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2023 NFL season, Week 14: What We Learned from Patriots' win over Steelers on Thursday night

New England Patriots
2023 · 3-10-0
Pittsburgh Steelers
2023 · 7-6-0


  1. Steelers’ playoff hopes suffer huge blow with second straight stunning loss. The Steelers’ hopes for making the postseason have cratered the past four days. They’re suddenly 7-6, having dropped three of the past four games, needing some help with four tough games remaining. Coming off one of the worst losses in the Mike Tomlin era in Sunday’s loss to the Cardinals, one might have expected the Steelers to come out with their hair on fire against the lowly Patriots. Instead, New England promptly marched down the field for an opening-drive TD. The offense countered with a field goal, but Mitchell Trubisky’s pick deep in Pittsburgh territory turned into another Patriots score. Shortly after that, it was 21-3. What the heck was going on in Steel Town? The Steelers showed some fight to make it a close game late, but it never should have gotten to that point. This was supposed to be the easy part of the schedule. Instead, it has turned into a nightmare.
  2. Late-game execution ugly on both sides, but worse for Steelers. The Steelers trailed, 21-18, early in the fourth quarter, and Bill Belichick did them a giant favor by punting to them on fourth-and-1 from New England’s 44. The Patriots’ offense had hit the skids, but this was just inviting a backdoor loss. Except Trubisky and Tomlin both made game-management mistakes that cost Pittsburgh dearly. Trubisky burned the Steelers’ first timeout before the TD, and Tomlin called the second one with seven minutes left – to decide to go for it on fourth down at the Pittsburgh 29. They got it, but when the Patriots forced a fourth-and-3 at Pittsburgh’s 38 with just over five minutes left, Tomlin punted. It backfired – before they even punted. Long snapper Christian Kuntz was flagged for a false start when it looked like two Patriots had jumped offsides. The Steelers got the ball back with 2:44 left, but Trubisky overthrew his final two passes on third and fourth down, and the Patriots nearly ran out the clock. Tomlin is now 3-10 versus Belichick all time, and "The Hoodie" was just a little better down the stretch.
  3. Bailey Zappe starts hot for struggling Patriots, Ezekiel Elliott helps grind out win. After a prolonged nightmare of a season, the Patriots seemed to take their frustrations out on the Steelers early, going 75 yards for an opening-drive TD and finding the end zone two more times. They came in averaging 12.3 points per game. They’d been far worse the prior three games, scoring a combined 13 points. On Thursday, they had scored 21 midway through the second quarter. Zappe hit on 14 of his first 21 passes for 196 yards and three TD passes, including a gorgeous pass to Hunter Henry, who scored twice on his birthday, even with a trip to the medical tent between scores. JuJu Smith-Schuster (90 receiving yards) earned revenge versus his old team. But Zappe was sacked late in the second quarter and seemed to favor his right elbow. From that point on, he was only 5 of 7 for 44 yards and a pick. Elliott was a workhorse all night, though, gutting out a 29-touch game. He only averaged 3.1 yards per carry – as the only Patriots back to take a handoff – but had seven catches for 72 yards and a TD. Elliott also made a TD-saving tackle on Mykal Walker’s interception and all but closed out the game with a 12-yard run late.
  4. Mitch Trubisky rallied after a slow start but struggled overall amidst boos. With the injured Kenny Pickett up in the press box and Ben Roethlisberger in the stands, all eyes were on Trubisky. After the opening-drive field goal, the Steelers stalled offensively with three punts and a bad Trubisky INT that led to New England going up two scores. There might have been a facemask missed on the pick, but Trubisky got away with a few other throws that could have been intercepted – and one that was before being wiped out by penalty. After Trubisky started 3-for-8 passing for 19 yards, Steelers fans chanted for Mason Rudolph, who last started a game in 2021. The Steelers scored before the half on a nice blitz beater from Trubisky – their only drive longer than 45 yards – and again off a turnover in the fourth quarter. He settled in a bit, completing 16 of 24 for 129 in the second half and rushing for a TD. But a near pick on a screen deep in his own zone and some late overthrows kept the comeback from materializing. There might have been some early play-calling head scratchers, but Trubisky’s play wasn’t encouraging – even against a good New England defense.
  5. Patriots fans might not want to fill in those mock drafts just yet. It turned into draft season for many Patriots fans prior to Thursday’s win, and you can understand why they might have had visions of franchise quarterbacks dancing through their heads after a 2-10 start. With just one more victory, those dreams might not die. But it’s also a warning to some that the Patriots aren’t packing it in. They played hard Thursday. They’ve been trying to win for weeks. The offense just hasn’t allowed it. That was regular-season victory No. 301 for Belichick, and even with George Halas and Don Shula a bit off in the distance, Belichick showed Thursday he still has that itch. He was working the refs all night. When Zeke Elliott ripped off a 12-yard run late, all but ending the game, Belichick emphatically signaled first down – twice. The 71-year old coach, whose name has been besmirched amid New England’s frustrating season, just won a game with three wide receivers active, his star back and left tackle out and a backup QB. On the road in a short week. We’re not predicting a hot streak here, but let’s not assume New England is sinking toward a top-three pick in the 2024 NFL Draft.

Next Gen stat of the game: Bailey Zappe's 37-yard pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster on Thursday was the longest completion by air yards from a Patriots QB this season (30 air yards). Zappe has two completions of 25-plus air yards this season. (Mac Jones has none.)

NFL Research: With their Week 14 loss, the Steelers became only the second team in NFL history to lose consecutive home games to teams with 10-plus losses coming into the game (Other: 2010 Miami Dolphins). Prior to Week 13, the Steelers under Mike Tomlin had been 9-0 in home games versus opponents with 10-plus losses entering the game, but they’re 0-2 in the last two weeks.

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