidden to see Guerrero or seek his advice right next door at the TB12 Clinic in Patriots Place. But while they are in the building, they’ll take their direction, all of it from the team. End of story.

I wasn’t in the room on Friday but watched it live on the Pats’ website, while I wouldn’t characterize Brady’s reaction as testy, I bow to the guys who were. I took it as being a bit frustrated. Testy was the Deflategate BS.

My concern with this… not someone per se in the Boston media but we all know that other media markets (a few hours south of here) will try to take this in a different direction. And if the Patriots are successful in the next four weeks, seeing a story come out say January 21 around 9 p.m. that Guerrero’s secret with Brady and Gronkowski is centered around PEDs. It isn’t a stretch to foresee that happening.

That’s why T.J. Houshmandzadeh’s take on Colin Cowherd’s show was so important. Houshmandzadeh stated he went to Guerrero while a very young player in college when his trainers couldn’t figure out what his muscle problems were. He spent about four sessions with Guerrero and poof, issues gone. Cowherd right away asked if it was anything pill or medicine related and he said no. Guerrero’s method was strictly working directly on the muscles with stretching etc.

You can see the entire clip here:

But to finish this off, [it is already too long] all of these national pundits writing about how this “rift” between Belichick and Brady could affect him in the games or already has? Please. This is the same guy who has the stones of iron and brought his team back from 25 in the Super Bowl and he’s going to wilt because Alex isn’t there to prop him up? Really? Are we really going to use that as the “hot take” of the week?

Tom Brady Gets Kurt Warner’s Son’s Vote for the G.O.A.T.:
Tom Brady got some love for being the Greatest QB of all time from some different households this week including one from a Hall of Fame quarterback.

Kurt Warner told a funny story this week of walking in on his son doing a homework project and had a story of Brady up on his computer.

Warner asked, “You doing a story on Brady? His son replied, “No, I’m doing one on the Greatest QB of All-Time.” Warner got some great responses on social media when he posted these Tweets up about the humorous episode.

Pittsburgh Sideline Wilts During Review:
One of the more intriguing parts of the aftermath of the win over the Steelers was watching the Pittsburgh sideline during the Jesse James TD/Drop Review. There was obviously a difference of opinions on how they should proceed but they didn’t take the time that was afforded during the review to come up with a probable course of action if the play was reversed. Instead it looked like a Chinese Fire Drill. That isn’t an indictment of the players, but the coaching staff. Mike Tomlin and Todd Haley looked lost out there when they had plenty of time to call two plays in case the play was reversed, which it was. Tomlin, who was calling for this matchup for nine months looked out in left field.

Ben Roethlisberger compounded things by promptly throwing his coaches under the bus. If the play wasn’t there [it wasn’t there were four Patriots defenders in the area], throw the ball away, kick the field goal and go to overtime. For a guy who’ll reside in Canton one day, it’s a bad look to not take responsibility for his own actions.

Those situational football scenarios are why the Patriots always seem to win these type of games and their opponents do not. We always here about the “luck” of New England. That luck is forged on the practice fields by constant drilling starting back in July. It is unfathomable to think Josh McDaniels and Brady wouldn’t have a plan in place given that much time.

And on the subject of the other “The NFL Favors NE Nonsense”, watch Week 1 against KC. Gronk hauls in a pass in the end zone against the Chiefs that would make the score 14-0. It is overturned on the same going to the ground rule. Gillislee is stuffed on 4th and 1. You think that game might have turned out differently? Where was the “catch rule needs to be changed”  then? Reminiscent of the Tuck Rule, the Patriots were hurt by it before they benefited from it.

Tomlin, said after the game the league, “needs to look at the rule” after the season. They did in 2015, he should know. He was on the Rules Committee and voted in favor of keeping the current one in place. File it under Sour Grapes.

James Develin Takes An Unlikely Path to the Pro Bowl:
Kudos to Patriots fullback James Develin who was named to his first Pro Bowl as the lone fullback named to the AFC roster this season. It is a great story in that Develin took a roundabout path to be acknowledged around the league but he’s had great respect of his coaches and teammates as he makes the running game go with his tremendous blocking skills in the Patriots “21 Personnel” package.

