The first game at Acrisure Stadium (formerly known as Heinz Field) was always going to be an important game recap. Coming into Sunday’s home opener in Pittsburgh, the New England Patriots and Bill Belichick were favored to win by 3 points. Meanwhile, Mike Tomlin and his trusty Steelers were surprisingly underdogs going into the 1 p.m. matchup. A sunny day in Pittsburgh yielded ideal conditions for both squads.
Today’s game was the first time since 1998 the Patriots and Steelers collided with neither Tom Brady nor Ben Roethlisberger. Going into the game, it was expected to be a defensive battle. New England only mustered 7 points last week and while Pittsburgh put up 23, five takeaways on defense helped them. Pittsburgh’s electric secondary was expected to limit the Patriots’ lackluster receivers. New England’s run game had the potential to exploit the worst run defense in the NFL last year. All around, it seemed like an exciting game on paper.
Quarter 1: Steelers 0 Patriots 0
The Steelers received the opening kickoff and immediately went three-and-out, a sad, new normal for this offense. Pressley Harvin III boomed an impressive 69-yard punt on 4th down. New England’s first drive was a methodical march downfield with plenty of action in the middle. They made it to Pittsburgh’s 9-yard hash before settling for a field goal and a 3-0 lead early. Diontae Johnson fumbled and it was recovered for a touchdown, but fortunately, he was ruled down. The drive continued until Jalen Mills picked off an errant Mitch Trubisky. Minkah Fitzpatrick returned the favor 3 plays later and intercepted Mac Jones to end the first quarter.
Quarter 2: Steelers 0 Patriots 3
Pittsburgh was on the attack to begin the second quarter thanks to Fitzpatrick. A rare (for the Steelers) 3rd and 17 conversion increased hope for the fans, but Trubisky’s mental errors led to a delay of game penalty followed by a sack. A 16-play Pittsburgh drive ended with a Chris Boswell field goal to make it 3-3. The Patriots got the ball back but penalties created a 3rd and 26 for the New England offense. Despite gaining 24 yards, they had to punt back to Pittsburgh…who punted right back to them. Harvin continued to do well punting, leaving the Patriots at their own 10. Several plays later, Jones threw a 44-yard touchdown which Nelson Agholor ripped away from Ahkello Witherspoon. George Pickens caught his first NFL pass for 23 yards, but halftime happened before Pittsburgh could score.
Quarter 3: Steelers 3 Patriots 10
New England began with the ball but Nick Folk missed a 52-yard field goal. On the following drive, Chris Boswell connected from the same distance to close the gap 10-6. At this point, Trubisky’s mental errors and subpar gameplay led fans to start chanting for Kenny Pickett. New England marched down the field again only to have cornerback Cam Sutton drop an interception. Sutton provided coverage on the following play to make the Patriots punt. The punt landed in the hands of former Patriot Gunner Olszewski, who may as well have been playing for them still as he fumbled. With little room to go, Damien Harris recorded a 2 yard touchdown and the Patriots led 17-6.
Quarter 4: Steelers 6 Patriots 17
If only the offense that happened on this drive was the offense we got all game. Much like a 12-year-old playing Madden for the first time, the Steelers seemed to spam Najee Harris and wait for him to make plays. Which, of course, he did. He’s Najee. After hurdling a defender, Harris set Pittsburgh up perfectly for a Pat Freiermuth touchdown (I had him as most likely to catch the first touchdown at Acrisure!). Diontae Johnson converted on the following 2-point attempt and brought the Steelers within 3. The Patriots and Steelers traded 2 punts apiece before New England drove deep in Pittsburgh territory until the 2 minute warning. Pittsburgh spent all their timeouts but a first down from the Patriots ended it all.
Final Score: Steelers 14 Patriots 17
A painful game for Steelers fans came to a merciful close around 4 p.m. The Steelers’ defense struggled without TJ Watt. Their offense looked caught in the mud behind Matt Canada’s miserable situational playcalling and Trubisky’s lack of awareness and execution. You’re not going to win too many NFL games by putting up 14 points, especially in this pass-happy era. The first game recap that ended in a Pittsburgh loss had to be published and I cringed as I typed it. This is Pittsburgh’s fifth loss when TJ Watt does not play.
Pittsburgh finished with 1 explosive play and that was a 23-yard pass to George Pickens. Trubisky and the offense played 58 snaps and generated 243 yards, averaging a ghastly 4.2 yards per play. The Steelers were 8-15 on third down, though, an improvement from last week’s 4-15. They committed 3 penalties for 20 yards. Trubisky was 21/33 for 152 yards, a touchdown, and an interception with a passer rating of 73.8 (he averaged 87.2 in Chicago). Najee Harris rushed 15 times for 49 yards while Diontae Johnson caught 6 passes for 57 yards.
The Patriots’ Mac Jones completed 21/35 for 252 yards, a touchdown, and an interception for a passer rating of 79.8. Damien Harris ran 15 times for 71 yards and a touchdown while Nelson Agholor snagged 6 passes for 110 yards and a touchdown. New England had 7 penalties for 55 yards. They had 18 first downs, 2 more than Pittsburgh. Up next for the Patriots is a home battle against the Ravens next Sunday. The Steelers fly into Cleveland to restart their winning ways against the Browns on Thursday night.
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Looks as tho matt canada may not be the offensive genius we all thought. Still want to see what Pickett could do.