Patriots - Steelers Week 9 Superlatives
The World Series trophy is a lovely hunk of metal, and it was on display at Gillette thanks to the Red Sox. Jon Lester, Will Middlebrooks, Shane Victorino, Clay Buchholtz, Jonny Gomes, Stephen Drew, and Cody Ross were among some of the players on hand to celebrate their MLB championship, won just four days before at Fenway Park. The trophy even presided over the coin toss. It would bring New England luck, as they beat the Steelers, 55-31.
EARLIEST MOMENTUM KILLER
The Steelers started Sunday's game on a high note with a 40-yard kickoff return. It took just five plays for New England to shut it down, however. Le'Veon Bell got stuffed on second-and-2, and Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich hit Ben Roethlisberger for a 6-yard sack. Pittsburgh's QB fumbled when he went down and Joe Vellano came up with the recovery for New England. This is the 36th-consecutive game in which the team has forced a turnover.
After the team's first offensive series went three-and-out, Tom Brady turned to his big tight end, and got results. Gronkowski had four catches for 78 yards and a near-touchdown on drive. But he was ruled down at the 1. Running back Brandon Bolden's attempt was shut down. Stevan Ridley's effort was no better. Pittsburgh ball. Roethlisberger's first pass went to… Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty. Hmm. That went in the book as a six-second possession. Brady needed just one throw from the Steelers' 34-yard line to hit Danny Amendola for a touchdown. Follow all that?
DEFENSIVE BREAKDOWN SUREST TO GET BELICHICK STEAMED
Thanks to a 16-yard chop block penalty on Bell and a 4-yard sack of Roethlisberger by Chandler Jones, New England had Pittsburgh facing a third-and-30 situation at the end of the first quarter. Bill Belichick burned a timeout to get his defense in position for a sure stop. The result? Rookie cornerback Duron Harmon whiffed on an open field tackle of Bell, and the running back went off for 28.5 yards. Luckily for the defense, it subsequently stopped the Steelers both on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1. Not like Belichick will let them forget what came before.
WORST STATS (FIRST HALF)
Pittsburgh's offensive struggles were the story for almost 28 minutes. Mike Tomlin's squad led in time of possession, but didn't score a touchdown until under the two-minute warning. Roethlisberger's numbers -- 11-of-15 passes completed for 173 yards and a 105.7 rating -- were deceptive. The Steelers went into the break going 1-for-6 on third down and 1-for-2 on fourth down. Their first drives resulted in a fumble, punt, interception, downs, and a field goal. New England was up 24-10 at the break.
LEAST EXPECTED RESULT OF A TURNOVER
It's been difficult to figure Ridley's standing on this team. He entered Sunday's game leading all running backs with 92 carries for 399 yards and four touchdowns. But he started just three games, and in recent weeks didn't even get a snap until the second quarter. Maybe the coaching staff likes him better in a reserve role. Until he fumbled against Pittsburgh in the third quarter. Maybe then, based on past punishment, he'd be better sitting on the bench until December. But wait! Ridley came back on the field on the very next series! Incredible.
MOST FRUSTRATING SIGHT(S)
How long can a team lose the war of attrition but keep winning games? That's been the question for New England this year. Three Patriots left for the locker room before the third quarter was even over: Receiver Austin Collie (knee), safety Steve Gregory (wrist/hand), defensive lineman Rob Ninkovich (foot). When Ninkovich went out, it made for seven Week 1 starters (six defensive) sidelined for injury. Four of those players are done for the year. Yet New England was 6-2 before kickoff. The team had a 27-24 lead as the third quarter wound down.
MOST UNDERRATED SPECIAL TEAMER
Julian Edelman returned a punt at the end of the third quarter for 43 yards. Coming into the game, he already had the third-most punt return yards (256) among players who attempted 20 or more. Special teams is an underrated phase of the game and Edelman doesn't get enough credit for the field position he can give New England. Starting the ensuing fourth quarter drive on Pittsburgh's 34-yard line was a great example of that; Brady and the offense needed just five plays and 1 minute, 38 seconds to score a touchdown.
BIGGEST QB TAKING THE HARDEST FALLS
Ben Roethlisberger, standing at 6-5, 241-pounds, is a tough quarterback to take down. Or maybe he used to be. Big Ben entered this Week 9 tilt as the fourth-most sacked quarterback (26 takedowns) in the NFL. New England added four more before the fourth quarter was halfway over. A positive for the Patriots? The contributions came from multiple players: Chandler Jones (2.0), Rob Ninkovich (1.0), and Dane Fletcher (1.0). Even better, two of the sacks came on third down and forced Pittsburgh to punt. Not bad for a depleted defense.
UGLIEST INSULT TO INJURY
Was it rookie defensive back Duron Harmon picking off Roethlisberger toward the end of the fourth quarter? Or was it LeGarrette Blount's 5-yard touchdown run to put the Patriots up 54-31? Either way, New England never took its foot off the pedal, and one thing was crystal clear at the end: Pittsburgh is every bit the 2-5 -- nay, 2-6 -- team it appears to be this year.