Patriots

THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Steelers cruise to victory vs Titans, 40-17

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THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Steelers cruise to victory vs Titans, 40-17

PITTSBURGH -- Another uninspiring half in the books in a season littered with them for a team that expects to play deep into January and beyond, Ben Roethlisberger decided he had seen enough.

So the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback decided it was time to speak up. The defense had kept the Tennessee Titans and star Marcus Mariota in check, yet a game that had the makings of a blowout didn't feel like one mostly because the offense kept squandering chance after chance.

No more.

"He didn't call anyone out, he called all of us out," guard David DeCastro said. "Linemen. Receivers. Himself. Running backs. Purely positive. It was a challenge. He challenged us. The guys responded."

None better than the 35-year-old Roethlisberger. Running the no-huddle offense to near perfection, Roethlisberger threw for 299 yards and four touchdowns, three to Antonio Brown, as the Steelers pulled away for a 40-17 victory.

"I don't care if you're old or young, just someone has to step up and make a play for this team or else we are going to keep relying on our defense," said Roethlisberger, who went 20 of 23 for 185 yards and three touchdowns in the second half. "It is time that we step up and do something."

Brown caught 10 passes for 144 yards and the three scores, including an acrobatic grab in the back of the end zone in which he pinned the ball to his helmet before bringing it in to put Pittsburgh up 20 in the fourth quarter as the Steelers set a season-high for points and margin of victory.

"We've talked so much about having the potential in this room, but we can still strive for more," said defensive end Cam Heyward, who had two of Pittsburgh's five sacks. "We're a hungry group that still has a lot to prove. We're chasing ghosts. We're trying to be the best defense. That's what we strive for."

For long stretches, the Steelers (8-2) looked the part while extending their winning streak to five.

Though Mariota ran for a touchdown and threw for another, he was also picked off a career-high four times as the Titans (6-4) saw their four-game winning streak come to a crashing halt. Mariota finished 22 of 33 for 306 yards but was under pressure much of the night.

"When you play teams that are this caliber that are contenders, that win week in and week out, that's the blueprint," Mariota said. "We're going to learn from it. We're going to get better from it and hopefully we'll see them again."

There's plenty to work on. Tennessee appeared to be in it when Mariota found Matthews with a 75-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the second half to get to 16-14.

Then Roethlisberger and the NFL's highest-paid offense got going. Finally. Roethlisberger dropped some very not subtle hints that he wanted the freedom provided by the no-huddle after the Steelers used it to pick the Colts apart during the winning drive last Sunday in Indianapolis.

Offensive coordinator Todd Haley appeared to be listening.

Pittsburgh opened in the no huddle and needed just six plays to take the lead as Roethlisberger took advantage of a free play and hit Brown with a 41-yard rainbow. Mike Hilton then returned Mariota's interception to set up the first of Chris Boswell's four field goals and the Steelers appeared on the verge of another prime-time blowout at home.

The blowout did eventually arrive, just not quickly.

The offense ground to a halt for the rest of the half, held in check by former defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. The Hall of Famer spent 12 years building a defense that helped Pittsburgh to two Super Bowl victories before being ushered out in favor of protege Keith Butler in January 2015. The 80-year-old is in the middle of his latest project with the steadily improving Titans.

Yet the gap between Tennessee and Pittsburgh remains significant. The proof came after Mathews' long catch-and-run appeared to give the Titans momentum.

The Steelers reeled off three straight touchdown drives. Roethlisberger found a leaping Brown for a 5-yard score restored a nine-point lead, executed a perfect play-action fake at the goal line before flipping it to a wide-open Jesse James for a 1-yard strike and put the Titans away with a lob to the back corner of the end zone that Brown somehow hauled in from 10 yards out that made it 37-17.

Pittsburgh rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster knelt down and bowed to Brown during the giddy celebration. Hard to blame the 20-year-old. For the first time all season, the Steelers put it all together and looked every bit like a team with a legitimate threat to live up to its own hype.

UP NEXT

Titans: Visit Indianapolis on Nov. 26. Tennessee beat the Colts 36-22 on Oct. 16.

Steelers: Welcome the Green Bay Packers on Nov. 26, the second of four straight prime-time games for Pittsburgh.

QUICK SLANTS THE PODCAST: Should Patriots draft Lamar Jackson at pick #32?

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QUICK SLANTS THE PODCAST: Should Patriots draft Lamar Jackson at pick #32?

