Tag Archives: Mike Tomlin

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…

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.

Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots: Full Team Stats, Odds, More

John Morgan
January 21, 2017 at 5:00 pm ET

Sunday’s American Football Conference Championship Game pits the two teams that have ruled the AFC this millennium. Including next month’s game in Houston, either the Steelers or Patriots will have represented the AFC in the Super Bowl ten times since 2001.

In the 1994 season Bobby Ross and Stan Humphries ended the Buffalo Bills’ reign of four straight AFC championships, with their San Diego Chargers blown out by San Francisco in the 49ers’ last Super Bowl victory. Since then the Pats (7) and Steelers (4) have combined for eleven conference championships, laying waste to the NFL’s vision of parity and every team taking a turn as the best in the league.

The Patriots have had sixteen consecutive winning seasons; Pittsburgh has had only one losing season since 2000, back in 2003. New England has won ten or more games 15 times since 2001, including 14 straight times. The Steelers have eleven double-digit winning years in that time span, including the last three in a row. The Patriots have won four Super Bowls this century to Pittsburgh’s two. Any and every Steeler fan will quickly respond to that fact by pointing out that the Black and Gold still lead the Patriots by the count of six Vince Lombardi Trophies to four overall – even though in most cases they are not old enough to remember four of those victories.

 

The Basics: Who, What, When, Where and Why

Who: 13-5 Pittsburgh Steelers (#3 seed, AFC North champs) at 15-2 New England Patriots (#1 seed, AFC East champs)

What: 2016-17 American Football Conference Championship Game

When: Sunday January 22 at 6:40 pm ET on CBS

Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough MA

Why: Winner represents the AFC in Super Bowl 51 at Houston on February 5

 

Weather, Odds and More

Weather: Cloudy with 30% chance of light rain in the late afternoon. Chance of precipitation increases to 70% later in the evening. Winds from the northeast at about 15 mph. Game time temperature of about 33° F.

Keep in mind that this is New England, so the forecast could very well change between now and kickoff.

Coaches: Mike Tomlin is in his tenth year as head coach of the Steelers, having taken over for Bill Cowher in 2007. He has a 103-57 (.644) regular season record, finishing no worse than 8-8 in 2012 and 2013. Tomlin’s teams have made the playoffs seven out of ten times, compiling an 8-5 (.615) post-season record. Under Tomlin the Steelers lost in the wild card game three times and the division round once. Tomlin is 2-0 in the AFCCG and 1-1 in the Super Bowl.

Bill Belichick has compiled a 261-125 overall record in 22 seasons as an NFL head coach. In 17 years with the Patriots Belichick has amassed a 237-115 (.673) regular season record and 24-10 (.706) post season record. Under his guidance the Patriots have won four Super Bowls, six conference championships and fourteen division titles. This will be a post-merger record sixth consecutive time the Patriots have advanced to the AFCCG, and eleventh time they have done so under the Hoodie’s watch. The Pats are 5-5 in those games but only 1-3 in their last four conference championships.

Odds: This game opened up with the Patriots a six-point favorite, and that line has remained relatively steady thus far. Most outlets publish the over/under at 50½, with a handful of venues still listing the total at the original 51 points. New England has covered better than any other team in league this year, going 14-3 against the spread. The Pats 7-2 home ATS record is also the best in the NFL. After last week’s game at Kansas City Pittsburgh is 10-7 ATS, 6-3 on the road. Both clubs went over six times and under ten times in the 2016 season.

 

 

Head-to-Head Series Record: In franchise history the Patriots are 14-15 versus Pittsburgh, but the Pats have owned the Steelers in the Belichick-Brady era. The Patriots are 9-3 dating back to the AFC Championship Game at Heinz Field fifteen years ago. Brady is 9-2 versus Pittsburgh and 4-0 against the Steelers in games in Foxborough. The Patriots defeated Pittsburgh 41-27 on January 23 2005 en route to their third Super Bowl victory. That came three years after upsetting Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl plans, sandwiched between the Snow Bowl (aka Tuck Rule) game and knocking off the supposed Greatest Show On Turf.

