New England Patriots

New England Patriots

The New England Patriots may be only 3-10, but they deserve credit for going into Pittsburgh and pulling out a road victory over the still-contending Steelers. So, there are some accolades to go around. Here are 10 players we graded UP or DOWN based on their performance on Thursday night…

UP: QB Bailey Zappe

Dec 7, 2023; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Bailey Zappe (4) throws on the run against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the third quarter at Acrisure Stadium. New England won 21-18. Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 7, 2023; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Bailey Zappe (4) throws on the run against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the third quarter at Acrisure Stadium. New England won 21-18. Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Zappe earned his first win of the season as the Patriots’ new starting quarterback on the strength of an excellent first half. He threw three touchdown passes over the Patriots’ first six possessions of the game, building a 21-3 lead that would be enough to secure the win in the end.

Most impressive about Zappe in this game was his accuracy. He’s always had pretty good pocket poise and an underrated ability to buy time in there. But in this game, he was able to dance around and also deliver strikes that only the receivers can get. It was key to the Pats’ hot start on offense, and ultimately the win.

Zappe did throw an interception for the first time this season as the starter, as part of a cooling-off period in the second half. But the Patriots defense mostly kept the Steelers in check, resulting in strong complementary football. Zappe gets an UP for his first half alone, though.

  • UP: RB Ezekiel Elliott

    PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA - DECEMBER 07: Running back Ezekiel Elliott (15) of the New England Patriots dives for a touchdown in the first quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Acrisure Stadium on December 07, 2023 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

    PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA – DECEMBER 07: Running back Ezekiel Elliott (15) of the New England Patriots dives for a touchdown in the first quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Acrisure Stadium on December 07, 2023 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

    The Patriots really needed Elliott to step up this week after news of Rhamondre Stevenson’s high-ankle sprain. For one week, anyway, he certainly did.

    Elliott carried the ball 22 times at a meager 3.1 yards per carry, but his biggest impact came in the passing game. Elliott caught seven balls for 72 yards and a touchdown, as he finished off the Patriots’ opening drive with a catch-and-run (and dive) into the end zone. He also seemed to wear the Steelers down with his physical running as the game went on, which can provide more value than pure yardage.

    If the Patriots are going to have any hope of winning more games down the stretch, they’re going to need to keep getting that kind of game out of Elliott, especially if he can make a difference as a pass-catcher.

  • UP: TE Hunter Henry

    PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA - DECEMBER 07: Tight end Hunter Henry (85) of the New England Patriots catches a pass for a touchdown in the second quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Acrisure Stadium on December 07, 2023 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

    PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA – DECEMBER 07: Tight end Hunter Henry (85) of the New England Patriots catches a pass for a touchdown in the second quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Acrisure Stadium on December 07, 2023 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

    This one’s easy. Three catches for Henry, two of them touchdowns. Both scores were great throws by Zappe, but Henry also showed good body control and concentration to come down with the catches.

    This was a much-needed offensive explosion for one of the Patriots’ leaders and most important offensive players. Just like Elliott, Henry is going to need to keep producing to give the Patriots chances to win down the stretch.

  • DOWN: CB J.C. Jackson

    PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA - DECEMBER 07: Wide receiver Diontae Johnson (18) of the Pittsburgh Steelers catches a touchdown in the second quarter against the New England Patriots at Acrisure Stadium on December 07, 2023 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

    PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA – DECEMBER 07: Wide receiver Diontae Johnson (18) of the Pittsburgh Steelers catches a touchdown in the second quarter against the New England Patriots at Acrisure Stadium on December 07, 2023 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

    Despite holding himself accountable, much more so than the departed Jack Jones, Jackson continues to be at best up-and-down in coverage. He negated his own interception in the first quarter with a handsy pass interference penalty, then gave up a touchdown to Diontae Johnson later in the first half. Jackson has been a weak point of an otherwise strong recent run by the Patriots defense.

