10 takeaways from the Patriots’ win over the Steelers (2024)

The New England Patriots have improved to 3-10 on the season, thanks to a victory over the now-7-6 Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday Night Football. The game started out in rather lopsided fashion, with the Patriots and jumping to an early 21-3 lead thanks to some big plays on offense and a stout defense before turning into a rather dull affair after the half.

Still, New England was able to hang on to celebrate its third win of the season. The victory also is the team’s first in primetime since a Week 14 win over Arizona a year ago; the Patriots are now 6-9 on a national stage since the 2020 season and 1-1 this year.

We will have in-depth analysis throughout the day and into next week, but for now here are some quick-hit thoughts on the Patriots’ third win of the year.

1. Complementary football paves way for victory: The Patriots defense has played lights-out over the last few weeks and yet the team entered Thursday as the owners of the longest losing streak in the NFL at five straight defeats. What changed against Pittsburgh to snap that streak of futility?

A team playing a complementary game, with offense and special teams doing enough to support another strong defensive outing this time arround.

“We played collectively as a unit, all three phases, and it was great,” said defensive lineman Deatrich Wise Jr. after the game.

“It’s been a hard stretch, hard year,” added tight end and fellow team captain Hunter Henry. “Not what we wanted at all, but this is a great step in the right direction. We played some complementary football. We had some things we need to clean up in the second half, but coming out with the win was sweet.”

The Patriots offense, as noted above, played its best game in weeks early on: quarterback Bailey Zappe, making his second start in place of a benched Mac Jones, led his troops on three touchdown drives within its first six possessions.

Jumping ahead 21-3 and also staying competitive in the field position department allowed New England’s defense to start pinning its ears back a bit more.

“It was good. It definitely got us to play a little bit,” Wise Jr. said. “Usually when a team is down that we’re playing against, they want to pass the ball more. So, you can tell that they were trying to score more, pass more, get the ball down the field. That opens up a field, letting our rushers rush. We haven’t had a lot of chances for our rushers to actually get some rush in just of how the game flows, and stuff like that, so we were able to have our guys actually get some good rushes in, our DBs getting the coverage in.”

If anything, Thursday’s game showed the potential this Patriots team would have had on paper: with the defense playing at a high level, it is able to keep most games close enough to win. And if the offense finally delivers some above-average play — as it did for the first 30 minutes in Pittsburgh — that is a realistic outcome.

2. Anfernee Jennings lives in the Pittsburgh backfield: The Patriots’ run defense was looking forward to playing the Steelers’ talented running back duo, Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren. It lived up to the challenge, surrendering only 40 yards on 19 total carries to the two for an average of just 2.1 yards per attempt.

A big part of that was negative plays, with New England registering six tackles for loss. Leading the bunch was fourth-year edge defender Anfernee Jennings, who accounted for three such plays — further bolstering his case as a priority to be re-signed this offseason.

Now fully healthy and holding an extended role, the former third-round draft pick is playing the best football of his career.

3. Kyle Dugger is the NFL’s best safety, says Jabrill Peppers: Jabrill Peppers’ impact on the Patriots defense cannot be denied; he had an interception against Steelers QB Mitchell Trubisky. For the former first-round draft pick, however, his teammate Kyle Dugger deserves more of the spotlight.

“I think he’s the best [safety] in the league. So, it’s definitely been fun playing with him,” Peppers said in the locker room after the game (as transcribed by NESN’s Zack Cox).

“He’s a guy who can cover man to man, cover deep half, play in the box, blitzes extremely well, and he’s a hell of a tackler. It’s been real good playing with him. And the rest of the guys, but I’ve been watching Dugger since he got into the league … I’m just trying to match his intensity.”

Dugger joined the Patriots as a second-round draft selection in 2020, and over the ensuing four years has developed into an integral member of the team’s defense. With long-time starting safety Devin McCourty now retired, he has fully taken over as a leader in the secondary — and somebody Peppers is excited to play with.

“One of the main reasons I came [here] was to play with him,” he said. “I think we’ve got a hell of a safety room.”

4. The birthday boy comes up big: Tight end Hunter Henry turned 29 on Thursday, and he was one of the stars of the game for New England. He finished the game with three catches for 40 yards and a couple of touchdowns.

“I think the win was obviously the most important thing,” the birthday boy said after the game. “We kind of talked about it. I was like, ‘Let’s get in the end zone today, it’s my birthday.’ So, it felt good. We tried to simulate blowing out the candles on a birthday cake. It didn’t go great, but it was good to get into the end zone.”

Thanks to his two scores, Henry now ranks first on the Patriots with five touchdowns this season surpassing the injured Kendrick Bourne and Rhamondre Stevenson in that category.

5. The operation still needs some serious cleaning-up: While the Patriots were able to come away with a victory on Thursday, there are plenty of areas for improvement if they want to turn winning into a habit. No unit was immune to breakdowns either, whether it was the offense being hit-or-miss in pass protection (rookie Sidy Sow in particular had some negative plays), the defense allowing yards after contact (a 14-yard catch-and-run by Najee Harris in the fourth quarter stands out), or situational punting (Bryce Baringer’s ball placement was uneven), there is a lot of cleaning-up to be done.

Another area that needs to be addressed is penalties. The Patriots had seven of them for a loss of 59 yards, compared to the Steelers’ lone 5-yard infraction.

6. False start on Steelers long snapper a curious call: Speaking of that Steelers penalty, it was rather curious. With Pittsburgh set to punt on a 4th-and-3, the team appeared to have drawn Jahlani Tavai offsides; the reactions on both sides hinted at such.