 

There is also this full game for your viewing pleasure. The NFL is very proactive about keeping these gems out of the public’s hands, so be forewarned; I don’t think it will be available for very long.

 

These two clubs met twice prior to Belichick’s arrival in the post-season. On January 3, 1998 the Steelers nipped the Pats 7-6 in the division round; the only touchdown came in the first quarter on a 40-yard scramble by Kordell Stewart. One year earlier Curtis Martin rushed for three touchdowns and 166 yards, as the Patriots cruised to a foggy 28-3 victory. The next week The Pats defeated Jacksonville, more probable than not bringing Mark Brunell to tears. Unfortunately Bill Parcells was too busy making contract plans with Leon Hess to notice that kicking to Desmond Howard was a bad idea.

 

Team Stats and Rankings

Here is a look at how the two teams compare statistically; the numbers reflect an average per game (or per play), rather than aggregate totals. Per-game and per-play stats are used rather than gross totals because that makes the rankings more meaningful, and because they provide a better context in regards to what to expect in any given game.

Numbers in green indicate a top-ten ranking while underlined green is top-five; red indicates a bottom-ten ranking and underlined red is bottom-five. Please note that the information below includes post-season games, so it will likely differ from official stats found elsewhere which are only for the regular season.

Pittsburgh is a well balanced team with legitimate championship aspirations. On offense the Steelers have explosive quick-strike weapons as well as the capability of methodically controlling the ball to drive the length of the field.

 

New England Patriot Offense versus Pittsburgh Steeler Defense

Scoring per Game: Patriots 27.9 (4th); Steelers 19.7 (8th)

Points per Play: Patriots .423 (4th); Steelers .320 (9th)

Touchdowns per Game: Patriots 3.2 (4th); Steelers 2.2 (8th)

Red Zone Touchdowns per Game: Patriots 2.4 (4th); Steelers (12th)

Red Zone Touchdown Percentage: Patriots 64.1 (8th); Steelers 47.5 (5th)

Yardage per Game: Patriots 386 (4th); Steelers 334 (9th)

First Downs per Game: Patriots 21.8 (7th); Steelers 19.3 (10th)

Yards per Play: Patriots 5.8 (7th); Steelers 5.4 (13th)

Yards per Drive: Patriots 6.66 (1st); Steelers 32.2 (15th)

Points per Drive: Patriots 2.53 (5th); Steelers 1.87 (11th)

Drive Success Rate: Patriots .742 (5th); Steelers .694 (13th)

Third Down Conversions per Game: Patriots 6.4 (2nd); Steelers 5.3 (24th)

Third Down Conversion Percentage: Patriots 45.2 (4th); Steelers 40.5 (23rd)

Punts per Score: Patriots 0.9 (10th); Steelers 1.1 (12th)

Plays per Game: Patriots 66.1 (7th); Steelers 61.6 (4th)

– – – – – Rushing and Passing Game – – – – –

Rushing Yards: Patriots 116 (9th); Steelers 95 (9th)

Yards per Carry: Patriots 3.9 (25th); Steelers 4.2 (18th)

Passing Yards: Patriots 270 (4th); Steelers 239 (11th)

Yards per Pass Attempt: Patriots 7.8 (3rd); Steelers 6.5 (11th)

Completion Percentage: Patriots 65.7 (8th); Steelers 65.2 (28th)

Passer Rating: Patriots 106.8 (2nd); Steelers 87.1 (14th)

TD Passes-Interception Differential: Patriots +30, 34-4 (3rd); Steelers -7, 22-15 (8th)

Complete Passes per Game: Patriots 22.7 (16th); Steelers 23.9 (26th)

Incomplete Passes per Game: Patriots 11.9 (7th); Steelers 12.8 (20th)

Quarterback Sacks per Game: Patriots 1.5 (5th); Steelers 2.4 (7th)

Sack Yardage Lost per Game: Patriots 9.3 (2nd); Steelers 16.2 (7th)

 

Pittsburgh Steeler Offense versus New England Patriot Defense

Scoring per Game: Steelers 24.8 (11th); Patriots 15.6 (1st)

Points per Play: Steelers .390 (10th); Patriots .250 (1st)

Touchdowns per Game: Steelers 2.8 (12th); Patriots 1.6 (1st)

