The sky isn’t falling on the season just yet, but it certainly is so far in this game, as the Steelers enter the second half trailing by three possessions, 20-0, on the strength of a pair of Tom Brady touchdowns to Josh Gordon and Phillip Dorsett, plus a pair of field goals. The offense has only mustered a couple of first downs and has failed to convert on third or fourth down yet.
Yet another touchback as the Steelers begin the second half with possession. Going four wide with Vance McDonald split wide, Ben Roethlisberger went underneath to James Conner for about five yards. Jaylen Samuels now in with McDonald in the sidecar before drifting into the slot. Roethlisberger finds Ryan Switzer between two defenders for the first down.
A quick pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster on a slant was almost intercepted. Roethlisberger pump faked right before throwing incomplete in the opposite direction. Another third and 10, Roethlisberger finally hit James Washington on the 33-yarder to the 18. Off play action, he looked for Donte Moncrief in the end zone, but couldn’t hold on, yet again. That’s two passes he had knocked out already. You need your guy to make them.
Roethlisberger scrambled for seven yards on second down to set up third and three. Diontae Johnson in, he went to the rookie on a fade, incomplete, but a defensive holding call was made on Stephon Gilmore to give them a first and goal. He hooked Switzer and then crashed into Smith-Schuster. At the six now, Roethlisberger showed good pocket movement to buy himself space before losing track of the pressure behind him, taking the sack, the ball popping forward, but the Steelers were fortunate to recover at the four.
Second and goal, Conner got to the outside and down to the one. On third and goal, the Steelers had to burn a timeout as the playclock ran down. Roethlisberger was off the mark in Moncrief’s direction on a fade. Chris Boswell was brought in from the one-yard line, Tomlin living in his fears, to make it a 17-point game.
Julian Edelman picked up another reception on the Patriots’ first play of the half, beating Mike HIlton for a first down. Finally, T.J. Watt made a play, a tackle for loss on Sony Michel. On second and 13, Ryan Izzo caught a short pass before being driven out of bounds by Devin Bush. Brady was under pressure but had Dorsett wide open well behind the entire defense for a 58-yard touchdown, another big blown assignment. Neither safety picked him up. Now 27-3, a 24-point game, or just barely still three possessions.
Switzer actually broke out of contact and spun ahead out to the 28-yard line on a kick return. The ensuing drive opened with a dump-off to Conner for a seven yards. This time he broke a tackle attempt by Jamie Collins for a nice gain on another reception. Inside Patriots territory, Smith-Schuster had a big gain called back due to OPI on Johnson. On first and 20 back in Steelers territory, Roethlisberger, it was a Johnson reception for a bit of a gain, but an offside penalty was accepted instead.
Now first and 15, Roethlisberger took a deep shot not even close with the coverage on Johnson. He beat the blitz but was off-line to Washington for an incompletion. More pressure, a low throw incomplete to Johnny Holton. And Jordan Berry returns. A fair catch at the 11.
Watt nearly sacked Brady, but he still got the throw out for a completion to Edelman. On second and six, he hit Gordon in traffic for another big play across midfield for 43. After a quick hitter to Burkhead, he got the carry around the right edge for a first down.
He broke a Bud Dupree tackle in the backfield for an 11-yard gain, Stephon Tuitt also on the miss. Just how the night’s going. At the 15, this time Burkhead was tripped up after a short gain. Kameron Kelly came up to make the tackle. He’s looked much better coming forward than working back. On third and five, Brady finally went down, a group effort, Dupree with the sack. It’s now 30-3.
Smith-Schuster made the tough catch for nine yards to end the third quarter. A couple of quick completion got the offense to midfield. Johnson dropped a ball through contact on the first play in Patriots territory, the back knocking it out. Moncrief dropped another, his third lost through contact. Now third and 10, the snap was botched, Moncrief making the catch for one yard. On fourth and nine, the Roethlisberger to Moncrief connection resulted in yet another incompletion, but Alejandro Villanueva was flagged for another hold anyway.
The Patriots continued to march up and down the field, converting a couple of first downs, Edelman getting away from Cameron Sutton for one inside the 30. Burkhead on the carry got about seven, but on a hold, so it came back. Joe Haden was injured on the play and was helped off. Artie Burns replaced him. Dupree was flagged for pass interference on second and 17.
Haden returned. With a first down at the 25, Bush seemed to take a lick going for the tackle. Right tackle Marcus Cannon went down holding his left hand or arm. Burkhead got the first down a play later.
Now at the 15, Haden made the tackle on the edge, but a hold on Shaq Mason brought it back. Brady threw behind Edelman for an incompletion. Bush was in coverage. He was under pressure, Hilton knocking him down to force another incompletion. Now third and 16, play action helped pressure get there again to force a third consecutive incompletion. Gostkowski made it 33-3.
Conner was stopped for no gain on first down looking for the right edge. Pouncey came limping off after the play. B.J. Finney in. Watt also out earlier. On Finney’s first play in, he didn’t snap the ball as the rest of the offense got in motion for the play.
A completion to Smith-Schuster for a first down followed. Now a short catch by Moncrief, which he didn’t drop. Roethlisberger was a bit long for Washington down the field. Now third and long, JC Jackson forced an incompletion for Smith-Schuster, but he was flagged for pass interference. Roethlisberger took another shot again to Washington, who got behind the corner, but the ball was too long and picked off in the end zone by Devin McCourty.
New England quickly got into a third and 15, including a five-yard loss on a carry on second down, Bush making the third-down stop. Under three minutes left.