By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — It may be time to panic.
If the Patriots have proven anything this season, it’s that they cannot win on the road. With their 17-10 loss in Pittsburgh on Sunday, the Pats finish the regular season at 3-5 away from Gillette Stadium.
The loss drops them to the No. 3 seed in the AFC, meaning they’ll be playing on Wild Card weekend if the playoff picture doesn’t change over the next two weeks. They’ll still have a home game, but now would have to win on the road twice if they want to return to the Super Bowl for the third straight season. The way they’ve looked on the road this year does not inspire much hope that they’d be able to go into a hostile atmosphere and win a playoff game.
As for the present, we’re breaking down a disappointing loss for the second straight Sunday. The Patriots did not deserve to win the game, and were their own worst enemies throughout. No matter how many times the Steelers tried to give the game back to them, the Patriots never took advantage, usually stringing together a slew of self-inflicted mistakes to cost them their shot at a victory.
Here are the Ups and Downs — with a lot more downs — from Sunday’s loss in Pittsburgh.
Woof, that was bad. If you thought his brain cramp before the half last week in Miami was bad, his interception in the fourth quarter Sunday was even worse.
Feeling some heavy pressure, Brady tried to throw the ball away. But it fell right into the hands of Joe Haden at the Pittsburgh four-yard line. That poor decision/throw took much-needed points off the board for the Patriots in a 14-10 game.
“Just trying to throw it away and didn’t,” Brady explained after the loss. “I was just trying to flick it out of bounds, didn’t want to take a sack. Just shouldn’t happen.”
The whole drive was a mess, with a pair of penalties prior to the pick costing the Patriots great field position. Brady capping it off with that awful pick was both terrible, but fitting.
The Patriots finished 0-for-3 in the red zone on Sunday.
There were a lot of them. Way too many.
The Patriots were hit with 14 penalties that cost them 106 yards. And they all hurt in their own way.
As the Patriots tried to answer Pittsburgh’s second score, Trent Brown was flagged for a hold that wiped out a 25-yard run by Sony Michel. The Patriots had to punt away two plays later. Brown was also called for a false start before a 2nd-and-8 in the red zone early in the fourth quarter.
Late in the game, after Rob Gronkowski came through with a huge third-down conversion to get the Patriots to the Pittsburgh five-yard line, down 14-10, Marcus Cannon was called for a hold that pushed the Patriots back 10 yards. Brady was picked off two plays later to end the New England threat.
And on the final drive when the Patriots got into the red zone, Shaq Mason was hit with a 10-yard hold. Brady’s next two attempts soared through the end zone, and his final bid to Julian Edelman in the end zone was swatted down by the Pittsburgh D.
It was an extremely uncharacteristic game for the Patriots, one of the sloppiest games of the Belichick era.
Terrible Run Defense — Again
The Steelers ran for 158 yards on 25 carries, good for a 6.3 yard per attempt average. While that’s an improvement on the nine yards per carry the Dolphins averaged last weekend, it’s still a horrendous number for the New England defense.
Rookie Jaylen Samuels was a beast out of the Pittsburgh backfield, tallying 142 yards on 19 carries.
Shutout In Second & Fourth Quarter
Rumor has it that teams need to score points in order to win football games. The Patriots put up goose eggs in both the second and fourth quarter on Sunday.
The Patriots get a lot of credit for the vaunted double-score; scoring before halftime and then again out of the break.
They had a chance at one on Sunday but came up short on both ends. They managed just 21 yards on their drive before the half and had to punt away, and then punted after just four plays out of halftime.
Offense Was Brutal On Third Down
The Patriots were just 3-of-10 on third down.
Drops by Edelman and James White killed New England’s second offensive drive of the game. Josh Gordon also dropped a third-down reception that would have moved the chains on New England’s first drive of the second half.
The three drops are a season-high for the Patriots.
Right Place, Right Time For Harmon (Twice)
Duron Harmon is known for his late-game interceptions, earning him the nickname “The Closer.” He didn’t wait around for his two interceptions on Sunday.
Midway through the second quarter, Harmon picked off an overthrow by Ben Roethlisberger that went right to him. He was at it again in the fourth quarter, as Stephon Gilmore ripped the ball out of Antonio Brown’s hands and it went right to Harmon for his second INT of the afternoon.
Play-Call On Hogan’s TD
The Steelers bit hard on a fake reverse, letting Hogan get open on his slant over the middle. Wide open.
He went 63 yards to the end zone, the longest play of the year by the Patriots. Great play-calling by Josh McDaniels, and a great way to answer Pittsburgh’s opening drive.
What a beautiful display of special teams play by the Patriots in the second quarter. Jonathan Jones and Rex Burkhead did their best impression of The Flying Sandos Brothers and the Patriots eventually downed the ball at the Pittsburgh one-yard line.
Messin’ With Mike Ahead Of Half
Facing a 4th-and-1 late in the first half, the Patriots offense took the field. Then they went racing off late in the play clock and on came the punt team. It caught the Steelers snoozing (surprise, surprise) and ended up costing them some valuable time as Mike Tomlin never bothered to call a timeout.