The New England Patriots are not panicking. It doesn’t matter the year, the opponent or even the quarterback.
At times, Miami’s lifeless loss in their opener was just that, a revelation. A starting point the Patriots knew would in no way define their season. The answer was a performance that became the standard for an organization that cares far less about scoring points for style and far more about winning by any means necessary: a clinical, largely unselfish 17-14 victory over Pittsburgh on Sunday that gave New England remained without 0-2 beginning for more than 20 years.
One big throw from quarterback Mack Jones to Nelson Agholor just before halftime. A muffed punt that fell into the hands of Brenden Schooler to set up a key touchdown run by Damien Harris. A sharp fourth-quarter interception by quarterback Matthew Judon capped 6:33 of pure physical dominance by an offensive line that allowed the Patriots to run out the clock en route to beating the Steelers for the 13th time in 17 games under coach Bill Belichick .
“We’re building an identity,” longtime Patriots linebacker Devin McCourty said. “To come to Pittsburgh and win, you start building who you are.”
An identity that could eventually prove to be the same as many New England teams that have come before it.
Jones rebounded from a rough Week 1 performance to throw for 253 yards, including a 44-yarder to a leaping Agholor that gave the Patriots a 10-3 halftime lead. The defense forced a pair of three-and-outs in the fourth quarter after the Steelers drew within three. And special teams capitalized on a miscue by Pittsburgh punt returner Olszewski, whose fumble helped New England celebrate owner Robert Kraft’s 500th game like many games before it: a victory based less on style than substance.
“I hope this game is a stepping stone to where we’re going,” Agalor said. – At the same time, I don’t want it to be: “Hey, this is our personality.” It’s better, we see good things. Now let’s get better.”
Harris ran for 71 yards, most of them in the final minutes as clockwork, which allowed New England to come back when Pittsburgh’s defense collapsed late without star linebacker TJ Watt, who is out indefinitely with a left pectoral injury.
Mitch Trubisky threw for 168 yards with a touchdown and an interception for the Steelers, whose offense sputtered for long stretches as it struggled to find a rhythm. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Trubisky hit Pat Fryermuth for a 7-yard touchdown to pull the Steelers within three and briefly silence rookie backup quarterback Kenny Pickett’s chants. Those cheers won’t go away anytime soon, however, after the Steelers failed to pick up a first down on their final two possessions, squandering a chance to tie or take the lead.
“We need that spark,” Steelers wide receiver Dionte Johnson said. “We’ve got to bring that spark every week. We’re going to be good. We’ve got to get off the ball with a purpose and we’ll be good.
It may well be a few steps down the road. The Steelers finished with just 243 yards of total offense, while the Patriots made a point to pick off deep passes. A combination of a steady pass in Trubisky’s face and some indecisiveness on Trubisky’s part about checking the New England secondary led to a series of checks that occasionally changed sticks but didn’t generate sustained momentum.
“We can be better at everything,” said Trubisky, who went 21-of-33 and was sacked three times. – I can be better at making decisions. We had some missed opportunities. I had a few misses. … Bottom line, we have to score more points.
The first meeting between the NFL’s two major franchises in years, with neither Tom Brady nor Ben Roethlisberger involved, lacked the high stakes that have long defined the rivalry between the former AFC superpowers. Instead, New England came looking for a boost after a Week 1 loss to Miami while the Steelers are still in the infancy of the post-Roethlisberger era, a journey that began with a thrilling and somewhat surprising win over Cincinnati last Sunday. The overtime victory came at a pretty high price. Without Watt, Pittsburgh was unable to generate any sort of long passing game against Jones. The Steelers failed to record a single sack after collecting seven against the Bengals, and while Jones wasn’t impressive, he didn’t have to be, continuing drives with responsible and safe throws over the middle.
Patriots: Host Baltimore next Sunday.
Steelers: Travel to Cleveland to face the Browns on Thursday night. Last season, Pittsburgh defeated their long-time rivals from the AFC North.
The Patriots, who lost to the Dolphins in their season opener 20-7, now return to Foxboro at 1-1 as they prepare to face Baltimore next Sunday.