  • UP: WR JuJu Smith-Schuster

    PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA - DECEMBER 07: Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (7) of the New England Patriots celebrates after a reception in the first quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Acrisure Stadium on December 07, 2023 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

    PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA – DECEMBER 07: Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (7) of the New England Patriots celebrates after a reception in the first quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Acrisure Stadium on December 07, 2023 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

    Smith-Schuster had to have some kind of extra motivation to go into his old stomping grounds and beat his former team, because he made more impactful plays on Thursday night than he had the rest of the season combined. Four catches for a team-high 90 yards for Smith-Schuster, who made a great 37-yard catch to spark the Patriots’ opening touchdown drive. He, and the team, really needed that.

  • DOWN: RB Ty Montgomery

    Dec 7, 2023; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; New England Patriots special teams player Marte Mapu (30) recovers a blocked punt against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the fourth quarter at Acrisure Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

    Dec 7, 2023; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; New England Patriots special teams player Marte Mapu (30) recovers a blocked punt against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the fourth quarter at Acrisure Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

    Montgomery (not pictured above) gets a thumb down for this game because he appeared to miss his blocking assignment that led to Miles Killebrew blocking a punt by Bryce Baringer, which set up a Steelers touchdown early in the fourth quarter. Montgomery was replaced on the next punt by safety Kyle Dugger (h/t Mike Reiss). Hard to envision Montgomery seeing the field much if he can’t even do his job in punt protection.

  • UP: LB Mack Wilson Sr.

    PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA - DECEMBER 07: Linebacker Mack Wilson Sr. (3) of the New England Patriots sacks quarterback Mitch Trubisky (10) of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first half at Acrisure Stadium on December 07, 2023 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

    PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA – DECEMBER 07: Linebacker Mack Wilson Sr. (3) of the New England Patriots sacks quarterback Mitch Trubisky (10) of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first half at Acrisure Stadium on December 07, 2023 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

    Wilson had one of his most active games as a Patriot, highlighted by a great shoulder-tackle that stopped the Steelers short on a fourth down try. Wilson also had a sack and a pass breakup. He’s been underwhelming since coming to the Patriots in a trade with the Browns, but at least he’s still playing, unlike the guy he was traded for (Chase Winovich).

  • DOWN: ST Brenden Schooler

    Schooler

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – SEPTEMBER 10: Brenden Schooler #41 of the New England Patriots looks on before the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Gillette Stadium on September 10, 2023 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    Schooler can’t be committing penalties when he only plays on special teams. He got flagged for unnecessary roughness on the ensuing kickoff after a Steelers touchdown made it 21-10, sticking the Pats back at their on 11-yard line on a drive that ultimately stalled out.

  • UP: DT Christian Barmore

    PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA - DECEMBER 07: Christian Barmore #90 and Myles Bryant #27 of the New England Patriots sack Mitch Trubisky #10 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the second half at Acrisure Stadium on December 07, 2023 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

    PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA – DECEMBER 07: Christian Barmore #90 and Myles Bryant #27 of the New England Patriots sack Mitch Trubisky #10 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the second half at Acrisure Stadium on December 07, 2023 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

    Another week, another strong effort for the big boy. Barmore continues to quietly dominate at the line of scrimmage without racking up counting stats. His pressure up the middle helped facilitate the Patriots’ effective DB blitzes, and also helped rush Mitch Trubisky into the throw that resulted in a Jabrill Peppers interception.

    The Patriots need to give serious consideration into trying to lock Barmore up with an extension before he gets too expensive.

  • DOWN: LT Conor McDermott

    PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA - DECEMBER 07: Bailey Zappe #4 of the New England Patriots throws the ball in the second half against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Acrisure Stadium on December 07, 2023 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

    PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA – DECEMBER 07: Bailey Zappe #4 of the New England Patriots throws the ball in the second half against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Acrisure Stadium on December 07, 2023 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

    Not the most fair to single out McDermott, when Cole Strange could possibly get a down as well for their struggles against the Steelers’ Cameron Heyward. But McDermott also committed a holding penalty that killed a drive. The Patriots need better out of their starting tackles, especially when Trent Brown is banged up.

    Next Patriots Ups & Downs comes after the Patriots take on the mighty Kansas City Chiefs at Gillette Stadium in Week 15.

    Get complete New England Patriots coverage at 985TheSportsHub.com.

    Matt Dolloff is a writer and podcaster for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Check out all of Matt’s content.

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