By Matthew Marczi
The Pittsburgh Steelers enter today coming off a bitter loss to the Oakland Raiders that sent the team to a record of 2-5, seriously jeopardizing any chance they have of making a late-season push. However, they got a boost when the Cincinnati Bengals lost on Thursday, putting the Steelers two games back in the loss column.
The Steelers received the opening kickoff and Felix Jones returned it out to the 40-yard line. Ben Roethlisberger got things started with a six-yard hookup with Antonio Brown, and Le’Veon Bell crossed midfield on the next play. Emmanuel Sanders caught an eight-yard pass, but Bell was stopped for no gain to set up third and two. Roethlisberger was sacked and fumbled on third down, and the New England Patriots recovered at their own 42.
The defense was able to salvage things, however, by keeping the Patriots to short gained on first and second down and forcing Tom Brady to scramble for a loss on third down. The ensuing punt traveled into the end zone for a touchback.
Le’Veon Bell was held to short gains on the first two plays of the series, and on third down, he may have overthought himself and made one too many moves to help keep him shy of the first down, resulting in a three-and-out.
On the Patriots’ next drive, Brady found Rob Gronkowski on the first play, but a play later, Logan Mankins was flagged 15 yards on a personal foul. Lawrence Timmons came in unblocked up the middle to knock Brady down and force an incompletion. On second and 25, the Patriots were able to pick up 11 on the ground, however, and on third and 11, Gronkowski escaped Troy Polamalu to get down to the 34.
Brady and Gronkowski hooked up again on the following play to set up first and goal. Jason Worilds and LaMarr Woodley got some pressure to help force an incompletion, and a second-down run was held for just a short gain. Gronkowski came up just short on third down, but, after initially appearing to score, a penalty on Polamalu gave the Patriots another chance. However, the Steelers stopped them again, led by Steve McLendon and Polamalu, to take over in the shadow of their own end zone.
The Steelers began their drive with a false start by Marcus Gilbert to make it first and 10 and a half. Roethlisberger looked for Brown deep, but because of the field position and pressure, the ball was badly underthrown and easily intercepted by Devin McCourty. It was Roethlisberger’s eighth interception of the year, matching his total from last season.
The Patriots wasted no time on the attack, looking deep for Danny Amendola, who was wide open for the easy reception and a 34-yard score, killing any momentum the Steelers may have felt from coming up with the goal line stand.
Taking over at the 23, Roethlisberger found Jerricho Cotchery on first down for 15 yards. Bell was good for six yards on first down, but just one on second down. The Steelers ran on third and three, and Bell converted to move the chains.
On the following play, Bell was flagged for a chop block on a tough call, good for 15 yards. On first and 25, Roethlsiberger was sacked by Chandler Jones after avoiding Kelvin Beachum’s cut block attempt. Now third and 30 after an incompletion, the Steelers ran a screen pass for Bell, who actually gained about 29 yards and nine inches. Pittsburgh chose to hand it off to Bell, and he just barely got the first by an inch.
Right away, the Steelers were forced back into a fourth and inches scenario, and they took a timeout to think it over. Evidently, it was not long enough, because, despite having Will Johnson as a lead blocker, Bell was dropped for a loss for the turnover on downs.
The Patriots proceeded to administer a clinical drive to quickly get down the field, which resulted in a touchdown to Gronkowski over the head of Jarvis Jones. The Patriots lead is now 14-0.
On the second play of the Steelers’ drive, Roethlisberger was able to connect deep to Sanders for 42 yards, down to the 34. Brown caught a back shoulder throw over the defensive back a play later to breach the red zone. Roethlisberger looked for Sanders in the end zone, but the ball was a bit outside and the receiver could not bring it in.
Felix Jones carried for five yards to set up third and five. On third down, Roethlisberger and Sanders seemed to be out of sync again, or the quarterback simply overthrew the pass. Instead, the Steelers settled for a 30-yard Shaun Suisham field goal to cut to lead to 11.
The Steelers suffered another breakdown in the secondary somewhere between the starting safeties, which resulted in a long 50+ yard gain to Amendola to set up first and goal. On second down, Cameron Heyward finally broke through for a sack to set up third and long from the 17. The Patriots gained most of that, but came up short to settle for a field goal to make it 17-3.
In the three-minute offense, the Steelers got off to some early success, with Jonathan Dwyer breaking a big run down to the Patriots’ 27 after a 30-yard run. On play later, Roethlisberger and Brown hooked up for the 27-yard touchdown on a simple out route. The Steelers now trail 17-10.
After a pass interference penalty on Polamalu, the Patriots found themselves in third and four near midfield. Aaron Dobson beat William Gay, however, and spun away from the tackle to get out of bounds. From the 30, the Patriots took it to the ground for another first down and took a timeout with 24 seconds remaining.
Brady targeted Gronkowski in the end zone, but Shamarko Thomas was flagged for pass interference, who was caught pulling the jersey. From the one, Brady threw incomplete, but Stevan Ridley punched it in on second down to take a 24-10 halftime lead.