(3:00) Phil Perry and Tom E. Curran discuss what their priorities are for Patriots offseason moves. Is bringing back Nate Solder the first move that needs to happen?

(7:00) Does the linebacker position need to be addressed this offseason?

(10:00) Phil Perry explains why he thinks the Patriots absolutely must get a QB this offseason.

(16:00) Dane Brugler from NFLDraftScout.com joins the podcast to break down the QBs in this draft..and the upside and downside of each player.

(21:00) Are Josh Allen or Lamar Jackson QBs that are worthy of being drafted in the first round?

(25:30) Are there any other QBs going after the 1st round that could fit the Patriots needs?

(28:00) What linebackers could the Patriots target in the draft, and in what round?

(34:00) Should the Patriots look to draft a left tackle?

Young, talented safeties available for Patriots entering 2018

Young, talented safeties available for Patriots entering 2018

Before free agency kicks off, and before we dissect the top college prospects entering this year's draft, we're taking a look at the Patriots on a position-by-position basis to provide you with an offseason primer of sorts. We'll be analyzing how the Patriots performed in 2017 at the position in question, who's under contract, how badly the team needs to add talent at that spot, and how exactly Bill Belichick might go about adding that talent. Today, we put the safety position in focus keeping in mind that this is one position that’s morphing as quickly as any in the NFL.

OTHER ENTRIES IN THE SERIES

HOW THEY PERFORMED


Fine. OK. Pretty good sometimes. But certainly nothing that can be confused with dynamic. In a league stocked with playmaking safeties. They are in the right place and – aside from Jordan Richards - are sure tacklers. They communicate well. They get the concepts of the defense and do their bit on special teams. But the safety group combined for six picks and four of those came from Duron Harmon. Patrick Chung was murder on tight ends in coverage but the third-down performances in some of the team’s biggest games was abysmal. The Steelers and Eagles were both 10 for 16 on third down and the Jags were 4 for 6 in the first half of the AFCCG. Devin McCourty played with an injured shoulder down the stretch that has since been surgically repaired but he just didn’t have a lot of impact plays in 2017. Richards, after three seasons in the league, has a handful of nice tackles as a box safety. Other than that, he’s got a very long way to go in a very short amount of time to approach the level of play expected from a second-round pick. 

WHO IS UNDER CONTRACT FOR 2018?
Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Jordan Richards, Devin McCourty, David Jones, Damarius Travis

WHO ISN'T?
Nate Ebner

HOW DIRE IS THE NEED?


Not dire at all. But looming. McCourty is signed through 2019 and has a $13.4M cap hit next season when he’ll be 31. Chung is 30 and entering the last year of his deal. Harmon is signed through 2020 and is just 27. Unless the team thinks Richards is the heir apparent to Chung – which would be alarming – they need to get back in the draft pool to find someone at what I believe is one of the NFL’s most important positions. The team puts so much on both Chung and McCourty that it will take years for a new player to gain the depth of knowledge and nuance at the spot. And then there’s the versatility and kicking game expectations they deal with. Whether its in the draft or in free agency, spending needs to be done. But for this year, the need is a 5.

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN FREE AGENCY


This is a position stocked with talented young players. Here are some of them: Green Bay’s Morgan Burnett, the Rams’ LaMarcus Joyner, Kenny Vaccaro from the Saints, San Fran’s Eric Reid and Tre Boston from the Chargers. Vaccaro’s coming off an injury. Burnett and Joyner are both going to be high-cost options. Reid is already anticipating some teams steering clear of him because of his outspoken support for Colin Kaepernick.  Further down the free agent chain are players like Boston who was outstanding in 2017. Reid, Vaccaro and Boston are players the Patriots could target. Boston is the youngest and healthiest of the group and already theorizes that he will probably move on from the Chargers.

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN THE DRAFT?


Alabama has a pair of safeties who’ll be coveted, the first being Minkah Fitzpatrick who is a top-10 prospect. The other is Ronnie Harrison. Stuck in between those two as a top-20 prospect is Derwin James from Florida State. The reason I could see the Patriots taking a safety in the first two rounds is because the right one can address myriad needs – coverage at the linebacker level, run-support and playmaking. Stanford’s Justin Reid (6-1, 204 pounds) and Va. Tech’s Terrell Edmunds (6-2, 220) are bookends to the type of safety builds the Patriots could use. 

HOW CAN THE PATRIOTS CAN ADDRESS IT?


Make a run at Tre Boston. If the price is too high, settle on Edmunds or Reid.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE