The New England Patriots went into Pittsburgh as 13.5-point underdogs against the Steelers on Thursday Night Football. Yet behind an efficient performance from rookie QB Bailey Zappe, the Patriots pulled off a stunning 21-18 upset victory to keep their faint playoff hopes alive.
Zappe Outduels Trubisky in Surprise Start
Many expected veteran QB Mac Jones to return from injury and lead New England. But Bill Belichick had other plans, giving Zappe his fifth career start. The rookie delivered in a major way, completing 21-of-34 passes for 252 yards, 3 touchdowns, and no interceptions.
His Steelers counterpart Mitch Trubisky struggled mightily, getting benched at halftime after going just 4-of-9 for 47 yards and an interception. Pittsburgh repeatedly stalled in the red zone as the Patriots built a 14-3 halftime advantage they wouldn’t relinquish.
Zappe consistently found receivers open in space, leading to big nights for wideouts Kendrick Bourne (4 catches, 62 yards, TD) and Jakobi Meyers (6 catches, 55 yards). The rookie QB also effectively utilized his backs and tight ends over the middle, with Hunter Henry and Rhamondre Stevenson each hauling in TD catches.
Veteran running back Ezekiel Elliott was a revelation for the Patriots, showing flashes of his All-Pro form of years past. Elliott took seven receptions for 47 yards while rumbling for another 39 yards on the ground. His physical running style continuously moved the chains and allowed New England to dominate time of possession 37:07 to 22:53.
Defense Stymies Sloppy Steelers Attack
The Patriots defense had struggled mightily during the team’s recent five-game skid. But they flipped the script on Thursday, frustrating Pittsburgh all game long. New England held the Steelers to just 297 total yards while forcing two interceptions and a lost fumble.
Safety Adrian Phillips came down with a tipped pass from Trubisky just before halftime, setting up a Nick Folk field goal to make it 17-3. Devin McCourty later intercepted rookie QB Kenny Pickett in the red zone to preserve the Patriots’ lead. Myles Bryant forced Diontae Johnson’s fumble on a punt return midway through the fourth quarter, stopping Pittsburgh as they tried to rally.
Star linebacker Matthew Judon terrorized the Steelers, sacking Pickett twice to raise his season total to 13.5. Judon now sits just half a sack shy of tying Andre Tippett’s single-season franchise record, with four games still left on New England’s schedule.
The Patriots completely shut down Pittsburgh’s run game, holding Najee Harris to just 36 total yards on 11 touches. New England also routinely rallied to the football, leaving minimal yards after contact as they swarmed to the ball.
Patriots Keep Playoff Hopes Intact
It was far from a perfect performance for New England. The offense stalled at times, settling for field goals on multiple red zone trips. And the defense allowed two late touchdown passes from Pickett to tighten things up.
But the Patriots made enough clutch plays and committed fewer mistakes to earn the season-saving victory. At 6-6, they now sit just one game out of the AFC’s third wild card spot currently held by the New York Jets.
New England faces a difficult schedule ahead, traveling to Arizona then hosting Cincinnati and Miami. But their playoff dreams remain alive thanks to this shocking upset over the free-falling Steelers.
At 5-8, Pittsburgh seems destined to miss the postseason after dropping four straight games. Injuries have ravaged the roster, but sloppy play and questionable coaching decisions have also plagued the Steelers during this slide.
Mike Tomlin faces major questions about this team’s direction, especially on offense. Trubisky and Pickett haven’t provided stability at quarterback, while Matt Canada’s scheme has failed to accentuate Pittsburgh’s playmakers. With the Ravens looming next weekend, things may get worse for the reeling Steelers before they get better.
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