When you're playing a game in which points are at a premium, you can't make the big mistake.
Unfortunately for the Steelers Sunday at Acrisure Stadium, that's exactly what they did.
Gunner Olszewski muffed a punt late in the third quarter that the Patriots recovered deep in Pittsburgh territory and New England converted that into a 2-yard touchdown run by Damien Harris en route to a 17-14 victory over the Steelers.
"I just dropped the ball," Olszewski said. "No excuses. That can't happen."
The muffed punt was a costly one for the Steelers (1-1), who had just pulled within 10-6 and gotten a big stop against the New England offense, looking as if they had stolen some momentum with back-to-back incompletions by Mac Jones. The first of those two incompletions was a dropped interception by Steelers cornerback Cameron Sutton.
Olszewski, a former Pro Bowl returner for the Patriots (1-1) who joined the Steelers as a free agent, set up to field Jake Bailey's end-over-end punt at his own 20, but the ball bounced off him and Brenden Schooler fell on the loose ball. An unnecessary roughness penalty on Connor Heyward put the ball at the Pittsburgh 10 and three plays later, Damien Harris plowed his way into the end zone for a 17-6 lead.
The Steelers, however, answered immediately, with Mitch Trubisky directing a 9-play, 75-yard scoring drive capped off by an 8-yard touchdown pass to tight end Pat Freiermuth on third-and-4 on the first play of the fourth quarter. Trubisky then connected with Diontae Johnson for a 2-point conversion pass that pulled the Steelers to within 17-14.
But playing without reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, the defense failed to get to the quarterback. After getting seven sacks in a 23-20 overtime win over the Bengals last week – when Watt was injured late in regulation – the Steelers failed to record a single sack against Jones.
Jones completed 21 of 35 passes for 252 yards with one touchdown and one interception. The Patriots also ran the ball just well enough to put the Steelers away down the stretch, getting the ball back with 6:33 remaining and milking most of the remaining time off the clock.
The Steelers had two opportunities with the ball themselves after cutting New England's lead to 17-14, but after taking over deep in their own territory both times, they failed to move the ball, punting it back to the Patriots twice.
New England rushed for 124 yards on 31 carries, with 58 of that coming in the fourth quarter.
"We didn't do a good enough job of stopping the run,," said Steelers defensive lineman Cam Heyward. "We didn't put them in enough situations where they had to throw the ball. Attention to detail things. A couple of times, Jones got out. But it came down to if we were ever going to get to the passer, get after their (offensive) line, we had to stop the run first."
Trubisky completed 21 of 33 passes for 168 yards with one touchdown and one interception, while the Steelers rushed for 91 yards.
"We can be better at everything," Trubisky said. "I can be better with decision making. We had some missed opportunities with missed throws. We had a couple where we weren't on the same page. Bottom line, we've got to score more points."
After forcing the Steelers to go three-and-out on their opening possession, the Patriots avoided disaster when Pressley Harvin's punt sailed 69 yards into the end zone. New England's punt returner, Myles Bryant, touched the ball just inside the 5-yard line, but his momentum was carrying him backward toward the end zone.
By the time Meyer gained possession of the ball and was tackled, he was in the end zone, but he was ruled to have been carried in by his momentum and the play was ruled a touchback instead of a safety.
New England went 71 yards on 13 plays before stalling in the red zone and settling for a 28-yard Nick Folk and a 3-0 lead with 6:42 remaining in the first quarter.
The Steelers were driving on their next possession, but on first-and-10 from the New England 42, Trubisky's play-action pass intended for Johnson was tipped by linebacker Mack Wilson and intercepted by cornerback Jalen Mills, who returned it 13 yards to the Patriots' 39.
But on third-and-5, Alex Highsmith pressured Mac Jones on a deep throw and Minkah Fitzpatrick went up over Devante Parker for an interception on a throw deep down the middle.
Fitzpatrick, who also had an interception in last week's win over the Cincinnati Bengals, returned the ball 12 yards to the Pittsburgh 34.
Game action photos from the Steelers' Week 2 game against the New England Patriots at Acrisure Stadium
The Steelers turned that into a 36-yard Chris Boswell field goal and a 3-3 tie, going 48 yards in 16 plays despite Trubisky being sacked twice during the drive. One of the sacks led to a third-and-17 play from the New England 47 that Trubisky converted with a 17-yard pass to Johnson.
The score stayed tied at 3-3 until there were 22 seconds remaining in the first half when Jones connected with Nelson Agholor for a 44-yard touchdown on third-and-3. Ahkello Witherspoon had good coverage on the play, but Agholor went up over him and took the ball away, just inside the 10, waltzing into the end zone for a 10-3 New England lead.
The Patriots opened the second half with a drive that appeared to be headed for points, but a false start pushed them back after they had moved into field goal range and Folk pushed a 52-yard attempt wide right, giving the Steelers excellent field position.
The Steelers turned that into a 52-yard field goal by Boswell that trimmed the New England lead to 10-6 with 5:44 remaining in the third quarter.