Red Zone Touchdowns per Game: Steelers 1.7 (17th); Patriots 1.4 (2nd)

Red Zone TD Percentage per Game: Steelers 55.4 (14th); Patriots 51.1 (8th)

Yardage per Game: Steelers 373 (7th); Patriots 325 (8th)

First Downs per Game: Steelers 20.8 (12th); Patriots 18.1 (2nd)

Yards per Play: Steelers 5.9 (6th); Patriots 5.2 (9th)

Yards per Drive: Steelers 33.8 (10th); Patriots 28.8 (8th)

Points per Drive: Steelers 2.26 (8th); Patriots 1.42 (1st)

Drive Success Rate: Steelers .724 (9th); Patriots .662 (5th)

Third Down Conversions per Game: Steelers 5.2 (13th); Patriots 4.6 (2nd)

Third Down Conversion Percentage: Steelers 41.6 (11th); Patriots 35.6 (4th)

Punts per Score: Steelers 0.9 (9th); Patriots 1.7 (1st)

Plays per Game: Steelers 63.7 (15th); Patriots 62.6 (10th)

– – – – – Rushing and Passing Game – – – – –

Rushing Yards: Steelers 117 (6th); Patriots 89 (5th)

Yards per Carry: Steelers 4.4 (9th); Patriots 3.9 (8th)

Passing Yards: Steelers 256 (10th); Patriots 235 (11th)

Yards per Pass Attempt: Steelers 7.1 (10th); Patriots 6.3 (6th)

Completion Percentage: Steelers 64.2 (14th); Patriots 61.5 (10th)

Passer Rating: Steelers 93.0 (12th); Patriots 82.2 (5th)

TD Passes-Interception Differential: Steelers +17, 35-18 (8th); Patriots -6, 22-16 (7th)

Complete Passes per Game: Steelers 23.0 (14th); Patriots 23.0 (18th)

Incomplete Passes per Game: Steelers 12.8 (14th); Patriots 14.4 (6th)

Quarterback Sacks per Game: Steelers 1.3 (2nd); Patriots 2.2 (16th)

Sack Yardage Lost per Game: Steelers 10.9 (7th); Patriots 14.2 (16th)

 

Turnovers

Turnover Differential: Patriots +12 (3rd); Steelers +7 (7th)

Patriot Takeaways: 1.5 per game (14th); 26 total

Steeler Giveaways: 1.2 per game (13th); 21 total

Steeler Takeaways: 1.6 per game (13th); 28 total

Patriot Giveaways: 0.8 per game (2nd); 14 total

 

 

Penalties

Penalties per Game: Patriots 5.8 (5th); Steelers 6.8 (19th)

Penalty Yards per Game: Patriots 51.1 (6th); Steelers 65.6 (27th)

Opponent Penalties per Game: Patriots 6.9 (11th); Steelers 6.7 (15th)

Opponent Penalty Yards per Game: Patriots 59.1 (13th); Steelers 58.0 (17th)

 

Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average

Efficiency: Total Weighted DVOA: Patriots 34.0% (1st); Steelers 20.0% (3rd)

Team Efficiency: Offense DVOA: Patriots 21.1% (2nd); Steelers 11.1% (8th)

Team Efficiency: Defense DVOA: Patriots -1.5% (16th); Steelers -4.7% (11th)

Special Teams DVOA: Patriots 2.7% (7th); Steelers 0.0% (16th)

 

If you are still reading at this point, congratulations. Apologies for the lack of brevity. Pittsburgh has a very good team and deserves to be in this championship game. That being said the Patriots are just a bit better in all phases. Between the better coaches, better quarterback, and home field advantage the Pats should win. Enjoy the game, it should be a classic.

Prediction: Patriots 30, Steelers 20

TB Times: Tom Brady burns Steelers after Patriots’ 27-16 victory at Pittsburgh

John Morgan
October 23, 2016 at 10:15 pm ET

Soon after the New England Patriots defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers, it was time for another edition of the TB Times to be published. Tom Brady – or perhaps an executive assistant – roasted Steeler Nation on his Facebook page after handing Pittsburgh their third loss of season.

