Ben Roethlisberger bounced back from two first-quarter turnovers and brought the team back from a 24-10 deficit to tie the score. But even though he passed for 400 yards and four touchdowns, the offense just couldn't keep up with Tom Brady and the Patriots. Roethlisberger, though, committed all three turnovers, and the first of his two interceptions led to the Patriots' first touchdown.
In a battle of the NFL's 30th-ranked rush offense against the league's No. 31 rush defense, the Steelers managed 108 yards on 20 carries, a sturdy 5.4 average. But, 55 came on two runs by Jonathan Dwyer (30 yards) and Le'Veon Bell (25). Bell finished with 74 yards rushing and 65 yards receiving on four catches, the biggest of which was a 29-yarder on third-and-30 to set up a successful fourth-down conversion.
Jerricho Cotchery made the biggest splash, catching a team-high seven passes and becoming the first Steelers player in seven years to have three touchdown catches in a game. Antonio Brown had five catches, including a 27-yard touchdown. And Emmanuel Sanders had the longest gain, a 42-yarder, among his six catches to set up the first field goal.
It's tough to fault any portion of the offense when the Steelers finished with 479 yards and averaged 6.6 yards per offensive play. To be sure, Roethlisberger was sacked five times, but several of those were coverage sacks. And the backs finally broke several long runs after failing to have anything longer than 8 yards last week in Oakland. It didn't help that they were without their best lineman, guard David DeCastro. And it never helps playing from behind on the road.
There were a few significant moments. DE Cam Heyward continues to make plays with pressure, getting one sack and forcing another on third down that forced the Patriots to settle for a field goal. And nose tackle Steve McLendon made a big play to stop Stevan Ridley on fourth down at the 1 in the first quarter. But when a defense allows a franchise-record 611 yards, including 197 rushing, everyone is to blame.
Don't get carried away with the two sacks credited to OLB Jason Worilds, who started his second game in a row. One came when Brady gave himself up and the other was forced by Heyward. The Patriots averaged 5.6 yards per rushing attempt and the defense allowed three more rushing touchdowns, making it 12 on the season. That's as many as the Steelers allowed in the 2010 and 2011 seasons combined.
Five pass plays longer than 27 yards, including two of 57 and 81 yards. Three 100-yard receivers. Brady had 432 yards, four touchdowns and a near-perfect 151.8 passer rating. What's more, the Steelers couldn't find anybody to cover TE Rob Gronkowski, who had seven of his nine catches for 119 yards and a touchdown in the first half. Several were over Troy Polamalu, who continues to be a liability in coverage.
The Steelers got a big lift when Brown's 24-yard punt return set up the tying touchdown in the third quarter. It was only the sixth time the offense started a drive beyond the 50 this season. But one of the turning points came when New England's Julian Edelman returned a punt 43 yards to the Steelers 34, setting up a touchdown that gave the Patriots a 34-24 lead. Felix Jones opened the game with a 40-yard kick return, but there is no sizzle in that unit.
It's never a good defensive outing when there is a 400-yard passer, three 100-yard receivers and a 100-yard rusher. Or when the defense gives up the most points and most yards in franchise history. Brady might have struggled in his previous four games, but he looked like his old surgical self against the Steelers. Maybe it's time to stop blaming the coaches and understand that the Steelers just don't have enough good players. At 2-6, the only goal now is avoiding further embarrassment.