The New England Patriots scored 31 of the final 38 points Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium, embarrassing the Pittsburgh Steelers on their way to a 55-31 victory.
Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw for 400 yards and four touchdowns, three of which to Jerricho Cotchery, but the Steelers defense allowed the Patriots to score on five consecutive drives in the second half to turn a 24-24 game into a blowout. The 55 points scored by New England were the most by an NFL team this season and an all-time high allowed in 81 years of Pittsburgh pro football.
Tom Brady accounted for 432 of the Patriots’ 610 total offensive yards, completing 23 of 33 passes for four scores and no interceptions. New England had three 100-yard receivers, Rob Gronkowski (143 yards), Aaron Dobson (130) and Danny Amendola (122); Dobson caught two touchdowns to help power the Pats’ 28-point fourth quarter, while Gronkowski and Amendola snagged one each.
New England’s Stevan Ridley ran for a pair of scores in addition to his 115 yards on 26 carries. His 5-yard touchdown with 9:19 to go in the game ended a 17-point burst by the Patriots that made the score 34-17. Cotchery’s one-handed catch for his third touchdown of the game got the Steelers back within 10 with 6:20 to go – capping a drive during which Roethlisberger accounted for all 80 yards on six completions.
But Dobson pulled in an 81-yard bomb down the left sideline with the Steelers defense expecting the Patriots to run, essentially ending the suspense. Roethlisberger’s second interception – he went 28 for 48 on the evening – set up LeGarrette Blount‘s short touchdown run with about three minutes left, as the big back carried the unassisted Steve McLendon into the end zone.
The Steelers accumulated 479 yards of offense themselves, and the attack seemed at its best all season early in the third quarter when Roethlisberger hit Cotchery for consecutive scoring strikes to overcome a 14-point halftime deficit. Rookie halfback Le’Veon Bell picked up 145 total yards – 74 on the ground, 71 through the air – while Emmanuel Sanders and Cotchery each had over 90 yards receiving.
Despite all the pyrotechnics, the Steelers’ inability to stop the Patriots (7-2) has dropped them out of feasible playoff contention. Inconsistent Pittsburgh (2-6) is off to its worst start since 2006, former coach Bill Cowher‘s last season in charge.
The Steelers were on their heels early on, as Roethlisberger lost the ball on a sack by Rob Ninkovich, giving the Patriots the ball at their own 42. However, the Pittsburgh defense held firm on three plays, capped by Jason Worilds‘ sack of Brady.
After an exchange of punts, New England went back at it offensively. Back-to-back receptions by Gronkowski, the first of which on third and 14, accounted for 61 yards and moved the ball to the Pittsburgh 10. Another Brady-to-Gronkowski hookup got the Patriots inside the 1, but the Steelers defense stiffened from there, overcoming Troy Polamalu‘s offside penalty to deny New England twice and turn the ball over on downs.
However, on the second play of Pittsburgh’s ensuing drive, Roethlisberger underthrew Antonio Brown down the left sideline and Devin McCourty made a routine interception. The Patriots’ first play from the Steelers 34 was a bullet touchdown pass from Brady to Amendola, who was open down the left hash.
A 15-yard chop block penalty and another sack put the Steelers in a third-and-30 situation near the end of the first quarter, but a 29-yard screen pass to Bell inspired Pittsburgh to go for it on the first play on the second. Bell barely picked up the yard on a run up the middle, only to be stopped in an identical situation four plays later near the Patriots 30.
From there, New England briskly went 67 yards in seven plays, capped by a 19-yard Gronkowski touchdown catch that Brady squeezed between Troy Polamalu and Jarvis Jones for a 14-0 Patriots lead with 11 minutes to go before the half. The Steelers answered with a 68-yard drive of their own that took eight plays, the biggest of which was a 42-yard pass to Sanders, and resulted in Shaun Suisham‘s 30-yard field goal.
Stephen Gostkowski got three points right back for the Patriots on their ensuing drive, which was powered by a 57-yard pass to a stunningly-open Amendola on the left side of the field. The first-year New England receiver was left all alone by Pittsburgh safeties Ryan Clark and Polamalu. Moments later, Gostkowski connected from 20 yards to make it 17-3.
Jonathan Dwyer‘s 30-yard carry moved the Steelers within range of the end zone just prior to the two-minute warning, and Roethlisberger gunned a perfect throw to Brown for a 27-yard score that cut the margin to seven points. It was Big Ben’s 200th touchdown pass in the NFL, but it was erased on a clinical drive that ended with Ridley’s 1-yard TD plunge with 10 seconds left in the half. Pass interference penalties on Polamalu and rookie Shamarko Thomas accounted for 33 of the 77 yards on the drive.
The Patriots looked ready to increase their lead to start the third quarter, but Polamalu stripped Ridley of the ball near the sideline and LaMarr Woodley recovered at the New England 36. The rare turnover by the Steelers defense resulted in a third-down 20-yard touchdown pass to Jerricho Cotchery down the middle of the field, and Pittsburgh was quickly back within seven.
After a three-and-out from the Patriots, the Steelers tied the game. A strong 25-yard run from Bell helped them overcome a first-and-20 situation to start the drive, then a quick dump to Heath Miller got Pittsburgh inside the 20. Two plays later, another Roethlisberger-to-Cotchery connection delivered the tying score midway through the third.
Pittsburgh will seek a rebound next Sunday at Heinz Field when the Buffalo Bills come to town for a 1 p.m. kickoff.