Mike Tomlin didn’t hesitate to speak highly of the New England Patriots heading into tonight’s game, and for good reason. Bill Belichick and company have had his number through almost all of his head coaching career.
But Belichick also lavished praise on Tomlin’s Pittsburgh Steelers as well. And for just the second time in nine meetings in which Tom Brady played, the Steelers prevailed, this time with the defense holding New England to just 10 points.
The last game the Steelers won against the Patriots was back in October of 2011 at Heinz Field. That, too, was a comparably low-scoring game, Pittsburgh pulling out a 25-17 victory. Tonight, it was just 17-10. It was the lowest score in a Brady-led game against the Steelers ever.
Tomlin actually began 2-2 against the Patriots through his first five seasons. Then New England rattled off five consecutive victories, including a dominating 36-17 blowout in the 2016 AFC Championship Game, but they got closer with last year’s 27-24 result that saw a Jesse James late touchdown overturned.
The Steelers are now 3-7 against the Patriots under Tomlin, and two of those victories can legitimately be considered impressive. It’s not often at all that Brady is held to just 10 points or fewer, after all, and this was a defense that has been giving up late drives for weeks now.
And Brady had two and a half minutes to score a touchdown. He couldn’t do it against this pass rush and this secondary. That included pressure forcing him into an interception by Joe Haden earlier in the fourth quarter that gave the ball back to the Steelers’ offense at their own four-yard line.
New England is 9-5 now on the season, and all five of their losses have come on the road. This is their first losing season on the road in about a decade, and they’ve now lost consecutive games twice this season, another rarity.
But they played their part in their own defeat as well. They had three big drops in the first half, two of them coming on third-down plays. They were routinely penalized, finishing with 14 accepted penalties against for a total of 106 yards. Many of them were of the offensive pre-snap variety that kept Brady and company behind the chains.
Which really helps explain how they ended up just three for 10 on third down. They came into the game as the least-penalized team in the league with a top-10 third-down conversion percentage. And one of third three conversions came on an unnecessary pass interference penalty as well.
This was a Patriots offense that certainly didn’t look like itself, and part of that was, in truth, because of the Heinz Field crowd. That was great to see after a three-game losing streak. A lot of people wanted to give up, but the fans in the stadium still believed, even facing down their juggernaut.