Brady completed 73% of his passes (19/26) for 222 yards, with two touchdowns and no interceptions. The Patriots quarterback is averaging 335 passing yards per game on the season, with eight touchdowns and no turnovers. In TB12’s three games since his return from Article 46 exile the Patriots offense is averaging 32 points per game. On Sunday he even ran for three first downs, one on a quarterback sneak and two when all the receivers were covered.

LeGarrette Blount rushed for 127 yards and two touchdowns. Blount gashed the team that unceremoniously dumped him two years ago to the tune of 5.3 yards per carry and outperforming Pittsburgh star running back Le’Veon Bell. Rob Gronkowski caught all four passes thrown his way, making the Steelers secondary look impotent. Gronk finished with 93 yards and one touchdown, and set up another touchdown knocking over defenders in his trademark style.

The Patriots did not come close to playing their best game. The Pats turned the ball over twice, set Pittsburgh up with great field position after a 35-yard Ryan Allen punt, and Stephen Gostkowski missed another extra point. Mike Tomlin was unable to take advantage of those miscues though, and that was the difference between a win and a loss. Both teams scored four times but while the Steelers were settling for field goals (and two missed field goal attempts), the Patriots kept responding with touchdowns.

Next up for the Patriots is an opportunity for payback. New England’s sole loss on the season was to the Bills and the Pats travel to Buffalo next week. Rex Ryan’s crew may have been caught looking ahead to that game, as the Bills were upset by Miami. Buffalo blew an 11-point second half lead, torched on both the ground (214 yards rushing by Ben Ajayi) and the air. A 66 yard touchdown pass from Ryan Tannehill to Kenny Stills with 2:24 remaining sealed the outcome. Buffalo drops to 4-3, two games behind the Patriots in the AFC East; Miami improves to 3-4.

Patriots 2016 Opponents, 5 First Impressions of the Steelers

Steve Balestrieri
October 19, 2016 at 9:29 am ET

Steelers’ Offense Explosive With or Without Roethlisberger

The Patriots head back out on the road for a big game against the Pittsburgh Steelers for their third straight game against AFC North opponents. Kickoff is slated for 1:05 p.m.

The Patriots (5-1), beat the Cincinnati Bengals 35-17 in a triumphant home return for QB Tom Brady. After a slow start in the first half, Brady lit up the Bengals for 376 yards and three touchdowns. Dont’a Hightower led the defense with 13 tackles, 1.5 sacks and a big safety that turned the game’s momentum.

The Steelers (4-2) laid an egg, losing 30-15 to Miami on the road. Their normally stout run defense was gashed by Jay Ajayi who ran for over 200 yards. Worse was they lost Ben Roethlisberger for at least this week when he tore his meniscus. His replacement will be Landry Jones this week.

Here are our Five First Impressions of the Steelers:

Under Tomlin, They Always Have a Mulligan: The Steelers are always one of the more talented teams in the league. But it seems every year Pittsburgh has a game or two against a very inferior opponent where they don’t show up and lose in ugly fashion. Last week in Miami was a prime example. Prior to the game, the media in South Florida was talking about another house-cleaning. Then they blow out a team, many picked to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.

It eventually comes down to coaching. And Tomlin, considered one of the better coaches in the game, has to take the heat for his team not showing up for these very winnable contests.

While the injury to Roethlisberger certainly had something to do with the loss, when was the last time an opponent ran for 220 yards on the Steelers defense? This was a team that wasn’t prepared and lost an opportunity to gain additional ground on the rest of the division in the standings.

Roethlisberger’s Absence Dims the Matchup: This was one of the games that we circled when the schedule came out as not only a potential shootout but one to maybe chock up in the loss column.  Pittsburgh is always tough at home and Roethlisberger leads one of the more prolific offenses in the game. With the explosive Antonio Brown, the speedster Sammie Coates as well as a superb duo of running backs in Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams, the Pittsburgh offense is fun to watch.

Roethlisberger was also leading one of the best units on third down as well as in the red zone, two areas that the Patriots defense has struggled with during the first six games of 2016. This one had all the makings of an old-fashioned AFL shootout between Roethlisberger and Tom Brady and his absence takes some of the shine off that.