Develin played defensive line in college at Brown and went undrafted. He switched to fullback and played in the Arena Football League before landing on the Bengals practice squad in 2010. The Patriots picked him up in 2012 and Develin has never looked back.

He was really missed in the running game when he broke his leg in preseason in 2015 and was lost for the season. Now, he’s being acknowledged around the league but told the media, he’d just as soon skip the Pro Bowl if New England is gainfully employed during the SB this year.

Kenny Britt Likens the Patriots to Rutgers:
It is still very early in Kenny Britt’s tenure with the Patriots, but so far, he’s all smiles and seems to be truly happy to be in New England. What a difference a week makes, he was cut loose from the winless Cleveland Browns and now he’s a member of the AFC’s #1 seed entering Week 16.

It wasn’t lost on Britt who has almost ended up in New England before but said financial decisions kept him away. Now he’s here for a football decision and couldn’t be happier. “I always had my sights on here and playing with the greatest quarterback to ever play the game. And a head coach we have, and how they run the organization.”

Britt had some off-field issues early in his career but he chalks that up to youth and inexperience. Now he’s focusing on learning the playbook as quickly as he can and become a member of Tom Brady’s “Circle of Trust” in the passing game. With his size, 6’3, 225-pounds, he could become a big red zone target with Rob Gronkowski.

Matthew Slater a HOF Bid? It Could Happen:
Among the other Patriots selected to the Pro Bowl this week was Special Teams standout Matthew Slater, who made a very nice play in Pittsburgh downing the ball inside the five-yard line on a Ryan Allen punt.

Former Patriots ST standout Matt Chatham made the point and case for Slater to be considered for Canton and the NFL Hall of Fame this week and it deserves to be mentioned. While he probably won’t be a first-ballot guy, and we know special teams guys just don’t get the love that they should by the voters in Canton, Slater has really stood out among his peers both on and off the field. So, how do we feel about Matthew Slater going to the NFL Hall of Fame?

<blockquote class=”twitter-video” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>&quot;How do we feel about being 10-2?&quot;<br><br>A look inside the <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/Patriots?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#Patriots</a> locker room after Sunday&#39;s victory in Buffalo: <a href=”https://t.co/t6moHl2zub”>pic.twitter.com/t6moHl2zub</a></p>&mdash; New England Patriots (@Patriots) <a href=”https://twitter.com/Patriots/status/938153024089817088?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>December 5, 2017</a></blockquote>

<script async src=”https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>

Who Do You Like This Week NFL Week 14:
Last week 14-2 mark. Season Total: 157-77.

This week’s Saturday games I went with Baltimore over Indy. And the Vikings over Green Bay.  Now for the rest of the slate:
Rams at Titans – Los Angeles
Bills at Patriots – New England
Browns at Bears – Cleveland (gotta win one)
Falcons at Saints – New Orleans
Lions at Bengals – Detroit
Buccaneers at Panthers – Carolina
Dolphins at Chiefs – KC
Broncos at Redskins – Washington
Chargers at Jets – Los Angeles
Jaguars at 49ers – Jacksonville
Seahawks at Cowboys – Dallas
Giants at Cardinals – Arizona
Christmas Day Steelers at Texans – Pittsburgh
MNF Raiders at Eagles – Philadelphia

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Incognito Goes Against the Grain with the Bills “Retribution at Gronk” Talk:
The Buffalo Bills Richie Incognito is no stranger to talk about dirty play. He’s been known and voted on, by his peers as one of the dirtiest players in the NFL. So when he talks about players getting even on Rob Gronkowski after his cheap shot in the last Bills – Patriots game, people will listen.

“Gronkowski took his shot,” Incognito said. “Now it’s our defense’s chance to take their shots on him.

“When you do dumb stuff like he did, you open the door. The referees are a little more lenient because they know you got it coming. You’ve just got to be prepared to take it.”

However, Incognito was quick to point out, he likes Gronkowski and doesn’t believe him to be a dirty player.

