The Steelers didn’t get much of any help from the early games today. In fact, if they end up losing to the Patriots, they will be on the outside looking in during the final two weeks of the 2018 regular season when it comes to the playoffs. With a trip to New Orleans on deck.
While the Vikings were able to pull away from the Dolphins, the Ravens defeated the Buccaneers and currently lead the AFC North pending the Steelers’ results. The Titans and Colts both won their games to move to 8-6, which would give them the leg up on Pittsburgh for a potential fight for the sixth seed should they fail to win the division.
There are no real surprises on the inactive list for Pittsburgh, James Conner being the only notable name there. Eli Rogers and Ryan Switzer–in fact all six wide receivers–are dressed for the game. Mason Rudolph, Zach Banner, Brian Allen, Marcus Allen, and L.T. Walton are the other inactives.
The plan is for Artie Burns and Cameron Sutton to start at right outside cornerback and slot cornerback, but Coty Sensabaugh and Mike Hilton will rotate in those spots, respectively, as the Steelers search for answers.
The Steelers won the coin toss and chose to take the ball first to begin the game. Rogers was on the field for the first play of the game, which was a deep shot looking for JuJu Smith-Schuster, incomplete and long with good coverage. Out of an empty set on second down, Ben Roethlisberger escaped pressure to find Antonio Brown short over the middle for seven yards. On third and three, he forced a pass to Rogers, who was able to catch it anyway for the conversion, making an early impact. It looks like he was being held on the play.
On the toss, Jaylen Samuels had space for six yards on first down past the 40. On another toss, he cut left and showed good vision to break out for 25 yards, Brown with a block late in the run. Four receivers in now at the 33, it was another quick catch from Rogers for four yards inside the 30. On second and six, Roethlisberger took a shot deep on a free play due to a defensive offside that went incomplete. Now second and one, Samuels made the successful conversion.
At the 20, Roethlisberger again threw from five wide, throwing in tight coverage to Samuels, making the catch against a McCourty for 10. Now first and goal, Samuels lowered his head for about four up the middle. A quick pass to Ryan Switzer was limited to just a yard. On third and goal from the five, Roethlisberger pump faked before finding Vance McDonald for the score, his fourth touchdown of the season, giving the Steelers an early 7-0 lead.
Boswell’s kickoff reached the goal line and the coverage made the stop shy of the 25. Tom Brady and the Patriots offense took the field. Burns made the quick tackle on the first play following a short pass for four yards. In base, Jon Bostic started. Now dime, play action went to Cordarrelle Patterson for five, setting up third and one. Brady handed off to Sony Michel for the conversion, but the Steelers had too many men on the field anyway, making it five instead. The defense completely shut down on the following play, allowing Chris Hogan to be wide ass open for a scrimmage touchdown on air for 60-plus. An absolutely atrocious start for the defense, and far too easy to allow for Brady.
Switzer returned the kickoff a couple yards beyond the 25 to begin the Steelers’ second offensive drive. Jesse James showed some elusiveness to pick up nine yards on first down off a short pass. That felt weird to write. One second and one, Samuels got the handoff and punched a hole instead for about seven, the rookie running well so far in the early goings.
At the 47, Roethlisberger was smoked on a late blitz by Kyle Van Noy, the whistle blowing as he was in the grasp for a loss of 10. Samuels added four yards on the draw to make it a worrying third and 16. On the long play, Roethlisberger bounced into his own lineman, preventing him from escaping another sack, now punting on fourth and 23. Jordan Berry booted it to the 22 for a fair catch.
Coty Sensabaugh came in for Burns on the next drive in the rotation. Josh Gordon picked up a chunk to the 41 on the first play. James Develin picked up 11 across midfield quickly. Brady had all day to throw before settling for a short pass dropped by Julian Edelman right in the numbers. On second down, Rex Burkhead recorded the Patriot’s first official run for two yards. Now third and eight, James White dropped what could have been a conversion after Brady was flushed out of the pocket, forcing a Patriots punt. It was downed at the eight.
