New England Patriots

  • In the National Football League, most competitive games come down to a few key plays. The Patriots learned that the hard way in a Week 1 loss to the Miami Dolphins. But on Sunday in Pittsburgh, they taught the Steelers that lesson.

    It was a tight battle for much of the 60 minutes in the Patriots’ 17-14 win over the Steelers at Acrisure Stadium, a game in which neither quarterback played particularly well and both defenses made turnovers. But it was New England who came out on the winning end of the moments that ultimately decided things.

    “Pittsburgh is tough, like they always are. And a battle back and forth with them,” Bill Belichick said at the start of his postgame press conference. “[In the fourth quarter] we came up with some big plays, two big three-and-out stops, and then held the ball for whatever it was, six minutes of the game. And we were able to run it out and kneel on it. So, some good, good football when we needed it the most.

    “A lot of guys contributed. I couldn’t sit here and write them all off, but, obviously, offense, defense, special teams, we got good contributions on all three areas. And that’s good, complementary football.”

  • Arguably the single biggest play of the game for the Patriots came from wide receiver Nelson Agholor, whose spectacular effort turned a potential interception into a 44-yard touchdown. With the Patriots hoping for some kind of points in a 3-3 game with halftime fast approaching, Agholor leaped and snatched the ball from over the top of Steelers cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, then stayed on his feet in bounds to complete the score.

    Witherspoon looked like he could’ve reeled in an easy pick, on what was the latest of a growing list of inaccurate deep balls by Mac Jones. But instead, Agholor went up and got the ball and finished the play, for seven essential points. That was Winning Football™.

    On defense, the Patriots pitched a shutout in the fourth quarter, including the aforementioned pair of timely stops as they were clinging to a three-point lead. Both three-and-outs had come after punter Jake Bailey kicked a touchback. Linebacker Matthew Judon came up with a big third-down pass breakup against Najee Harris that got the ball back to the Patriots with 6:33 left in the game, and the offense never lost the ball again.

  • On special teams, neither team was totally sharp, but the Steelers made by far the biggest mistake and the Patriots took full advantage. Pittsburgh left Brenden Schooler unblocked off the snap, so the undrafted rookie defensive back had an easy time getting in position for a potential muff. Steelers punter and ex-Patriot Gunner Olszewski choked, watching the ball land right off his facemask. Schooler did not choke, cleanly fielding the bounce and calmly finishing the fumble recovery.

    The ensuing touchdown gave the Patriots a 17-6 lead that turned out to be insurmountable. So how about that for complementary football. Oh yeah, and Winning Football™. They played plenty of that in the fourth quarter, especially when they bled the clock out at the end.

    “The teams that win in the NFL do that,” Jones said, when asked about the Patriots’ final clock-killing drive. “You try to watch the weekly NFL and see what teams did that well. If you can close out a game and if you do that and you don’t have to score, you just got to move in and get first downs and the time just runs out. That’s usually how it goes. So NFL games come down to the wire almost every week. And I learned that, obviously, last year and this year.”

    Sep 18, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Nelson Agholor (15) runs after a catch as Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Robert Spillane (41) defends during the first quarter at Acrisure Stadium. Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

    Sep 18, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Nelson Agholor (15) runs after a catch as Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Robert Spillane (41) defends during the first quarter at Acrisure Stadium. Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

  • The Patriots certainly weren’t perfect on Sunday, but they have to feel much better about themselves after coming out of a road win in a hostile environment, especially considering that they’re the ones who made the plays they needed to make in order to win. Their brand of coming up with Winning Football™ in tight contests has dried up in the post-Tom Brady era. We’ve seen the other team make those key plays more often.

    But the Patriots proved – for a week, anyway – that they’re still capable of emerging from the struggle as the winners.

    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. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff and follow him on Instagram @realmattdolloff. You can also email him at mdolloff@985thesportshub.com.