Wow, that game was awful. Another loss down in Miami and an ugly showing by the Patriots to fall one game behind the Steelers heading into next week’s match-up. Despite what the scoreboard said, this might have been the ugliest game the Patriots have played all season. Kenyan Drake ran wild and Jay Cutler was routinely hitting open receivers. Then you have the 0-11 on 3rd downs. 0-11! This was the Patriots’ first game since a 24-10 loss to the Phoenix Cardinals in Week 5 of 1991 where they failed to convert on third down. That team was quarterbacked by the legendary Hugh Millen. Based on how the offense looked last night, I think Millen may have been on the field again.
Why This Might Not Be a Bad Thing
Hear me out; yes the Patriots looked terrible and fell behind Pittsburgh in the standings. If the Patriots win this coming week, they jump back ahead due to head-to-head tiebreaker, so they control their own destiny. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to drop a game late in the year. The Patriots were just humbled, shown they are not invincible by a very mediocre team. Moving forward, maybe they approach each game with more meaning. I’ve always thought since 2007 the Patriots would have been better off dropping that regular season game to the Giants. As it stands, the Patriots eight game winning streak came to an end; they know they are not indestructible. But again, they just won eight straight, this is a good team, don’t look into this loss too much.
The Steelers better watch out. Coming off an embarrassing loss, the Patriots will likely be firing on all cylinders next week with home field on the line. The Patriots have typically played well coming off a loss during the Belichick-Brady era. I expect this coming week to be no different. The Patriots have won four straight matchups with the Steelers and eight of the last ten. During that four game streak the Patriots have averaged 34 points per game. Over those previous ten games, including the losses, they have averaged 30 points per game. They have historically had the Steelers number. One of the losses came with Matt Cassel at quarterback in 2008.
In addition to those factors, Rob Gronkowski will be back. At least part of the reason the Patriots offense was all out of sorts was the absence of Gronk. Gronk is so hard to cover that defenders have to hold him constantly to stay with him, and oftentimes are allowed to do so by the refs. With 849 yards and 7 touchdowns on the season, Gronkowski is a huge part of what the Patriots do on offense. Gronk has also played five games against the Steelers and averaged 99 yards per game while scoring eight times.
Another positive on the offensive side of the ball is Chris Hogan. Yes, he only had 1 catch for 1 yard this week, but the whole offense was out of sync. Hogan himself was just coming back after missing over a month. He was also limited in practice all week leading up to the game. With a full game back under his belt, I think Hogan will be up to speed and ready to contribute more.
The thing working in the Steelers favor is they have a home game. The Steelers have been a much better home team over the last couple years. Their offense is lethal at home, but only mediocre on the road. Roethlisberger has thrown 64 more yards per game at home than on the road so far this year, while tossing four more touchdowns in one less game. Last year he averaged 81 more yards per game at home while throwing 20 touchdowns there as opposed to only nine on the road. Taking this back to the beginning of the 2015 season, Ben Roethlisberger has played 18 home games and 21 road games. During that time he has averaged 64.5 more passing yards while playing at home. He has also thrown 50 touchdowns versus 19 interceptions at home, 24 touchdowns against 23 interceptions on the road. It is clear this offense is dangerous at home.
What to Expect
I think the Patriots offense will come out clicking. Brady will be firing on all cylinders while they effectively mix in runs with Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead. I predict the Patriots will score on their first drive of the game and not look back. The Steelers will do some scoring of their own to stay within striking distance, with a late field goal bringing them within one possession.