Landry Jones, the 3rd year QB from Oklahoma is a far cry from Roethlisberger in the Steelers offense. He started two games in 2015 with Big Ben out and completed 32 of 56 passes, just 57 percent for 513 yards, three touchdowns, four interceptions and a passer rating of 76.0. They’ll have to change the offense somewhat for Jones but getting the ball to Brown and throwing down the field will still be a big part of the offense. Does this mean that this is an automatic Pittsburgh loss? Hardly. They have plenty of weapons and Jones like anyone else can heat up, but the Brady – Roethlisberger duel was one we really looked forward to.

Bell and Williams are the Great Equalizers: Pittsburgh’s running game this week has the ability to make this one interesting regardless of who is at QB. Last season, with La’Veon Bell out for the opener DeAngelo Williams had a very strong game in Foxboro that kept the Steelers offense balanced.

Bell has only played in three games this season but sports a gaudy 5.5 yards per carry average on 48 carries for 263 yards. For a big man (6’2, 230 lbs), he runs exceptionally well and is a huge factor in the passing game as well with 20 catches, good for second on the team for 177 yards.

Much like New England did for the first four games during Brady’s suspension, look for the Steelers to lean on their running backs to weather the storm while Roethlisberger heals up. Expect to see plenty of Bell, in the running game, and split wide outside to create mismatches against the Patriots linebackers in the passing game.

A key for the Steelers this week will be to start fast and use their backs and running game to slow the pace down and keep Brady and the offense on the sideline.

Pass Defense is Not Good: There is a good reason to want their offense to keep Brady on the sidelines. The Pittsburgh defense, notably their pass defense isn’t very good. Of course it doesn’t help that the team was missing two of their best defensive players in Cameron Heyward and Ryan Shazier, no one will feel sorry for them. But it is what it is. Heyward will miss this week’s game, although they hope to get Shazier back.

The Steelers have had trouble getting after the QB so far in 2016 and their secondary hasn’t been able to hold up. Opponents are averaging 293.7 yards per game, third worst in the NFL and the secondary has not made a single interception. All three picks the defense owns comes from the linebackers.

Consider this, in the Steelers’ four wins, they’ve generated, three fumble recoveries, and eight sacks. In their two losses, they have zero fumble recoveries, zero interceptions and zero sacks. Conventional wisdom suggests if Brady and the Patriots take care of the football this week, they should be successful.

Lack of Balance Equals Lack of Success: While the sample size is small with only six games played thus far in 2016, one thing that has stood out is the Pittsburgh offense has been much more effective when they’ve remained balanced.

In their four wins, the Steelers offense has been nearly unstoppable averaging about 34 points a game. In their two losses, again a small sample size, they scored about nine points per game. Why is there such a discrepancy? The balance between the running and passing games.

In the Steelers four wins, they were humming along at about a 50-55 percent mix of pass and the run. The running of Bell kept defenses honest and then they were able to hit the passes down the field. The only exception was the Jets game, and with their stiff run defense Roethlisberger threw on 66 percent of his plays.

In the two losses, when they lost that balance, the offense struggled to move the ball and score. Against the Dolphins the ratio of pass to run rose to 68 percent, and granted Big Ben was hurt but in the Week 3 loss to Philadelphia, that ratio was 81 percent.

It is a trend, they’ll look to stop this week, look for Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley to try to get back into that 50-55 percentile and keep their balance.

Check back with us later in the week as we’ll break down the key matchups for the game right here on PatsFans.com.

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

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REPORT: Patriots Communication System Failed During Game

Robert Alvarez
October 17, 2016 at 3:00 pm ET

In a story first reported by Comcast SportsNet New England’s Tom E. Curran, it was discovered that the New England Patriots coaching staff’s headsets were not working properly during the Bengals game on Sunday.

According to Curran, the situation was so bad both head coordinators Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia were forced to signal in plays “old school” after the headsets were deemed completely “unreliable.”

This marks the second instance this season technology has failed the Patriots as head coach Bill Belichick was caught on camera spiking a Microsoft Surface tablet in disgust just two weeks ago.

It is unknown if Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin had anything to do with the situation.