However, the flag was actually thrown on Steelers long snapper Christian Kuntz for an apparent false start. Pittsburgh eventually ended up punting anyway, but the play robbed them of an opportunity to drive for the tie late in the fourth quarter.

“I thought for sure we were going to get another chance,” Steelers quarterback Mitchell Trubisky said after the game. “I didn’t see exactly what happened, what Christian did to draw them offsides, but I just watched the Patriots player reaction and you could see that he felt like he was offsides, so to me it seemed like he was just based on his reaction. Didn’t look like he did anything different to me. We don’t talk about that. I mean, I just did, but it was one play. We had more opportunities than just that play to win the game.”

7. Ty Montgomery seems to stand on thin ice: The Patriots relied heavily on running back Ezekiel Elliott on Thursday, but he was spelled for a few snaps by backup Ty Montgomery. However, the veteran did not have his best game — so much so that his status on the team might be in question with New England now in need of a roster spot after claiming linebacker and special teamer Christian Elliss off waivers.

Montgomery played only six offensive snaps and at one point, and while he did gain 17 yards on a catch and run, he also bobbled his second chance at a reception. To make matters worse, he also was responsible for the Steelers’ punt block in the early fourth quarter: he could not hold his block long enough for the ball to come off Bryce Baringer’s foot cleanly. Montgomery was later replaced on the wing by Kyle Dugger.

8. Malik Cunningham remains sidelined once again: The Patriots elevated two players from their practice squad for the game, but neither saw any action. Quarterback/wide receiver Malik Cunningham remained sidelined for a second straight game — likely because the offense did find some success for once — as was the case with running back Kevin Harris.

“Malik Mania” has been a trending topic among fans and talking heads alike, but so far the Patriots have only used him as an emergency option.

9. David Andrews and Matthew Slater share a postgame embrace: Despite entering the game at 2-10, the Patriots remained invested and one scene from the postgame locker room exemplifies this: team captains David Andrews and Matthew Slater, who are in their ninth and 16th season with the team, respectively, shared a hug after the postgame huddle.

Ain’t afraid of no towels. pic.twitter.com/9zVqeqD0re

— New England Patriots (@Patriots) December 8, 2023

Even though they are still only 3-10 on the year and in line for a top-3 selection in next year’s draft, emotions ran high on Thursday. The players still care, with their long-time captains setting the tone.

10. New England is still not eliminated from playoff contention: At 3-10, one has to be realistic: the Patriots are not going to make it to the postseason despite there being a path for them into the tournament. That being said, they are still mathematically alive for at least a few more days. However, it will not take a lot this weekend to officially push them from the ranks of playoff eligible teams.

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Now, let's dive into the concepts mentioned in the article you provided.

1. Complementary football paves the way for victory

The New England Patriots' victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers was attributed to playing a complementary game, with the offense and special teams supporting the strong defensive performance. This collective effort allowed the Patriots to break their five-game losing streak .

2. Anfernee Jennings excels in the Pittsburgh backfield

The Patriots' run defense performed exceptionally well against the Steelers' running back duo, Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren. They limited the duo to only 40 yards on 19 carries, with Anfernee Jennings leading the defense with three tackles for loss. Jennings has been playing at the peak of his career and is considered a priority for re-signing.

3. Kyle Dugger's impact as a safety

Jabrill Peppers, a teammate of Kyle Dugger in the Patriots' defense, praised Dugger as the best safety in the league. Dugger's versatility in coverage, tackling, and blitzing makes him a valuable asset to the team. He has taken on a leadership role in the secondary since the retirement of Devin McCourty .

4. Hunter Henry's standout performance on his birthday

Tight end Hunter Henry celebrated his birthday with an impressive performance, contributing three catches for 40 yards and two touchdowns. With his two scores, Henry now leads the Patriots with five touchdowns this season.

5. Areas for improvement and cleaning up

Despite the victory, there are areas that the Patriots need to address for further improvement. These include pass protection, allowing yards after contact, situational punting, and penalties. The team had seven penalties for a loss of 59 yards in the game.

6. Curious call on Steelers' penalty

There was a curious call on a penalty against the Steelers' long snapper during a punt play. The flag was thrown for an apparent false start by the long snapper, Christian Kuntz. This penalty deprived the Steelers of an opportunity to potentially tie the game late in the fourth quarter.

7. Ty Montgomery's performance and roster status

Backup running back Ty Montgomery had a mixed performance, gaining 17 yards on a catch and run but also making mistakes, including a bobbled reception and a missed block leading to a punt block. With the Patriots needing a roster spot, Montgomery's status on the team may be in question.

8. Players elevated from practice squad

The Patriots elevated quarterback/wide receiver Malik Cunningham and running back Kevin Harris from the practice squad for the game, but neither saw any action. Cunningham has been used as an emergency option, and his usage has generated interest among fans and analysts .

9. Postgame embrace between David Andrews and Matthew Slater

Despite the team's 3-10 record, team captains David Andrews and Matthew Slater shared a postgame embrace, highlighting their investment and commitment to the team. This scene exemplifies the players' dedication and care, even in challenging times.

10. Playoff contention status

Although the Patriots are not likely to make it to the playoffs with their 3-10 record, they are still mathematically alive for a few more days. However, their chances of making the playoffs are slim, and it would not take much for them to be officially eliminated from contention.

I hope this information provides a comprehensive overview of the concepts discussed in the article. If you have any further questions or need more information, feel free to ask!

10 takeaways from the Patriots’ win over the Steelers (2024)
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