PATRIOTS 39, STEELERS 26
Steelers' record: 6-3
One year ago: 6-3
Series record (including playoffs): Steelers lead, 14-11
Because the recent history of this series includes a couple of conference championship games, meetings between the Steelers and Patriots will be a big deal, but this game also matched teams having success this season. Last year the Steelers also started 6-2, and then a tough loss to a good team at home started them on the five-game losing streak that ruined their hopes to defend their title.
The teams' respective opening possessions told the tale. The Steelers went three-and-out. The Patriots drove 70 yards in eight plays for a touchdown.
STAT THAT STANDS OUT
Hines Ward came into the game with a streak of 186 games in which he caught at least one pass. Ward had a catch overturned via a replay challenge late in the first quarter, and then he left the game with a concussion. Therefore, his streak is over.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
* Heath Miller and Emmanuel Sanders both got nice blocks on a running play in which Rashard Mendenhall gained 34 yards in the second quarter.
- Thanks to a 38-yard pass interference penalty on Brandon Meriweather, the Steelers had a first-and-goal at the New England 8-yard line with four minutes left in the third quarter.
- The Steelers finally got into the end zone early in the fourth quarter by making back-to-back plays in the passing game. On the first, Roethlisberger pitched a strike to Mike Wallace for 20 yards; on the next he threw a pretty fade to Emmanuel Sanders for the 6-yard touchdown.
- Heath Miller became the second tight end in franchise history to go over 3,000 yards receiving.
WHAT WENT WRONG
* The Steelers had to hope the teams' respective opening offensive possessions weren't a forecast of how the game would go. Ben Roethlisberger threw two incompletions during a first possession three-and-out, while Tom Brady completed 5-of-6 for 52 yards, including a 19-yard touchdown to Rob Gronkowski for a 7-0 New England lead barely five minutes into the game.
- On the Steelers' second offensive possession, a holding penalty on Trai Essex was followed by consecutive sacks to set up a fourth-and-37. Daniel Sepulveda's 51-yard punt was returned 12 yards and then 5 more yards was tackled on because Stevenson Sylvester was illegally downfield on the kick.
- In their first eight games, the Steelers defense had allowed a total of 15 points combined in those first quarters. The Patriots scored 10 points on their first two possessions, both of which came in the first quarter.
- The Patriots came to Pittsburgh with 13 sacks in their first eight games. They had three sacks in the first 17 minutes last Sunday night.
- The Steelers got on the scoreboard with a 22-yard field goal by Jeff Reed with 5:08 left in the first half, and they settled for that after Mike Wallace and then Antwaan Randle El dropped passes in the end zone.
- Not only were the Patriots the first team to score a touchdown on the opening possession of the game vs. the Steelers this season, they also became the first to score a touchdown on the opening possession of the second half vs. the Steelers this season.
- It's one thing to have to settle for field goals in goal-to-go situations, but when the kicker compounds the problem by missing a 26-yard attempt things can't get much worse.
There were a lot of late changes to both teams' injury reports in the run-up to Sunday night's game.
For the Steelers, James Harrison woke up on Saturday with back spasms, and the team added him to the injury report and listed him as questionable. Harrison had been able to practice all week. There were reports that surfaced a few hours before the game that the Steelers were optimistic Harrison would be able to play.
Harrison was not on the inactive list, and he started.
Also, Will Allen developed headaches on Saturday and was downgraded on the injury report to doubtful. Allen had sustained a concussion in the Monday night win in Cincinnati, but he had been able to practice on both Wednesday and Friday. Allen sat out practice on Thursday because of illness.
For the Patriots, three players were downgraded to out on Saturday. Guard Steve Neal, defensive end Myron Pryor and running back Fred Taylor had been listed as questionable on Friday.
Brett Keisel (hamstring) and Chris Kemoeatu (knee) missed the game, and they were replaced in the lineup by Ziggy Hood and Ramon Foster, respectively.
As for the game itself, there was Ward's concussion; Crezdon Butler sustained a quadriceps strain; Lawrence Timmons left the game with a hip pointer; and Arnaz Battle injured his shoulder.