In what was an offensive shootout until the final gun, the New England Patriots defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers, 55-31, Sunday in Foxborough.
Tom Brady and Co. were able to outlast the Steelers with Brady's best performance of the year. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger led the Steelers to 479 total team yards, but was unable to overcome Pittsburgh's porous defense.
The Steelers defense had no answer for Brady, who picked apart the unit for 432 yards and four scores as New England racked up 611 total yards in the momentous win:
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Things got off to a rocky start for the visiting Steelers when Roethlisberger was sacked and lost the football on his team's first drive:
The game then took a somewhat expected defensive turn, as the Pats drove down the field and scored an apparent touchdown with running back Brandon Bolden leading the way:
However, the call was overturned and the Patriots ultimately failed to score from inches away after Stevan Ridley was stuffed on fourth down:
On the next offensive play after a false start, Roethlisberger immediately dropped back in his own end zone and tossed an interception to Devin McCourty.
The mistake proved costly, as Brady quickly capitalized and hit receiver Danny Amendola for a 34-yard touchdown to give the Patriots a seven-point lead with four minutes remaining in the first:
Pittsburgh converted a fourth down to start the second quarter, courtesy of a rush from Le'Veon Bell. But the rookie back was stuffed when attempting the same play on fourth down later in the drive.
The result? Another quick drive from the home team, capped off by a 19-yard touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski:
That touchdown gave Gronkowski 39 touchdown receptions from Brady, which ties Randy Moss as the most ever from the future Hall of Fame quarterback:
Pittsburgh would respond with a drive highlighted by a 42-yard hookup between Roethlisberger and receiver Emmanuel Sanders, but the Steelers were ultimately forced to settle for a field goal by Shaun Suisham to get on the board.
The Pats offense followed suit with a field goal from Stephen Gostkowski, but the focal point of the drive was a ridiculous 57-yard connection from Brady to Amendola, who apparently donned an invisibility cloak on that particular play. Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review commented:
Roethlisberger made history on his next drive, a four-play, 71-yard scoring effort highlighted by his 27-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Brown. This brought the Steelers back within arm's length at 17-10, and the touchdown pass was the 200th of Big Ben's career:
Unfortunately for the Steelers, they left just enough time on the clock for Brady and Bill Belichick. The veteran QB orchestrated a no-huddle attack, going 77 yards in 1:45, before Ridley found his way into the end zone to give New England a two-score lead at the half:
But Ridley undid any good vibes from his score, as he lost a fumble on a Troy Polamalu strip on the Pats' opening drive of the second half.
Pittsburgh was quick to take advantage of the great field position. The Steelers needed less than two minutes of game clock for Roethlisberger to find Jerricho Cotchery in the end zone from 20 yards out to bring the Steelers within a touchdown.
If there's a thing called momentum, Ridley's critical turnover caused it to snowball in Pittsburgh's favor. New England quickly went three-and-out and Roethlisberger once again connected with Cotchery, this time from eight yards out, to tie the score near the halfway mark of the third:
New England finally managed to halt the Steelers' 14-point push to start the second half on its next drive, as Gostkowski kicked a field goal to give back the lead to the Patriots, 27-24. The Patriots then completely captured the momentum by forcing a Pittsburgh punt, which was expertly returned for 43 yards by Julian Edelman.
Tom Brady then made short work of the once-elite Steelers secondary by running just five plays, hooking up with rookie Aaron Dobson for a 17-yard touchdown and expanding the lead to 10 points.
The Pats defense took over, putting Roethlisberger on his back multiple times. Following a punt, New England's Ridley put the final nail in Pittsburgh's coffin with a five-yard TD run to make the score 41-24 at the 9:16 mark of the fourth:
Pittsburgh was able to pull within 10 points on its next drive after Roethlisberger found Cotchery yet again, this time for a six-yard touchdown.
The Patriots ended the game for good on their next drive, as Brady hit Dobson with an 81-yard scoring bomb:
Roethlisberger tossed his second interception of the day on what appeared to be a wrong route run by his receiver. LeGarrette Blount then put an exclamation point on things for the Patriots at Gillette Stadium:
Key Player Grades
Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots: A+
It's about time.
For the first time this season, Tom Brady threw for three touchdowns. His 432 yards and four scores came against one of the NFL's better pass defenses, as the continued presence of Gronkowski clearly continues to open up the passing game.
Brady appears back to his old self as he grows with weapons both new and returning.
Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers: B
It's hard to hate what Ben Roethlisberger did on Sunday. After all, he he posted 400 yards and four touchdowns (and two interceptions).
Roethlisberger was his classic self, extending plays and utilizing all of his weapons on the field at one point or another. But his shaky offensive line and the horrific performance from his defense meant his effort was in vain.
In other words, it was a typical showing from the 2013 Steelers.
Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots A+
The Brady-to-Gronkowski connection is alive and well now that the duo has had two games to get back on the same page.
The result? Gronkowski torched a strong Pittsburgh defense for nine catches, 143 yards and a score in the win.
Jerricho Cotchery, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers: A
The best receiver on the field for Pittsburgh Sunday was the veteran Cotchery. He took advantage of the attention New England threw at Sanders and Brown en route to seven receptions for 96 yards and three scores.
Not a bad day at all, but it still was not close to enough.
Stevan Ridley, RB, New England Patriots: A
Ridley was another player able to take advantage of the attention Pittsburgh gave to the Patriots passing game. He managed to rumble for 115 yards on 26 carries and even found the end zone twice.
The LSU product's ability to keep the Steelers defense honest to New England's ground threat made life easier for Brady—not that he needed any help.
Pittsburgh falls to 2-6 after the loss with all hopes at the playoffs all but officially over. Roethlisberger and his teammates move on to face another AFC East opponent, as they return home to welcome the Buffalo Bills.
Things are much more positive for New England, as the Patriots move to 7-2, remain in first place in the AFC East and head comfortably into a bye week before a Monday Night Football showdown with the Carolina Panthers in Week 11.
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