A Switzer run for eight was negated by a hold, pushing the Steelers back to the four. A hold on DeCastro. Now first and 14, with Rogers in the backfield, Roethlisberger looked long for Smith-Schuster, but the ball was never close to connecting, the receiver pinned well to the sideline. On second and long, Roethlisberger out of five wide went to Smith-Schuster again this time for a back shoulder, snaring a nice pass for 22 yards in combat action.
To the 26, out of empty again, Roethlisberger escaped pressure to find Smith-Schuster again coming back for nine at the end of the first quarter. On second and one, empty again, a quick pass to Brown got just the yard and no more. Roethlisberger slipped on the throw but was okay.
Rogers came up with another catch in traffic over the middle for six yards, clearly active early in his first game of the year. James Washington showed strong hands on a crossing route for nine across midfield.
Roethlisberger beat a heavy blitz to get a quick pass out to Rogers for six, his fourth reception. Still sticking with four receivers, Roethlisberger took a shot downfield to Rogers, incomplete, but he drew a defensive pass interference penalty against Jonathan Jones. Questionable call, but it moved the ball up to the 17.
Back in the red zone, Roethlisberger immediately hit Brown for the touchdown from 17 yards out, his 13th touchdown of the season tying his own franchise record and putting the Steelers back up by seven, 17-4. The drive started at the eight and then went back to the four, so 96 yards there on New England.
Sensabaugh remained in over Burns for the third defensive drive. Michel picked up four yards on the ground on first down before breaking a 10-yarder to the 41. Stopped for a short gain on the following play, the defense relented for a big gain, but a hold brought it back, making it second and 17. Trent Brown held Cameron Heyward. Dropping back to pass, Brady went to Develin for seven with decent protection. On third and 10, Brady was forced to check down to White for just six yards, forcing the Patriots to punt for the second consecutive drive.
Starting from the one-yard line after an exceptional special teams play to down the ball. Stevan Ridley got his first work and busted out for 12 right away against his old team, who admitted he was fired up for the opportunity. Off play action, a Roethlisberger pump fake found Brown open for 24 against Jason McCourty, who was able to chase him down before he really broke out.
Quickly out to the 37, now Samuels got space for first-down yardage across midfield for 17, DeCastro on the staple pull. At the Patriots, 44, Roethlisberger threw the ball away to avoid a sack, with a target in the area. He overthrew Smith-Schuster on the following play, safety Duron Harmon scooping it up off the ground for the unfortunate interception.
Taking over at the 24, Brady’s first pass over the middle was tipped incomplete. Joe Haden made the quick tackle on Edelman off a five-yard gain. On third and five, Brady was under pressure by T.J. Watt and threw wide of his target to force a three and out. Watt brought Brady to the ground on the play for a quarterback hit. Switzer caught the punt shy of the 30.
Switzer lined up in the backfield and got the ball for a three-yard gain. Staying next to Roethlisberger on second down, he got the ball on a swing pass for seven and a first down. Ben’s next throw was broken up for Brown by Stephon Gilmore, making a nice play. A short pass to Smith-Schuster with an extension gave him eight to make it a manageable third down. Roethlisberger overthrew him on third down, forcing the Steelers to punt. Berry’s punt only reached the 18.
A two-yard gain by Michel with under three minutes began New England’s drive. A short gain by Edelman quickly made it third and five at the two-minute warning. Brady completed to Patterson for a new set of downs.
At the 31, White got the carry for six yards up the middle. A quick snap drew a flag for a false start, negating most of that gain with 1:22 to play, the Patriots with all of their timeouts. Haden came up with a big pass breakup against Edelman to make it third and nine. Patterson showed great effort to fight for the first down after taking a pass short of the chains, though there was no excuse for the defense making the stop a few yards shy. The booth reviewed the spot as a first down. He was ruled a foot short. On the fourth-down play, from the 40ish, the Patriots faked a play before rushing out the punt team to waste as much time as possible, with the defense on the field.
With 21 seconds and two timeouts in-hand, the Steelers offense took over at the 19, but Roethlisberger just took a knee to end the half.