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Upon Further Review – Patriots-Steelers

Rob Gronkowski's Big Day was the key to Patriots-Steelers last Sunday

Before this Sunday’s rematch with the Buffalo Bills, let’s take a look back at the Patriots-Steelers game from last week.

Stephon Gilmore’s Underrated Performance

On Facebook yesterday, I came across a Patriots fan who was absolutely convinced that Stephon Gilmore had played a terrible game against the Steelers. Having watched the game just once, that one didn’t pass the smell test for me. So I went back and watched the game again, focusing specifically on Gilmore. Not only did he not have a terrible game, but he actually played a pretty good game.

Gilmore was targeted seven times (an eighth was wiped out by a Steelers penalty.) He gave up five completions, including a diving 39-yard catch from Martavus Bryant, and a four-yard touchdown to Bryant – that required a one-handed catch.

He made a spectacular breakup on this first quarter slant route to Bryant.


Gilmore allowed only a total of two yards after the catch. He was also good in run support. In particular, he made an open field tackle on Le’Veon Bell on the Steelers second-to-last drive, holding him to one yard on first down. The Steelers would punt three plays later.

He also fought off the block of an offensive tackle to bring down fullback James Connor to make a tackle and prevent a big gain early in the game.

The biggest takeaway from focusing on Gilmore was that he was never out of position. Even when Roethlisberger managed to squeeze the ball into a tight window, Gilmore quickly made the tackle.

The issue for the Patriots defense was in the front seven. Roethlisberger had too much time to throw. This was the reason that the Steelers were able to stay on the field and convert third downs – not a lack of coverage by the Patriots secondary. Getting Kyle Van Noy and Alan Branch back will make a big difference in correcting that issue.


The Patriots Fought Back… Again.

The Steelers got the ball back after a Gostkowski field goal, leading 24-19, with 3:56 left in the game. They had been controlling the game to that point – with drives of 8:39 and 7:24 already to their credit. Instead, they came up with the only three-and-out of the game by either team.

For all the heat Stephon Gilmore (more on this below) has taken, he made a good tackle to hold Le’Veon Bell to a one-yard gain on first down. Good downfield coverage forced Ben Roethlisberger to scramble for five yards on second down, and Duron Harmon’s hit on JuJu Smith-Schuster kept short of the first down marker forced the Steelers to punt with over 2 minutes left to play.

On the winning touchdown drive. Three plays

Tom Brady to Rob Gronkowski – seam route, 26 yards to midfield.

Brady to Gronk – seam route, 26 yards to the Pittsburgh 24.



Brady to Gronk – crossing route, 17 yards to the Steelers 8.


Dion Lewis 8-yard run up the middle for the TD. Dwayne Allen’s block isn’t going to get nearly enough credit. Allen and Gronk moved the right side of the Steelers line and created a huge hole for Lewis.


Gronk fade for the crucial two-point conversion. Gronk easily gets past Sean Davis, and safety Mike Mitchell (#23) is both very late getting over, and he takes far too shallow a route, allowing Gronkowski an easy catch to put the Patriots up 27-24.

Maybe cover that Gronkowski Kid?

In six career games against the Steelers, Rob Gronkowski is averaging 6.5 catches and 111 yards a game.

Regular Season Table
2010-11-14NWE@PITW 39-26557214.403318
2011-10-30NWE@PITL 17-25979413.43000
2013-11-03NWEPITW 55-3110914315.89116
2015-09-10NWEPITW 28-21859418.803318
2016-10-23NWE@PITW 27-16449323.25116
2017-12-17NWE@PITW 27-2413916818.670102
6 Games5-1-0493966417.0381850

James Loses Control


In all the national furor over the Steelers’ Jesse James almost catching a game-winning touchdown, it needs to be pointed out that James didn’t need to lunge for the end zone. If he works on keeping the ball off the ground, he makes that catch and rolls into the end zone for the score. But he didn’t do that. He lunged, put the ball on the ground, and lost control of it. The ball clearly rolls on the ground, and you can see the laces rotate through the shot.

Alex Reimer on has got a good article about the rule, which really isn’t that complicated.

Here’s the official NFL Rule.

The Butler did it…

After the incompletion, the Steelers still had the ball inside the Patriots 10, with three chances to score. Great teams find a way to score there, after a disappointing call. Instead, the Steelers panicked.

On second down, the Patriots pass defense forced the Steelers to throw underneath to Darius Heyward-Bey – and Malcolm Butler made a quiet – but game-changing play.

If Heyward-Bey gets to the sideline, there’s no need for the Steelers to rush to the line. As it was, they ran their disastrous fake-spike play that fooled no one. Eric Rowe made up for his missed tackle on the Smith-Schuster play, deflecting the ball into the waiting arms of Duron Harmon.

Game over.


The Steelers Haven’t Been the Only Ones Not at Full Strength…

Also on First Take this morning, Molly Qerim correctly (kinda) pointed out due to Antonio Brown’s injury that the Steelers have not been at full strength the last four times they played the Patriots. But somehow the Patriots injuries are discounted without mention. It’s like we’ve come to expect that the New England will overcome a lot of injuries and still excel.

December 17, 2017 – Patriots win 27-24 at Pittsburgh without Julian Edelman and Dont’a Hightower. Hightower’s replacement, Kyle Van Noy also misses the game. As does Chris Hogan… and Alan Branch. They lost Rex Burkhead during the game.

The absence of Van Noy and Branch made a huge difference in the game, and was a factor in the Steelers being able to put together long drives and keep Brady off the field for two long drives.

January 22, 2017 – Patriots win the AFC Championship Game 36-17 without Rob Gronkowski. More on what he’s done against the Steelers below.

October 23, 2016 – Patriots win 27-16 without Dion Lewis

September 10, 2015 – Patriots win 28-21 without Brandon LaFell, James Develin, Bryan Stork and Tavon Wilson.

Steelers Sacks Against Brady don’t Translate to Victories

The Steelers sacked Brady twice in the game. Just like they did last year, and in four of his last five regular-season games against Pittsburgh.

As well as in each of his three playoff games against the Steelers.

Coach Belichick’s Breakdown

Another Year, Another Division Title.

It was another “hat and tee shirt game” for the Patriots, as they wrapped up their ninth consecutive division title.

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Mike Cooney
Mike is a lifelong Boston sports fan. He's got a degree in journalism from Northeastern University, and has been writing about sports in various methods since the mid-1990's. He's gotten to meet Bobby Orr, Luis Tiant, Rich Gedman, Nomar Garciaparra, and once shut out Carlos Pena's two twin brothers in a game of foosball at McCoy Stadium.