New England Patriots

New England Patriots

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)

Just when it felt like the New England Patriots might not win another game in 2023, they came up with one of their best performances of the season behind their new starting quarterback.

Bailey Zappe threw three touchdown passes in the first half, providing all the offense that the Patriots would need in a 21-18 road win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on “Thursday Night Football.” The Pats came out on fire and built a 21-3 lead at one point, and the Steelers’ second-half rally would come up just short.

Zappe finished 19-of-28 passing for 240 yards, three TDs, and one interception, good for a 115.2 passer rating. Tight end Hunter Henry caught two of Zappe’s three touchdowns.

The Patriots were able to do something in this game that they’ve rarely done all season: get off to a fast start. Zappe started 3-of-4 for 60 yards on the Patriots’ opening drive, the final completion being a swing pass to Ezekiel Elliott for a catch-and-run touchdown. At the time, it was only the Patriots’ second offensive touchdown in their last four games.

Pittsburgh could only muster a field goal on its first drive, albeit an impressive 56-yardar for kicker Chris Boswell. The teams would trade punts for the rest of the first quarter, before the Patriots grabbed the first big defensive play of the night.

Fooling Steelers quarterback Mitch Trubisky in coverage, safety Jabrill Peppers pounced on an ill-advised pass attempt to nab his second interception of the season. He tacked on a 32-yard return to set up the Patriots at the Steelers’ 11-yard line.

  • Again, the teams temporarily cooled off after the touchdown, before both offenses struck late in the second quarter. First, Zappe and the Patriots exploded for 59 yards in four plays, as Zappe threw passes of 28 and 24 yards to finish off the drive.

    The capper was a well-placed throw to Henry toward the front pylon, which he caught for his second touchdown catch of the game, putting the Pats up 21-3.

  • This time, the Steelers answered. Trubisky led an 8-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to get the Steelers back to a two-score game at 21-10.

    Aided by a Kyle Dugger pass interference penalty that set the Steelers up with first-and-10 at the Patriots’ 30-yard line, Trubisky finished off the drive with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Diontae Johnson, who got behind the Pats’ secondary just enough to complete the pitch-and-catch.

  • The 21-10 score would hold as the teams went to their locker rooms for halftime.

    Pittsburgh got the ball to start the third quarter, with an opportunity to cut their deficit down to one possession. Instead, the teams traded punts for most of the quarter, before a Zappe interception gave the Steelers an opportunity in the red zone. The Steelers decided to go for it on fourth-and-2 from the 8-yard line, but a clutch tackle by the Pats’ Mack Wilson Sr. stopped them short.

  • However, the Steelers would get the momentum shift they needed, anyway. Patriots punter Bryce Baringer got blocked on his attempt by Miles Killebrew, setting up the Steelers at the Patriots’ 26.

  • Four plays later, Trubisky dove his way into the end zone himself to cut the Patriots’ lead to 21-16, then the two-point attempt was converted. Suddenly, it was a three-point game in the fourth quarter.

  • Ultimately, the Steelers got the ball with 2:44 left in the game, and drove to the 49-yard line. But an incomplete deep ball attempt by Trubisky on fourth down gave the ball back to the Pats.

    They weren’t quite able to run the clock all the way down, so they punted it back to Pittsburgh with 15 seconds left. The Steelers’ final play came up well short, sealing the Patriots’ third win.

    Up Next: The Patriots have an extra-long week to prepare for a significant challenge in Week 15, when the Kansas City Chiefs pay a visit to Gillette Stadium.

    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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