BOSTON -- Maybe the Patriots should play on short rest more often. New England snapped its five-game losing streak Thursday night with a 21-18 win over the Steelers in Pittsburgh, led by an impressive first half by Bailey Zappe and crew.
The Patriots nearly let it slip away after halftime, as the Steelers shut them out in the second half. But Zappe threw for 240 yard and three touchdowns as New England won for just the third time this season and the first time since late October.
For the first time in a long time, there were smiles in the locker room and on the podium after a game.
"It's awesome," said Zappe. "Things haven't really been falling our way. But to go out and play good team football – we had a great first half. We have some things in the second half we have to clean up. But it's great to win."
"Gosh, it feels good man," tight end Hunter Henry said after his two-touchdown game. "It's been a hard stretch and a hard year. Not what we wanted at all but this was a great step in the right direction. We did some things in the second half we have to clean up, but getting the win was huge."
"Not a lot of sleep this week but they put a lot into it and it's satisfying to see," Bill Belichick said of his players.
The Patriots opened the game with a touchdown drive for the first time this season, with Ezekiel Elliott turning a short pass from Zappe into an 11-yard score to give New England an early 7-0 lead. Zappe also hit JuJu Smith-Schuster with a 37-yard reception on the drive. The former Steeler finished his night with four receptions for 90 yards.
The Patriots turned a Jabrill Peppers interception of Mitch Trubisky into another touchdown, with Zappe hitting Henry in the back of the end zone to make it a 14-3 game early in the second quarter. It was the first of two touchdowns for Henry, who also hauled in a 24-yard score later in the second quarter to give the Patriots a 21-3 lead.
Henry, who turned 29 on Thursday, finished his birthday with three receptions for 40 yards and his two touchdowns.
Points were a lot harder to come by in the second half, as both teams were held scoreless in the third quarter. The Steelers had an 11-play drive to nowhere to start the third quarter, and the Patriots punted away their first possession of the second half after just four plays. After the New England defense forced a Steelers' three-and-out, New England's second possession ended with Pittsburgh's Mykal Walker picking off a deflected pass and returning it to the Patriots' 16-yard line.
The Steelers didn't take advantage of that great field position though, and failed to convert on a fourth-and-2 at the New England 8-yard line. Trubisky felt pressure and flipped the ball to Jaylen Warren, who was brought down a yard short of the line to gain by Mack Wilson.
But the Patriots went three-and-out and Bryce Baringer's punt was blocked, giving Pittsburgh the ball at the New England 26. The Steelers did not squander that opportunity, with Trubisky calling his own number from a yard out for a touchdown. He connected with Pat Freiermuth on the two-point conversion to cut New England's lead to 21-18 with 11:48 to play.
The Patriots punted after just five plays on their next possession, and then got extremely lucky when Pittsburgh was flagged for a false start before punting on a fourth-and-3. Jahlani Tavai hopped offsides before the ball was snapped, but Steelers long-snapper Christian Kuntz was called for the penalty, much to the chagrin of a heated Pittsburgh sideline.
It didn't take Pittsburgh long to get the ball back though. They forced a three-and-out, stopping Elliott on a third-and-2 run up the middle and got the ball back with 2:44 remaining. But facing a fourth-and-2 just ahead of the two-minute warning, Trubisky fired a deep shot downfield that flew over the outstretched arms of Diontae Johnson and the Patriots took over at midfield with 1:55 to go.
The Patriots still had to sweat it out, as they couldn't get a first down on their next possession despite facing a third-and-inches with just over a minute to play. New England ended up punting the ball away with 22 seconds left, giving Pittsburgh one final chance.
A 24-yard connection between Trubisky and Johnson had the Steelers at their own 37 with seven seconds left, but Allen Robinson was brought down just over midfield on the next play to end the game.
The now 3-10 Patriots held on to end their losing streak, and will now have a few extra days off ahead of their Week 15 home game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
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