There’s an old adage that about 90% of plays in a given football game don’t really matter. Each side sort of holds their own, win some, lose some, generally even play. The other 10% determines who wins the game. Which team makes those one or two big, key plays to swing victory in their favor.
That was the story Sunday afternoon at Acrisure Stadium. And it was the New England Patriots who won that last 10% and ultimately, walked away with a victory. The two most critical splash plays they made were Nelson Agholor’s 44-yard touchdown at the end of the first half and recovering Gunner Olszewski’s muffed punt late in the third quarter. Those were the two moments Mike Tomlin cited as primary reasons for the loss.
“They made more splash plays…when we didn’t handle the punt, that was a significant play,” he said as aired by the team’s YouTube channel. “The two-minute go-ball was a significant play. Sometimes when you’re in games like this, that’s the difference. It felt like it was today. Obviously there was some good, there was some bad outside of those things, but I thought those were the critical weighty things where they were able to control the game particularly in the fourth quarter.”
Agholor scored the game’s first touchdown, leaping over CB Ahkello Witherspoon for a 44-yard score with less than 30 seconds to go in the half, giving New England a 10-3 lead at the break. Witherspoon had good initial position but couldn’t find or play the ball at the end.
As he was for most of the game, Mac Jones was afforded a clean pocket to make the throw. Jones was hit only three times and not sacked at all, a stark contrast to Week 1 when Pittsburgh took down Joe Burrow seven times.
Olszewski’s muffed punt was a back-breaker. Trailing 10-6, Olszewski let a punt hit off his facemask, a fumble recovered by the Patriots. They took possession of the ball deep in Steelers’ territory and came away with a touchdown, the deciding points of the game.
“They got propped up by those plays,” Tomlin said. “We didn’t do what wad required. We didn’t make the significant chunks or move the ball well enough on offense.”
Through two games, the Steelers’ offense has scored just two touchdowns and failed to stack many big plays. They’ll have to be on the right end of that 10% on a short week against the Cleveland Browns.