“Gronk’s a good kid. I know Rob. I’ve hung with him. I’ve partied with him,” Incognito said. “He doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. He’s not mean-spirited.

“You can’t judge a man by that one action. You’ve got to look at Rob over his whole career. This is out of character for him.” So we’ll see how this plays out. Gronkowski on Friday said that he expects to prepare for a hard-nosed football game and downplayed any talk of revenge.
Cutler Returns to Form in Ugly Dolphins Loss in Buffalo:
The Miami Dolphins made a $10-million dollar investment in Jay Cutler this summer after Ryan Tannehill went down and … they’ve gotten exactly what they bargained for. Cutler has always had the reputation, a well-deserved one that he’s great one week and awful the next. Despite an incredible arm that can make any of the throws, he’s always been a guy with sloppy footwork and makes bad decisions. His career numbers play that out and why no one was beating down his door to sign him this summer.

Last week was a prime example. On Monday Night Football he torched the Patriots for three TDs and no interceptions as the Dolphins won 27-20 and South Beach fans and players were celebrating like it was 1972 again.

But the awful Jay Cutler quickly reappeared on the scene in Buffalo on Sunday as he had a brutal game throwing three interceptions and fumbling the ball four times as Miami’s hopes for a playoff spot took a left-hook to the jaw. What a difference six days makes. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. That’s Jay Cutler. Today in KC, I’m expecting the Buffalo version of Cutler to play with a vengeance. Caveat Emptor (let the buyer beware) Miami.  

How Will the Jets, Spend More Than $90 Million In Cap Space? Start with a QB:
The New York Jets will enter the offseason with about $81 million dollars in cap space. They are sure to cut loose DL Muhammad Wilkerson which will add about $11 million more to the Jets coffers. So how should they spend their money?

Start at QB, a couple of guys are going to be available this spring and rather than take a chance on an untested rookie, the Jets could entice a guy like Kurt Cousins or possibly an Alex Smith to New York. They could sweeten the pie by enticing a high priced free agent WR to boot.

The Jets also have needs along the offensive line and secondary at corner but may opt to build those from the draft. But they’ll have plenty of cash to be players in the free agency market. But until they find an answer at quarterback, they aren’t going anywhere. A big free-agent signing at QB would certainly set tongues wagging around the fan base and the AFC East.

Merry Christmas!

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 myself 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.

Steelers Tomlin Fired Up For Patriots Showdown

Ian Logue
December 13, 2017 at 5:00 am ET

It’s only Wednesday and Mike Tomlin sounds like a kid who can’t wait for Christmas as the Steelers await their long anticipated showdown with the Patriots this weekend.

He likely enjoyed himself Monday night as his hated rivals from New England fell apart on national television in a loss that put the Steelers atop the AFC for this week with the best record in the Conference.  That now puts the Patriots in a must-win situation this week, as a victory will tie them with Pittsburgh record-wise at 11-3, but give them the advantage with a head-to-head victory for the tie-breaker for the top seed with two games to play.

Fortunately, unlike back in January when the Patriots ended the Steelers’ run in the AFC Championship Game, Pittsburgh will get to play this one on their home turf.  This one still has plenty riding on it, and Tomlin is certainly fired up for it.

“It’s good to be in the kitchen.  The kitchen’s in Pittsburgh, PA, this week in the National Football League, and at Heinz Field,” Tomlin said via ESPN. “That’s where you want to be in the middle of December. We don’t take it for granted.”

Had New England beaten Miami, it would have likely put even more hype into one of the biggest match-ups of the season.  Up until Monday night, the Patriots and Steelers were the two teams in the AFC who were both playing well and seemed to be the most likely to end up in Minnesota this February.  Now, it’s Pittsburgh who has been the team that despite struggling against lesser opponents, they’ve still found a way to win.  New England, meanwhile, saw Rob Gronkowski get suspended against the Bills last weekend, leaving the Patriots vulnerable against a Dolphins team who smelled blood and took advantage.

Oddly enough, even as bad as everything went, the Patriots were still very much in the game but just couldn’t quite make enough plays to pull off the victory.  To Le’Veon Bell, that’s one of the things he feels should now separate the Steelers and give them the advantage as the Super Bowl favorites.

