New England is in trouble. The Patriots lost badly to the Steelers, but the final score was only 10-17. The team dropped from second to third place among the AFC leaders, and the chances of them getting a first round bye in the playoffs have drastically declined. While playoffs loom in the distance, the same problems continue to plague New England.
Every week fans tell themselves that last week was Tom Brady’s worst game of the season; he’s going to come back and play better than ever this week. Fans have been telling themselves this bit for the last month, but Brady has officially hit rock bottom…and shows no signs of climbing out. His inconsistent target throwing has become uniform and it’s tearing the offense apart. The quarterback is the anchor of the offense, and he’s sinking their ship. The offense only converted for 18 first downs and 1 touchdown during the entire game. The Patriots are known for playing their best ball in December, but they can’t play well without their motivator— their quarterback.
Penalties. Killed. The. Patriots. The offensive line was responsible for multiple penalties that extinguished any spark of momentum by the runners/receivers. Trent Brown was called for two penalties, one of which took away a 25 yard run by Sony Michel. Van Noy was penalized for ineligibility during a punt return, starting the offense back 5 more yards than intended. Malcolm Brown, Shaq Mason, and Joe Thuney collected penalties of their own towards the end of the game. When New England needed them the most, these offensive players couldn’t contribute.
The Secondary has had the same batch of problems all season. From lack of effort to misreading the player and not getting in position to break up the pass, nothing has changed. The secondary was fully responsible for Pittsburgh’s first touchdown of the game, showing no effort to go after the ball. Throughout the rest of the game, cornerbacks gave up chunks of yardage and first down conversions that dug New England a deeper hole. While the secondary was pitted against a strong batch of wide receivers, they still had the potential to outplay them. No one in the secondary plays with the confidence needed to eclipse the other team, and that is truly their biggest problem.
New England’s special teams unit had one of the most stunning plays of the game. With 8:17 left in the second quarter, Jonathan Jones sprinted towards Gostkowki’s punt as it tumbled towards the end zone. He leaped and threw the football behind him while avoiding the plane. Rex Burkhead and Matthew Slater followed right behind him and similarly launched the ball away from the line. Finally, Ramon Humber took the football and secured it perfectly on the 1 yard line. Their teamwork was optimal and set up the Patriots defense for what should have been an easy safety. Unfortunately the defense couldn’t convert and instead allowed a 12 yard run.
Duron Harmon is becoming well known for being in the right place at the right time. In yet another game, Harmon caught two interceptions for the Patriots. After the defensive line blew the special team’s effort to place the ball on the 1 yard line, Harmon stepped up and put a stop to their touchdown run. The defensive line put good pressure on Ben Roethlisberger and he overthrew his pass, right into the hands of Harmon. While this interception created the opportunity for a comeback for New England, Brady blew that for them too. Harmon’s second interception set the Patriots up to tie the game with minutes remaining. How unfortunate is it that Brady overthrew every single pass? Harmon’s strong efforts were never given a chance to impact the game the way they were intended.
Chris Hogan finished the game with 2 receptions for 68 yards and 1 touchdown— the only touchdown New England was able to score. While Hogan didn’t see many targets, he certainly had one of the greatest plays of the night. The Patriots had to answer to Pittsburgh’s strong opening drive, and they did so with style. Brady faked a handoff to Edelman then found Hogan wide open downfield. Hogan took the pass and ran for a 63 yard touchdown, embarrassing the Steelers all the while. Had Hogan dropped that catch or not found the wide open spot, the Patriots probably wouldn’t have scored a touchdown at all during the game. Essentially, Hogan saved New England from complete embarrassment.
After another depressing loss, there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight. The team needs a new motivator— someone who can create plays and provoke the same kind of play from others. The defense has to strengthen its core and become more effective during pass breaks. If the Patriots can find the answers to their problems, they should be able to snatch a victory from the Bills next week.
-Caitlyn Allen is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media and covers the New England Patriots. Follow her on Twitter @caitlyyyn_allen