Steelers expose Pats' defense in 25-17 victory

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Steelers expose Pats' defense in 25-17 victory

It isn't so much that they lost. It isn't so much that they now trail the Steelers in the most important tie-breaker -- head-to-head matchup -- of the playoff dance that will begin three or four weeks hence.

It's that the Steelers exposed the Patriots defense so badly Sunday in their 25-17 victory that it's hard to fathom how New England can be taken seriously as a legitimate championship contender unless dramatic, and immediate, changes are made on that side of the ball.

"It is statistically impossible for this team to win a Super Bowl with a defense this bad," Cold Hard Football Facts' Kerry Byrne said last week, and that was BEFORE the Pats surrendered

427 total yards

29 first downs

Pittsburgh drives of 68, 72, 76, 52, 70, 63 and 41 yards, which helped the Steelers run 78 plays (to the Pats' 50) and enabled them to control the ball for 39 minutes and 22 seconds.

Yes, the Patriots (somehow) kept it close. Yes, they came within a flubbed onside kick of having possession of the ball with three timeouts and a chance to win in the final 2 12 minutes. No, there's no reason to fold the tents and declare the Pats' season to be over.

But the onside kick itself was as big an indictment of how the Patriots feel about their defense as anything could be. They had just scored a touchdown to cut the lead to 23-17, and there was still 2:40 to play. A team that trusted its defense would have kicked deep, counted on the defense to get a stop, and used its timeouts (combined with the two-minute warning) to get the ball back with a chance to win.

Instead, the Pats tried an onside kick. It failed -- Stephen Gostkowski tapped the top of the ball and it didn't travel the required 10 yards (plus the Patriots were offside, anyway) -- and the Steelers took possession. The Patriots did force them to punt, for the first time all day, with 28 seconds left, but it left Tom Brady and the offense needing a miracle . . . and what they got instead was a screwball play in which the ball squirted loose after a Brady sackfumble and resulted in a Pittsburgh safety for the final two points.

"Not our best day out there," sighed Brady.

The defense wasn't totally at fault; the offense was uneven, as well, failing to find a rhythm until the very end. Several times the Pats had the ball with a chance to tie, but for the first three-plus quarters they could never put together the type of long, time-consuming drives that might have turned the momentum.

"We just didn't execute very well on offense," said Brady. "Too many three-and-outs, a poor level of execution all around."

"We never really played the game on our terms," he added.

But the Steelers did. The onslaught started early: Pittsburgh went 68 yards in 11 plays with the opening kickoff and took a 7-0 lead on a five-yard pass from Ben Roethlisberger (36-for-50, 365 yards, two touchdowns) to Mewelde Moore. The Pats went three-and-out on what turned out to be their only possession of the first quarter, and Shaun Suisham made it 10-0 with a 33-yard field goal on the first play of the second quarter.

The Patriot defense redeemed itself -- and put the Pats back in the game -- a bit later, when Gary Guyton picked off a Roethlisberger pass intended for Emmanuel Sanders at the Steelers 25 and returned it 17 yards to the 8. From there, Kevin Faulk took it to the 2 and then Brady hit Deion Branch on the left side of the end zone for a touchdown that cut the Steelers' lead to 10-7.

But that defensive good feeling was short-lived. Roethlisberger and Sanders hooked up for 26 yards on the first play on the ensuing drive and for 7 yards (and a touchdown) on the last, the bookends of a 10-play, 76-yard march that rebuilt their lead back to 10 points, 17-7.

A 46-yard field goal by Gostkowski with 29 seconds left sent the Pats into the half trailing by just 17-10, and they took the second-half kickoff with a chance to tie. But they had to punt, and another 70-yard march by the Steelers resulted in a 21-yard Suisham field goal and a 20-10 lead. After Gostkowski hit the right goalpost with a 42-yard field goal later in the quarter, the Steelers made it 23-10 when Suisham hit a 23-yard field goal with 11:26 left in the game.

Still, considering the way Roethlisberger and his receivers were shredding the outmanned Patriot secondary, the game seemed more one-sided than the score . . . and Brady and the Patriot offense nearly came back and stole it. A one-yard pass from Brady to Aaron Hernandez with 2:35 left to make it 23-17, but that came a minute-and-a-half after the referees incorrectly ruled Hernandez wasn't in the end zone when he caught a bullet pass from Brady. And the fact that there were only 2 12 minutes left after the TD, instead of 4, may have helped influenced the decision on the onside kick.

"I thought about challenging it, but there was no evidence," said Belichick, referring to the fact that CBS -- the game broadcast is watched by the assistant coaches in their box upstairs -- didn't show a replay until two more plays had been run, because the Pats were in a no-huddle offense and there was no time. "I certainly couldn't see it from my angle and they didn't replay it . . . so there was nothing to tell us whether he was in the end zone or not."

The Pats then tried the onside kick. Belichick, for his part, said it wasn't a reflection on the defense.

"We had confidence in the play," he said. "Thought we would execute it well, thought we had a good chance to get the ball. Obviously it didn't work out that way."

Very little did on an afternoon that dropped the Pats' record to 5-2, pushed them back into a first-place tie with Buffalo in the AFC East, and raised real concerns about their championship hopes.

"Just wasn't a real good day for us," said Belichick, "in any phase of the game, in any area."

That's for sure.

Patriots release camp dates; open practices begin July 27

Patriots release camp dates; open practices begin July 27

Football is coming.

The Patriots announced on Thursday that veterans will report to training camp on Wednesday, July 26 and that the first public practice will take place the following day.

Each of the team's first four practices -- from July 27-30 -- are scheduled to take place on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium "in the nine o'clock hour," according to the Patriots. Updates to the training camp schedule, including more specific start times for practices, can be found at patriots.com/trainingcamp.

The Patriots Hall of Fame will hold its induction ceremony for former corner Raymond Clayborn on Saturday, July 29 around midday following that morning's training camp practice. Held on the plaza outside the Hall at Patriot Place, the ceremony will be free and open to the public.

The Patriots will host the Jaguars for two days of joint practices open to the public on Monday, Aug. 7 and Tuesday, Aug. 8. The preseason opener for both clubs will take place at Gillette Stadium on Aug. 10.

Tom Brady adds sumo wrestling to offseason training regimen

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Tom Brady adds sumo wrestling to offseason training regimen

Tom Brady's off-the-field workout habits are the subject of serious curiosity for those in New England and beyond. Thanks to Under Armour's Instagram account, followers got a brief glimpse of what Brady does to stay in shape. 

OK. It was more like a glimpse at what he did one day in Tokyo.

@tombrady always fighting for that extra yard. 😂😂 #TBAsiaTour #IWILL

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The video of Brady in the dohyo ring was shot at the Sakaigawa sumo stable in Tokyo on Thursday. According to Kyodo News, leading the training session was ozeki Goeido, who won last year's Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament.

"For them to welcome me means very much to me. It's hard to describe in words how special that was," Brady said.

Brady bounced around China before heading to Japan to continue to help promote Under Armour and in particular its "recovery sleepwear" line. He threw a pass on the Great Wall, and he explained that it was his "dream" to play a game on the continent. 

Arigatōgozaimashita 🇯🇵🙏

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Brady vs Brady #therecanonlybeone 🏆

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