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Patriots triumph Analysis and recap of the Steelers on TNF

Bailey Zappe's career-high 3 touchdown passes and key defensive stops down the stretch helped New England outlast Pittsburgh.

Mark Kaboly, Mike DeFabo, Chad Graff and The Athletic NFL staff

How the Patriots upset the Steelers 21-18 on Thursday Night Football: Updates and analysis

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Patriots snap 5-game losing streak as Steelers' woes continue

VIDEO: Patriots Postgame Show: Pittsburgh Steelers Recap & Analysis 12/7
New England Patriots

Bailey Zappe threw three first-half touchdowns and the New England Patriots' defense did enough in the second half to preserve a 21-18 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, snapping a five-game losing streak while damaging Pittsburgh's playoff hopes.

New England, which was shut out in a 6-0 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers last week, scored a touchdown on its opening drive and looked unexpectedly efficient on offense early. Zappe, making his second consecutive start, threw one touchdown to Ezekiel Elliott and two to Hunter Henry as the Patriots built a 21-3 lead.

The second half was a different story: The Patriots gained just 69 yards on 22 plays and ran just three plays in Steelers territory. But New England held on against a Pittsburgh offense that struggled to gain traction all game.

The Steelers, starting backup Mitch Trubisky, were just 3-of-14 on third down and had just one play of more than 20 yards until the final possession. They scored 15 consecutive points, cutting the deficit to 21-18 when Trubisky ran for a 1-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter. But on two drives where the Steelers could have tied or won the game, they went just 35 yards on 13 plays, punting once and turning the ball over on downs.

The Patriots (3-10) won for the first time since Oct. 22. The Steelers (7-6) lost to a 10-loss team for the second consecutive week.

According to the Amazon broadcast, the Steelers are the first over .500 team in NFL history to lose consecutive games, both to teams at least eight games under .500.

Bailey Zappe, Patriots hold on to beat Steelers on ‘Thursday Night Football’


Bailey Zappe, Patriots hold on to beat Steelers on ‘Thursday Night Football’

Steelers’ defense finally cracks vs. Patriots

VIDEO: Steelers Vs Patriots Recap & Analysis
Alex Kozora

The Terrible Towels twirled as Styx blared through the crisp December air at Acrisure Stadium — a familiar fourth-quarter feeling on the city’s North Shore.

But this time, with one significant difference.

The band that wrote “Renegade,” the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defensive anthem, was on hand for Thursday Night Football. After a rousing ovation from the crowd — one that was even more emphatic than any player got during pregame introductions moments earlier — they stepped to midfield to sing the national anthem.

Styx’s presence should have been just another way of setting the stage for a dominant defensive performance. Pittsburgh’s defense entered the game ranked sixth in scoring, allowing just 19.1 points per game, and was climbing its way into the elite conversation. The opponent? A case study in what happens when a Hall of Fame quarterback moves on without a succession plan. The Patriots’ offense has fluctuated between haphazard and humiliating, with revered coach Bill Belichick putting himself on the hot seat by proving unable to figure out which quarterback (or how many) to play.

It should have been the perfect get-right game for the Steelers. T.J. Watt and the potent pass rush should have feasted on an offensive line that ranks near the bottom of the league in every protection stat. Coach Mike Tomlin and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin should have devised a scheme to expose Bailey Zappe for what he is: a backup quarterback. And by the time the scoreboard dimmed and “Renegade” played in the fourth quarter, the Steelers should have been celebrating a lockdown performance against an offense that hadn’t topped seven points in a game since Nov. 5.

But what should have happened never did. Instead, Pittsburgh spotted New England three first-half touchdowns, and its floundering offense was never able to make up the distance in a 21-18 letdown.

Read more here.

Steelers’ defense finally cracks vs. Patriots, leaving team on brink of disaster


Steelers’ defense finally cracks vs. Patriots, leaving team on brink of disaster

Patriots defense delivers vintage performance in shocking ‘TNF’ win over Steelers

VIDEO: New England Patriots vs. Pittsburgh Steelers | 2023 Week 14 Game Highlights

Players heard the chatter. How could they not?

The New England Patriots started 2-10. The franchise hasn’t won a playoff game since Tom Brady left. So, yeah, there has been a lot of discussion in recent weeks about Bill Belichick’s job status.

If the team continues to crater, will he return in 2024? If he departed, would it be via some sort of mutual agreement, an outright firing or a trade?

Those were the questions that have been swirling throughout New England and have made their way into the locker room. Jabrill Peppers grew frustrated when he heard them asked.

The 28-year-old came to the Patriots a year and a half ago as a forgotten former star, a 2017 first-round pick on his third team in five years and coming off an injury. With Belichick, though, Peppers has become one of the best safeties in the league, a hard-hitting enforcer who quickly became a locker-room leader.

