Patriots

Five Takeaways: Patriots lose their footing in 17-10 loss to Steelers

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Five Takeaways: Patriots lose their footing in 17-10 loss to Steelers

PITTSBURGH -- Here are five quick-hit thoughts from what transpired between the Patriots and Steelers on Sunday night . . . 

RUN DEFENSE CAN'T FIND FOOTING

The Steelers were averaging just a shade over 50 yards rushing per game over the last month. They'd racked up more pass attempts than any team in football over the course of the season. They were without their top back James Conner (not to mention their expected top back of 2018 Le'Veon Bell). But even the Steelers -- who usually "do what they do," for better or worse -- knew they could run the ball against New England. With three minutes left in the game, they'd run for 160 yards on 24 carries (6.7 yards per attempt). The Patriots de-activated defensive tackle Danny Shelton as a healthy scratch for the third consecutive game, and had no answers up front for Jaylen Samuels (142 yards on 19 carries) and the Steelers offensive line.

THREE-HEADED MONSTER QUIETED

One of the bright spots from last weekend's game against the Dolphins was that the Patriots had Josh Gordon, Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski all up and running well simultaneously. Sunday? Not so much. Edelman dropped a pair of passes and had penalties on back-to-back plays in the third quarter. Gronkowski was held without a catch until the fourth quarter. Gordon dropped a Brady pass on a third down early in the third quarter. Gronkowski showed signs of life midway through the fourth when he powered through a tackle to pick up a third down in the red zone, but it was for naught. Moments later Brady threw a killer pick off his back foot to end the scoring opportunity. With two minutes left in the game, Gordon and Gronkowski (seemingly doubled in big spots by a robber crashing down from the safety level) combined for 40 yards receiving. 

SELF-INFLICTED WOUNDS

The biggest blunder of the day was Tom Brady's ugly interception in the fourth quarter, but the Patriots were uncharacteristically sloppy in picking up penalties throughout. They were called for 14 for 106 yards. Holds by Trent Brown and Marcus Cannon put the Patriots in perilous spots in the second quarter. Edelman's back-to-back penalties in the third nearly submarined a drive before it could get started. Joe Thuney's false start at the two-minute warning -- just after the Steelers crowd lost its collective mind to "Renegade" by Styx -- put the Patriots in a tough spot on their final drive. Moments later Shaq Mason was called for a hold with 33 seconds left. 

BIG RESPONSIBILITY FOR JACKSON

Think the Patriots trust undrafted rookie JC Jackson? He was locked up with JuJu Smith-Schuster throughout the first half, while corners Stephon Gilmore and Jason McCourty split the work on Antonio Brown. Jackson held up well enough as Smith-Schuster had three catches for 39 yards on a whopping eight targets in the first 30 minutes. On one 22-yard gain, Jackson was draped on Smith-Schuster but didn't turn his head around to see the football so the receiver plucked it off of Jackson's helmet. It's Smith-Schuster -- not Brown -- who led the Steelers in yards and catches coming into the game so, for Jackson, having the responsibility of shadowing one of the most productive wideouts in football represents a big step in the faith his coaching staff has in him.

NEVER UNDERESTIMATE HOME FIELD

We've written at length about how Ben Roethlisberger is a different quarterback at home versus on the road. But players aren't the only ones who can be influenced by their surroundings. It seemed as though Jeff Triplette's officiating team was baited into a penalty call by the Heinz Field crowd early in the second quarter. The back judge, from about 30 yards away, heaved a late flag on Jonathan Jones for a defensive pass interference that gave the Steelers 26 yards. On the following play, Roethlisberger hit Antonio Brown for a go-ahead 17-yard score. Because of the time it took between the end of the play and the flag being thrown, and because of the borderline nature of Jones' coverage, that felt like one that might stay in the officials pocket if the game was played at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots got one back in the third quarter when the back judge (and one other official) came flying in from long range with a pass-interference call against Chris Hogan that gave the Patriots one of only two third-down conversions to that point in the game. As far as the calls from New York went, the Patriots were on the wrong end of a challenge late in the second half when Cordarrelle Patterson was ruled down before converting a third-down pass from Tom Brady. They also had a downed-punt upheld by NFL head of officiating Al Riveron and Co. 

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Tom Brady laughs off Patriots injury report designation: 'I'm feeling really good'

Tom Brady laughs off Patriots injury report designation: 'I'm feeling really good'

The New England Patriots' Thursday injury report raised some eyebrows as Tom Brady was downgraded to limited in practice. But per usual, the injury designation doesn't seem to be a cause for concern.

In fact, Brady couldn't help but laugh when asked about being listed with elbow and toe ailments. During his Thursday night appearance on Westwood One with Jim Gray, Brady assured Patriots fans he'll be good to go vs. the Kansas City Chiefs.

“That might be the first time my toe’s been on the injury report,” Brady said. “So, you know us Patriots. We’re pretty diligent about listing everything. So, I guess you have to make mention of my toe now, as well.”

As for the elbow issue, Brady dealt with it during last week's game in Houston and is ready to do the same at Gillette Stadium on Sunday.

“Isn’t there some HIPAA violation or something like that when I start talking about all of my injuries?” Brady joked. “I’m doing pretty good. I’m doing pretty good. At this time of the year, I’ll take it. I’ll take anything if I’m still able to go out there and feel like I can play my best. I’m feeling really good, really positive about this weekend.”

Kickoff for the much-anticipated Patriots-Chiefs matchup is set for 4:25 p.m., and it sounds like Brady's more than ready for the AFC Championship Game rematch.

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Patriots Talk Podcast: A detailed look at why Tom Brady's time in NE is winding down

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Patriots Talk Podcast: A detailed look at why Tom Brady's time in NE is winding down

For 19 seasons, Tom Brady has been the unquestioned starter at quarterback for the New England Patriots. And for 19 years, he has started every game that he has been healthy for.

But ahead of the 2020 offseason, Brady's status with the organization remains as questionable as ever.

For the first time in his career, the 42-year-old Brady will be set to hit unrestricted free agency. He agreed to a restructured contract with the team this offseason, but it only gave him a pay raise this season and guaranteed that the team couldn't slap him with the franchise tag.

While Brady could return to the Patriots, it's possible that he could choose to go elsewhere if the team doesn't commit to him financially or surround him with better weaponry.

On the latest episode of the Patriots Talk Podcast, Tom E. Curran and Phil Perry discussed the possibility of Brady leaving. And as Curran pointed out, that topic hasn't been broached with much seriousness despite the fact that free agency is closer than some may realize.

We're talking about a seismic occurrence in the arc of the dynasty that is basically 90 days away. They could come to some kind of conclusion and rectify it and he might finish his career here, but it doesn't smell that way.

It's important to note that nothing is set in stone, and the Brady-Patriots relationship has endured for two decades for a reason. Despite some strain in the relationship at times, things have always been smoothed over. 

That said, there are some quarterback-needy teams that could attempt to lure Brady away from New England in an attempt to put their team over the top. Curran and Perry identified a few different options on the podcast, one of which was the Los Angeles Chargers.

Hear more from Curran and Perry on the latest episode of "The Patriots Talk Podcast," which drops every Tuesday and Thursday as a part of the NBC Sports Boston podcast network.

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