As the Pittsburgh Steelers took the field Thursday night at Gillette Stadium to help kickoff the 2015 regular season against the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, they probably knew Tom Brady would be a handful.
In-fact, Brady, who played in the game after having his four-game suspension for his possible role in Deflategate vacated one week earlier, came as advertised, completing 25 of 32 passes for 288 yards and four touchdowns.
Also, it didn’t take a football genius to know that tight end Rob Gronkowski would not only be a handful for Pittsburgh’s compromised secondary to cover, he would be almost impossible to contain. To that point, he caught five passes for 94 yards and three touchdowns.
- Unfortunately for the Steelers, they couldn’t have imagined just how many chances they’d have to alter the outcome of what ultimately became a 28-21 loss and how many times they’d squander those chances.
–On the game’s opening drive, the Steelers offense came out of the gate strong. After starting at their own 20 yard-line, they marched 56 yards on just five plays. Running back DeAngelo Williams, making his Pittsburgh debut, was responsible for 33 of those yards on the ground–including an 18-yard run on the first play from scrimmage.
Unfortunately for the Steelers, on first and 10 from New England’s 24-yard line, a trick play was the call, and receiver Antonio Brown was sacked for an eight-yard loss, thus taking all of the momentum out of the drive. Four plays later, the newly-acquired Josh Scobee missed a 44-yard field goal and Pittsburgh came away with nothing.
–Late in the first half, with the Steelers trailing 14-0, Ben Roethlisberger appeared to have Darrius Heyward-Bey open in the end zone, but the receiver couldn’t keep both feet in-bounds as he went to the turf to try and pull in the pass. What could have been a one-touchdown game heading into the locker room, became an 11-point deficit following a Scobee 44-yard field goal (he also missed from 46-yards away on the team’s previous drive).
–Early in the fourth quarter, after Pittsburgh had trimmed a 21-3 deficit to 10-points on its previous drive thanks to a Will Johnson one-yard touchdown run and a two-point conversion by Markus Wheaton, the Steelers offense had a first and goal at the one yard line, following a pass interference penalty on Patrick Chung who was trying to cover Heath Miller. Pittsburgh looked poised to pull to within three points.
Unfortunately, the Steelers, who finished 28th in the league in goal line efficiency in 2014, couldn’t capitalize and actually lost five yards on three plays before settling for a 24-yard field goal by Scobee to make it a seven point deficit.
–On the Patriots’ ensuing drive, they marched right down the field and eventually faced a third and five from Pittsburgh’s 22 yard line. Brady found running back Dion Lewis on a pass out of the backfield, and Lewis picked up 19 yards down to the three, before safety Mike Mitchell stripped him of the football.
For a brief second, Pittsburgh had a chance to change the course of the game by falling on a fumble. Unfortunately, Gronkowski was the first to land on it inside the one. And three plays later, he would secure the deciding points with his third touchdown catch of the night.
Finally, while Brady did look sharp and Gronkowski mostly unstoppable, the Steelers offense, despite missing three key players, was the best one on the field Thursday night, as it totaled 464 to New England’s 361.
But those little things for Pittsburgh–ill-advised play-calling, missed field goals, failing to score touchdowns when two of them were there for the taking and not falling on a loose football that could have prevented New England’s final score–were just too much to overcome, especially on the road, facing the Super Bowl champions.