That’s why he’s been so troubled by the questions about Belichick’s future. And that’s why he’s stayed so focused on delivering positive results even in the last few games of an otherwise lost season, a key force in a defense that was excellent once again in the Patriots’ 21-18 upset of the Steelers here Thursday night.

Read more here.

Patriots defense delivers vintage performance in shocking ‘TNF’ win over Steelers


Patriots defense delivers vintage performance in shocking ‘TNF’ win over Steelers

Firing Mike Tomlin wouldn’t do the Steelers any good

VIDEO: NFL Week 14: Steelers vs. Patriots reaction, recap, highlights and analysis
Post-Gazette Sports

At one point during the first half, a chant of “Fire Mike Tomlin” began somewhere in the upper deck of Acrisure Stadium.

Actually, it wasn’t a chant.

It was more like one guy who sounded like he had his share of tailgate fun, beginning hours before the start of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ game against the New England Patriots on Thursday night. Put it this way: It didn’t catch on like the “Mason Rudolph” chants that rang out from a portion of the 66,000-plus fans following a Mitch Trubisky interception earlier in the game.

There’s no doubt that the “Fire Tomlin” people will be a little more vocal — heck, just check the comments at the bottom of this page — over the next eight days, at least until the Steelers get back on the field on Dec. 16 at Indianapolis. And rightfully so.

The Steelers lost their second consecutive home game to a 2-10 team in a span of five days when they fell to the Patriots, 21-18.

Read more here.

Kaboly: Fire Mike Tomlin? Blow it all up? That wouldn’t do the Steelers any good


Kaboly: Fire Mike Tomlin? Blow it all up? That wouldn’t do the Steelers any good

Steelers drop back-to-back games vs. 2-10 teams

VIDEO: Patriots Upset Steelers on Thursday Night Football!

The Steelers have now lost back-to-back games against teams 2-10 or worse, something that had happened three total times since Mike Tomlin’s first season as head coach in 2007.

The Patriots put so much on the plate of their defense. The special teams was again bad, having a punt blocked. Their offense was in a major rut in the second half. The defense faced poor field position. But once again, the Patriots defense stepped up when it needed to and got key stops against Mitch Trubisky and the Steelers. It’s hard to play this kind of football long term, but for the rest of this season, it’s how the Pats have to try to win. Just keep hoping their defense can keep playing like this.

There's reason to be concerned about the Steelers' defense

VIDEO: Pittsburgh Dad Reacts to Steelers vs. Patriots - 2023 NFL Week 14
Pittsburgh Dad

The Steelers defense entered Thursday night as the NFL’s second-best scoring defense (19 points per game) and appeared primed for a big night against a floundering Patriots offense. However, the numerous injuries at key positions were costly early. The Patriots targeted a depleted inside linebacker corps on their first touchdown, when running back Ezekiel Elliott beat reserve linebacker Mykal Walker in the flat. Later, quarterback Bailey Zappe picked on nickel Chandon Sullivan, who had lost his job until Elijah Riley went down with injury, for an 11-yard touchdown to tight end Hunter Henry.

While the Steelers’ defense regrouped in the second half, the 21 first-half points the Patriots scored with a backup quarterback should be concerning. The Steelers have leaned on their defense to create splash plays and keep their struggling offense in games this year. If they can’t shut down one of the worst offenses in the league, it doesn’t bode well going forward.

“Obviously, this stings,” Mike Tomlin told reporters after the loss. “But we’ll be back.”

Asked what gives him the confidence that the team will rebound he replied, “Because this is what we do. This is who we are.

Encouraging, if uneven, performance for Bailey Zappe

VIDEO: Week 14 TNF Recap Patriots at Steelers: Reaction, Analysis (Fantasy Football Today in 5 Podcast)
Fantasy Football Today

Encouraging, if uneven, performance for Bailey Zappe

(Photo: USA Today)

The second-half slump put a damper on what was otherwise a really solid game for Bailey Zappe. In his second start of the season, Zappe completed 19 of 28 passes for 240 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. He made some plays that the Patriots haven’t seen from their quarterback all season. But the second half did offer a reminder that there are limitations. The team didn’t score in the second half and had only one drive that gained more than 20 yards. Still, the first half was good enough that the Patriots will head into a long weekend with plenty to build off.

Live: Postgame analysis from The Athletic Football Show

VIDEO: Patriots SHOCK Steelers On The Road For 3rd Win of Season I Game Recap I CBS Sports
CBS Sports

Robert Mays and Nate Tice go live to react to the Patriots' win over the Steelers.

