BOSTON (CBS) – Last week against Miami, the Patriots had two of their ugliest quarters to start the game, forcing themselves to scrap their way to a comeback victory.
This week against the Steelers, the Patriots went ahead and took care of business right out of the gate, saving themselves some trouble in the second half.
The Patriots opened up a 14-0 lead before Pittsburgh was able to get on the board, and after a Ben Roethlisberger touchdown pass late in the second quarter cut the Pats' lead to just seven points, they responded by driving all the way down the field to stretch the lead to two touchdowns once again.
Though they faltered in the third quarter and allowed the Steelers to tie the game, they applied pressure on the gas pedal in the fourth to run away with a 55-31 victory.
Before they head into the bye, here's a look at four ups and four downs from the win.
Perhaps for the first time in his career, Tom Brady has had to listen to a lot of folks doubt his ability this year. Maybe he's aware of it, or maybe he finds a way to ignore it, but either way, his performance on Sunday was a pretty good way of quieting such discussion.
Brady had a truly excellent day, making the most of his 22 completions (33 attempts), picking up 432 passing yards while throwing four touchdowns and zero interceptions.
It wasn't a perfect passing day, but he was on the money every time the Patriots needed him to be.
The "drop talk" from way back in Week 2 seems like ancient history after the performance of rookie receiver Aaron Dobson against the Steelers.
From a purely statistical perspective, he had a great day by making five catches for 130 yards and two touchdowns. But the performance was even more impressive when the difficulty of that first touchdown catch is taken into consideration.
With the Patriots holding onto a three-point lead early in the fourth quarter, Dobson turned at the front left corner of the end zone to catch a back-shoulder throw from Brady. Dobson was able to secure the ball while falling to the turf, tapping one toe and getting his elbow and hip down before falling out of bounds.
It was a highlight-reel catch, as was his 81-yard touchdown later in the fourth, and it was by far the best performance the rookie has had this season.
Also noteworthy: Danny Amendola making four catches for 122 yards and a touchdown. The Steelers seemed to lose track of Amendola on two plays – gains of 34 and 57 yards – which helped pump up those numbers.
The box score says Stevan Ridley had another fumble, which if isolated could be cause for concern. But considering the circumstances (he might not have ever possessed the football before Troy Polamalu knocked the pass out of his hands) and the rest of his performance, there won't be much worry about the running back's hands.
Ridley was a horse, running for 115 yards on 26 carries and finding the end zone twice.
LeGarrette Blount deserves a mention too, as he was nearly impossible to tackle while picking up 47 yards and a touchdown on just five carries.
One way to solve third-down issues is to put the ball in No. 87's hands and let him do the rest.
The Patriots did that on Sunday. Facing a third-and-7 at the Pittsburgh 26, Brady threw to Rob Gronkowski on the right side. Gronkowski was hit immediately by Shamarko Thomas but didn't go down. Instead, he dragged the defensive back for two yards, picking up the first down and keeping the drive alive. Three plays later, Ridley was in the end zone, and the Patriots had a 17-point lead.
It was just one play in Gronkowski's nine-catch, 143-yard, one-touchdown performance, but it perfectly captures how that one player can change the shape of the offense, turning field goals into touchdowns.
Steve Gregory's Thumb
Steve Gregory has been perhaps the most-improved player in the Patriots defense in recent weeks, and he's worn the green dot on his helmet as the defensive play caller. But he left this game early in the third quarter with a thumb injury and never returned.
The injury forced rookie Duron Harmon into extended action, which he handled well. But the Patriots have to hope the injury can heal over the bye week. With Jerod Mayo and Vince Wilfork out for the season, losing a starting safety would make you start wondering how much is too much.
Rob Ninkovich's Foot
Another player the Patriots can't afford to lose, Rob Ninkovich left the game in the second quarter and never returned. He made his way onto the sidelines twice, but he never re-entered the game.
Ninkovich sacked Roethlisberger and forced a fumble on the opening drive of the game, and like Gregory, his injury situation will require monitoring over the next two weeks.
It's tough to play cornerback in the NFL, so it wouldn't be necessarily right to single out any Patriots corner for having a particularly bad game. But overall, the pass defense needs to be better. For as much as the final score looked like a blowout, the defense allowed the Steelers to climb back into the game in the third quarter, when Ben Roethlisberger engineered two touchdown drives that looked far too easy.
The Patriots did sack the quarterback five times, and they came up with two gift-wrapped interceptions, so it wasn't a terrible game defensively. But allowing 371 passing yards and four passing touchdowns made this game a bit closer than it needed to be.
And … That's It
Is it really necessary to list four downs after the Patriots win 55-31? I say no.
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