The Patriots defeated the Steelers 17-14 on Sunday with wide receiver Nelson Agholor hauling in an impressive touchdown catch to help the team notch its first win of the 2022 season.
While it was far from the most dominant display of the Bill Belichick era, New England nevertheless found a way to win in Pittsburgh.
Here are a few takeaways:
A game filled with mistakes
After forcing the Steelers into a three-and-out to open the game, the Patriots almost endured an immediate disaster when punt returner Myles Bryant bobbled the catch. Bryant was lucky that he not only ended the ensuing scramble with possession of the ball, but that the ruling allowed for a touchback to be called instead of a safety.
While Bryant managed to cleanly field other punts for the rest of the day (and contribute on defense), the pattern was set. At various junctures in the game, both teams committed serious mistakes. One aspect that Belichick will inevitably work to improve was his team committing seven penalties for 55 yards on Sunday.
Fortunately for New England, it was the Steelers who made a decisive series of errors.
It came in the third quarter, at the end of what appeared to be an uninspiring Patriots’ drive. Clinging to a 10-6 lead, Mac Jones had actually been fortunate several plays earlier when Steelers defensive back Cameron Sutton dropped what appeared to be an easy interception. New England managed to avoid the turnover, but still faced a three-and-out.
Facing a fourth-and-9 at their own 43-yard line, New England punted the ball away.
But just as it appeared that Pittsburgh would have an opportunity to get the ball back in a one-score game, Steelers punt returner Gunner Olszewski fumbled the catch.
Undrafted Patriots rookie Brenden Schooler pounced on the loose ball, and New England had its luck.
Gifted a free possession at the 10-yard line, the Patriots’ offense found a way into the end zone (on a two-yard touchdown from running back Damien Harris).
In the end, the dropped interception and fumbled punt return proved to be a mistake too far for the Steelers.
The offensive line showed improvement
While it was still a grind, the Patriots’ offensive line was better in Pittsburgh than a week ago in Miami.
Though the Steelers recorded three quarterback hits on Jones, they were unable to sack him. The second-year Patriots quarterback was safely ensconced in a clean pocket for much of the game.
Still, the telltale moment for the offensive line came late in the fourth quarter. Taking the ball over at their own 30-yard line with 6:33 remaining (and holding a 17-14 lead), the Patriots’ offense embarked on a 13-play drive to close out the game in impressive fashion.
In the end, New England ran the ball on nine of the 10 plays before Pittsburgh’s timeouts were exhausted and Jones was able to kneel it down.
The passing game remains a work in progress
For anyone looking for Jones and the passing game to show serious strides in Week 2 after struggling in the opener, they’ll have to wait a little longer.
Though the game ended in victory for New England, it was another inconsistent display on offense.
Just as he did in Week 1, Jones completed 21 passes with one touchdown and an interception.
And while Jakobi Meyers and Nelson Agholor caught 15 passes for 205 yards, every other player targeted by Jones managed just six catches for 47 yards combined. DeVante Parker drew Jones’ attention twice, but was unable to make the catch either time.
New England will need additional players to step up in the passing game for Jones. One small silver lining was that Kendrick Bourne, notably absent for much of the opener in Week 1, returned to the lineup more frequently (making two catches for 16 yards).
Nelson Agholor had his best game as a Patriot
In desperate need of someone to create separation on the outside, the Patriots finally got a 50-50 ball to go their way when Agholor reached over Steelers cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon to grab the ball for his eventual touchdown.
It was a game-changing moment, and one that Jones will want to see more of as the offense continues to develop.
Agholor, 29, tied the longest catch of his Patriots career in the process, and his further contributions (finishing with six catches for 110 yards, including his touchdown) was a perfectly timed performance for a team facing an early-season version of a “ must-win” game.
The defense made timely plays
Mack Wilson started the game at linebacker for the Patriots, injecting some speed into the lineup.
He made a quick contribution during the first half when he snuck underneath a Mitchell Trubisky throw, deflecting it eventually into the arms of cornerback Jalen Mills.
It wasn’t a perfect afternoon, as Pittsburgh managed to convert several third-and-longs (and drive 75 yards for a touchdown to cut the lead to three on the first play of the fourth quarter), but it proved to be good enough to come away with a win.
And when the pressure was on after the Steelers’ pulled within a field goal, Belichick’s defense held firm. Handed two opportunities to drive for either the tying or go-ahead score, Trubisky and Pittsburgh were unable to generate any offense on either occasion and were forced into a pair of three-and-outs.
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