Per the Amazon broadcast, the Steelers are the first over .500 team in NFL history to lose consecutive games, both to teams at least eight games under .500.

Steelers have lost back-to-back games versus teams that entered 2-10 (Cardinals and Patriots).

Pittsburgh had lost two games versus teams that entered 2-10 or worse in Mike Tomlin’s first 16 seasons as head coach combined (8-2 in 10 such games).

A painful loss for Pittsburgh's playoff hopes

VIDEO: INSTANT REACTION: Patriots pull out the surprising win on Thursday Night Football vs. the Steelers
NBC Sports Boston

Pittsburgh has, staggeringly, lost consecutive games to two-win teams — perhaps the team’s worst two-game stretch of Mike Tomlin’s tenure — and will fall to 7-6 and out of AFC playoff positioning, pending Sunday’s games. In a conference with 11 teams at 6-6 or better, the Steelers must fix things in a hurry to have any hope of reaching the postseason.

In the end, the Steelers took too long to get going

VIDEO: Patriots-Steelers Week 14 TNF Recap and Special Guest
Around the NFL Podcast

You have to give the Steelers a lot of credit for digging their way out of a big hole to start the game but they also deserve a lot of criticism for allowing the Patriots to move up and down the field to the tune of a 21-3 lead.

Having the ball with 2:44 left in the game and having a chance to tie it or win it was something that nobody saw coming in the first half. With Kenny Pickett out, it took a while for Mitch Trubisky to get comfortable and that's understandable. Still, it got so bad in the first half that the 66,000 fans at Acrisure Stadium were calling for backup Mason Rudolph to enter the game. The offense picked up steam when the Steelers figured out that Trubisky should throw horizontally instead of vertically. Unfortunately for the Steelers, Trubisky was forced to throw the ball down the field on three of his last four throws during the potential game-winning/tying drive.

Patriots finish off a win, snapping a 5-game losing streak

VIDEO: NFL Week 14 superlatives: Joe Flacco, 49ers, Bucs flex muscles | Pro Football Talk | NFL on NBC

There will be no miracle on the final play — Mitch Trubisky finds Allen Robinson over the middle for 22 yards, but he's tackled immediately and time runs out.

Patriots (3-10) 21, Steelers (7-6) 18.

After Ezekiel Elliott came up inches short of a game-sealing first down on second down, the Patriots try the "tush push" on third down — and get stuffed. The punt team comes on the field with 22 seconds to go.

How would a Patriots win affect the NFL Draft order?

VIDEO: Chicago Bears Highlights vs. Detroit Lions | 2023 Regular Season Week 14
Chicago Bears

Not much — at least immediately.

The Patriots, if they move to 3-10, would still be in line for the No. 2 pick, though they'd be tied, record-wise, with the Arizona Cardinals.

The Panthers (1-11) would seem to move closer to the No. 1 pick. But a reminder: The Bears own the Panthers' pick because of the trade ahead of the 2023 draft.

After the failed conversion attempt on fourth-and-2, the Steelers are now 1-for-7 on fourth-and-2 or longer this season (including 0-for-2 tonight), tied with the Seahawks for the second-worst rate in the NFL (14.3 percent).

Only the Cowboys (1-for-8) have been worse in those situations.

The Steelers drove to near midfield, but the drive sputtered — Mitch Trubisky attempted a deep ball to Diontae Johnson on fourth-and-2 from the Pittsburgh 49 and Patriots cornerback Jonathan Jones broke it up.

The clock is working against Pittsburgh now. The Patriots have the ball with 1:55 left, and the Steelers only have one timeout after using their second before a fourth-and-inches play earlier in the quarter.

Can the Steelers come all the way back?

VIDEO: Patriots Should Consider Marvin Harrison Jr with Top Pick - Rob Ninkovich with Zolak & Bertrand
98.5 The Sports Hub

Can the Steelers come all the way back?

(Photo: USA Today)

The Steelers force a three-and-out and they’ll have a chance to tie with a field goal or go ahead with a touchdown when they take over at their own 27-yard line with 2:44 left.

Mitch Trubisky has led five career fourth-quarter comebacks, but his last was in Week 1 of 2020 with the Bears against the Lions.

Terry McAulay said the penalty should have been on the Patriots defense

VIDEO: UNDISPUTED | "Mike Tomlin is NOT a good head coach" - Michael Irvin on Patriots beat Steelers 21-18
Skip and Shannon: Undisputed 2023

Amazon rules analyst Terry McAulay, who was an NFL referee for many years, said that the officials got the call wrong on the false start penalty on Steelers long snapper Christian Kuntz. He noted that the head movement by Pittsburgh’s long snapper wasn’t quick enough to justify a penalty call and that the New England player should have been penalized on the play.


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