“I’m obviously going to say yeah, we should be the Super Bowl favorite and we have the talent to back it up,” said Bell via Yahoo! Sports.  “I think we haven’t been necessarily playing our best football, but we’ve been getting the job done for the last eight weeks or so that we’ve won. It may not be pretty, we may not win by 25, 30 points or play a style everybody likes, but we find a way to get the job done.”

“I think us beating Baltimore [in Week 14] 39-38 really showed a lot because that’s a divisional rivalry, against a team that’s been playing really good football. Then you see a team like New England [during the same week] they played a division rival and they didn’t get the job done. Some people don’t like the way we win, but at the end of the day we are winning the games. So I’m confident and I think the rest of our team is too.”

As a result, New England’s misery has Pittsburgh riding high heading into Sunday’s game.  The Patriots have history on their side since Tom Brady holds the 7-2 regular season advantage, as well as a perfect 3-0 postseason record, but Pittsburgh has the momentum.  The good news for Patriots fans is the fact that while Monday night’s game might not have gone the way they hoped, the one thing it likely will do is make the focus a little sharper this week and raise the motivation even a little bit higher as the Patriots try and get back to playing good football.

Either way, this is a pivotal game for both teams, and Tomlin says they’re looking forward to being in the spotlight on National Television for a chance to knock off their nemesis this weekend.

“It’s good to be in big games. It’s better to be in big games than ones nobody’s watching,” he said. “We better be appreciative of this spot and not resistant in any way, but embrace it.”

“This is what we’ve been fighting for since March, to be in these types of games against these types of people. Why would you fight that? It’s an awesome thing.”

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.

Brady, Patriots Look Super, Thrash Steelers for AFC Title

Steve Balestrieri
January 23, 2017 at 9:00 am ET

The Patriots are going back to the mother ship. Yes, folks, that’s right the Pats are heading to Houston for Super Bowl LI after thrashing the Pittsburgh Steelers 36-17 on Sunday night in Foxboro. They did it by playing great defense in the red zone and in goal-line situations and by riding the arm once again of Tom Brady.

Brady did what he’s done so many times before to the Pittsburgh defense. He eviscerated them to the tune of 32-42 for 384 yards with 3 TDs and zero INTs for a passer rating of 127.5. Pinch us if we’ve seen this scene before. Against Mike Tomlin-coached Steelers teams, Brady has now thrown 22 TDs and 0 INTs.

Brady hit Chris Hogan and Julian Edelman on the perimeter all night long torching the Steelers secondary again and again. Combined, the two had 17 catches for 298 yards and three touchdowns. Pittsburgh had no answer.

With the win the Patriots will be playing in their ninth Super Bowl, most in NFL history. And Tom Brady and the Pats will be playing in their seventh Super Bowl in the past 16 seasons. That is a ridiculous number and when people talk about dynastic eras in the sport, keep in mind this was done in a salary cap era where the league wants to push its parity.

So, the Patriots will be facing off against the Atlanta Falcons, who like NE, won in a rout as Matt Ryan picked the Green Bay defense apart in 44-21 curb stomping. But there is and will be plenty of time to talk about that matchup. Tonight is about the AFC Championship Game and this team’s place in the franchise’s history.

Other observations from tonight include:

Chris Hogan WAS a pretty good signing: Back in the spring, we were singing the praises of Hogan and the decision of Bill Belichick to sign him away from Buffalo. But the news, like many of the Patriots free agent signings, was met with a lot of ho-hum type of reactions. After all, when Bills GM Doug Whaley listed the players that should compete for the open Bills #2 WR slot, he didn’t even include Hogan, who was a restricted free agent.

Well after a solid first season in Foxboro where he was the #2 WR in the NFL in terms of average yards per reception, Hogan made his presence felt. Against the Steelers, he set a Patriots postseason record with 180 yards on 9 catches and 2 TDs. He narrowly missed a third score when a Brady pass glanced off his hands in the end zone in the fourth quarter.

