Heading into the first game of the 2015 NFL season, most expected the New England Patriots to come out firing, run roughshod over the Pittsburgh Steelers young defense, and capture a victory in convincing fashion. But for the Steelers to lose like they did Thursday night? No one saw that coming.
In a comedy of blunders, questionable play calls, blown coverages, bizarre personnel usages, missed scoring opportunities and poor clock management, the Steelers dropped their season opener on the road to the Patriots 28-21, in a game that wasn’t quite that close.
Pittsburgh looked great on their initial drive, marching 54 yards in nine plays, only to see a head-shaking double pass play call go for a loss of eight yards when Antonio Brown was sacked before he could complete the trick play. A holding penalty on right tackle Marcus Gilbert put Pittsburgh in 2nd-and-28, which somehow prompted a draw to fullback Will Johnson for six yards. Josh Scobee’s ensuing first field goal attempt as a Steeler was pushed way wide right, and the disastrous night was underway for Pittsburgh.
New England’s first two drives didn’t produce any points, but on their third possession Tom Brady found his rhythm, completing all nine of his passes on a 13-play, 90-yard scoring romp, capped by a 16-yard touchdown sling to Rob Gronkowski. The Patriots big tight end was left wide open on a blown assignment by an unprepared Pittsburgh defense, allowing Brady to quick-snap and toss an easy touchdown to Gronkowski for the season’s first points.
A deep pass to Darrius Heyward-Bey on the Steelers next drive seemed to indicate the visitors were ready to answer, but Ben Roethlisberger’s third down incompletion to Brown brought Scobee back out for his second field goal attempt. This one was hooked wide right as well, and a game that should have been 7-6 (at least), was put back into the hands of Brady and the Patriots offense.
The four-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback didn’t hesitate, marching the Pats down the field on a nine-play, 64-yard drive that ended with Gronkowski’s second touchdown of the game. It was the 15th multi-touchdown game of the tight end’s career, and he was far from finished.
Pittsburgh would counter with a lengthy drive to attempt to answer, as Roethlisberger’s second down throw to the end zone was caught by a squatting Heyward-Bey. Unfortunately the veteran wide receiver’s right foot was ruled to be on the chalk, forcing Pittsburgh to eventually attempt another field goal two plays later. Scobee drilled his third attempt, sending the Steelers to the locker room facing a 14-3 deficit.
Any hope of controlling that lead was lost on the opening drive of the second half, when New England proceed to go 80 yards on nine plays to extend their advantage to 21-3 on Scott Chandler’s first touchdown as a Patriot. The setup play was a 28-yard pass interference call on Cortez Allen, who was beaten by Julian Edelman on an overthrow by Brady in the end zone. In fairness to Allen, the call looked very questionable on the replay.
Pittsburgh finally finished a drive offensively, capping a seven-play, 80-yard drive with a touchdown run by Will Johnson. Much of the workload on the drive was done by DeAngelo Williams, who finished the night with 21 carries for 127 yards on the ground. Markus Wheaton reeled in the two-point conversion on an RPO fastball pass from Roethlisberger to make it 21-11 Patriots.
It looked like the momentum was swinging in Pittsburgh’s favor when Will Allen sacked Brady on third down during the Patriots next series, but more bizarre play-calling and an untimely penalty screwed up another opportunity for the Steelers to put six points on the board during their ensuing drive.
With the Steelers facing third-and-goal on the Patriots one-yard line early in the fourth quarter, Kelvin Beachum and Ramon Foster jumped offsides, but Roethlisberger pleaded earnestly with the officials that they had been drawn off by the defenders (perhaps simulating the snap count). The penalty pushed the ball back to the five-yard line, where Pittsburgh shockingly decided to run the ball with Williams rather than throw. The back was dropped for a one-yard loss on the play, which Roethlisberger may have audibled to after seeing six defenders in the box. Scobee booted home a 24-yard field goal, but the damage had been done.
The Patriots went for the kill shot on the next drive, as Pittsburgh forgot to cover Gronkowski again, leaving the big tight end to rumble for 52 yards on the first play of the possession. On 3rd-and-five from the Steelers 22, Dion Lewis slipped a Lawrence Timmons’ tackle and got down to the one-yard line, where he was stripped by Mike Mitchell. Gronkowski recovered the ball between the legs of a completely unaware Will Allen, and then caught his third touchdown of the game over Terence Garvin on a fade route a few plays later.
The Steelers would add a garbage time touchdown with two seconds left, as Roethlisberger connected with Brown from 11 yards out to complete the scoring at 28-21. Brown finished the night with nine catches for 143 yards and a score, while Roethlisberger went 26-38 for 351 yards, one touchdown, and an interception.
The Steelers will look to improve on their 0-1 record when they return home to take on San Francisco at 1 pm next Sunday.