Two of the AFC’s 21st-century powers met in New England on Sunday afternoon. By game’s end, one looked well on its way to a fifth consecutive playoff berth, while the other looked well on its way to its worst season in a decade.
The Patriots, led by a revitalized offense, were the victors, rolling to a 55-31 triumph Sunday against the visiting Steelers in Foxborough.
The Patriots (7-2) looked like a club perhaps ready to hit a new level of performance in the second half of the campaign, a trait that’s distinguished New England in recent seasons. Quarterback Tom Brady had his best game of the year, completing 23-of-33 passes for 432 yards and four touchdowns. Tight end Rob Gronkowski also starred, catching nine passes for 143 yards and a score.
Gronkowski was one of three Patriots pass catchers to exceed 100 yards against Pittsburgh, with wide receivers Aaron Dobson (five catches, 130 yards, two TDs) and Danny Amendola (four catches, 122 yards, one TD) the others.
In defeat, the Steelers surrendered the most yards (610) and points (55) in a single game in franchise history. Only 400 yards passing and four TD throws from Ben Roethlisberger, three to Jerricho Cotchery, kept this respectable.
Simply put, the Steelers’ defense — still filled with members that helped the franchise win two Super Bowls — was over-matched. The Steelers even surrendered 198 yards on the ground. There was a time, and it wasn’t that long ago, that teams wouldn’t bother testing the Steelers much in the ground game. Such was the Steelers’ stout nature vs. the run.
On this day, however, the Patriots largely did as they pleased, whether in the running game or in the passing game.
The loss drops the Steelers to 2-6, leaving them 3.5 games behind Cincinnati with eight left to play. Pittsburgh will need six wins in its final eight games to avoid a losing season for the first time since 2003, when it slumped to 6-10.
Those Steelers would rebound and regroup around Roethlisberger, their No. 1 pick in the 2004 draft. These Steelers had their moments on Sunday — a drive here or there — but then the Patriots were gone, off to another win, leaving the Steelers, long one of their AFC contemporaries, behind, and in more ways than one.
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