The Patriots used him in the slot a lot like they did with Rob Gronkowski against Pittsburgh and the results were remarkably similar. Although the two have vastly different skill sets, Hogan used his speed to find open spots in the zone and then blew past the defense for a long touchdown flea flicker from Brady.

How Will the Play of the Defense be Minimalized Now? The Patriots defense has transformed itself since the midway point of the season. And nothing they did in the second half of 2016 got any credit for the way they played individually and the scheme by Matt Patricia and Bill Belichick. All we heard was “they haven’t played a good QB”…ad nauseam.

This unit was the top defense in the NFL in terms of points allowed, giving up just 15.6 points per game, and 12.9 during the second half of the season. “Pittsburgh is the test with their big play WRs and Bell” was the rallying cry heard all week. Well, what’s going to be the excuse now?

The Patriots defense held Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers to just nine points until a garbage time TD with about 3 minutes left when they were playing soft upped their total to 17. It was also the least amount of points the Steelers scored during their nine-game winning streak. Remember when NE beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh 27-16? “But that was with Landry Jones!” the naysayers said. “Wait until they face Big Ben.”

The defense gave up just 17 points and held Pittsburgh to just 1 score in trips to the red zone (part of our keys) and 0-2 in goal line possessions. For a team that prides itself on their toughness and physicality, the Patriots punched them in the mouth and showed they were the more physical team tonight.

Belichick and Patricia Changed Things Up Perfectly: Early in the game, the Pats were playing man coverage with safety help over the top for Antonio Brown. After La’Veon Bell went down with a groin injury, they changed it to a zone scheme on the fly and without the bigger threat of Bell in the running game, the focus was to keep the play in front of them and make the Steelers earn their scores by slowly making their way down the field.

While Roethlisberger ended up with 314 yards, the Patriots kept them out of the end zone with some tough play in the red zone. Brown wasn’t a big factor catching seven catches for 77 yards and Bell had just 20 yards on six carries before exiting. De Angelo Williams, who had torched New England a year ago, had just 34 yards on 14 carries. Pittsburgh as a team ran for just 54 yards on 20 carries, a 2.7-yard average.

In our keys to the game, we wrote about the disparity between Roethlisberger’s passer rating at home and on the road. At home, it was a stellar 116.7 and on the road, it was just 78.4. The Patriots held him to just an 83.1 passer rating for the game. So yes they CAN stop an elite QB.

Drive of the Game: With the Patriots holding a 10-6 lead in the first half, the Steelers were in the position to stop New England and possibly take the lead. The Patriots went 82 yards in nine plays to increase their lead to 17-6 and never look back.

Some of the key plays to keep the drive alive were the 12-yard pass from Brady to Julian Edelman on 3rd and 10. Then facing a 3rd and 8 at the NE 44-yard line, Brady hit Chris Hogan for 22 yards, which set them up at the Pittsburgh 34-yard line.

That led to the scoring play a 34-yard flea flicker where Brady handed off to Dion Lewis who pitched it back to Brady and he found Hogan for a much-too-easy scoring pass where he blew by the defenders who were rushing up in run support.

The Patriots had answered the Steelers scoring drive with a big one of their own and any hope that the defense had of stopping New England went out the window.

Josh McDaniels Deserves a Lot of Credit for this One: After a sloppy and less than ideal Divisional game where the offense never really seemed to get into a rhythm, this game was supposed to be a much different test. The Steelers defense had been playing much better in the second half of the season and was supposed to give a much bigger test than the unit did earlier in the year.

While Houston moved its edge players inside to get to Tom Brady, Pittsburgh wasn’t going to do that. They are a “we do what we do” type of defense. Edge rushers James Harrison and Bud Dupree stayed on the edge and weren’t big factors in the pass rush.

McDaniels recognized where the weak spots in the zone coverage were and the Patriots exploited them. Brady and McDaniels saw tendencies and were on the same page where Brady audibled and took advantage of the matchups.

Hogan 9 catches for 180 yards and 2 TDs, and Julian Edelman 8 catches for 118 yards and a score were unstoppable all night long and the running backs, where we thought would be matchup problems for Pittsburgh never materialized.

We’re on to Houston…

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