After Wednesday’s practice, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Landry Jones had a simple message for his teammates: “Don’t panic.”
Steelers fans certainly panicked, but Jones and the rest of the Pittsburgh team didn’t, and they made a game of it for a while against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. But, in the end, they still couldn’t do enough, resulting in Pittsburgh’s third loss of the season, 27-16.
All in all, it was a fairly solid performance from Jones, who was thrust into the starting job after Ben Roethlisberger injured his knee in last Sunday’s game against the Miami Dolphins. Roethlisberger underwent surgery Monday to repair a torn meniscus and is hoping to return for Pittsburgh’s Nov. 13 game against the Dallas Cowboys.
Pittsburgh put up a good fight, but the team mostly had to settle for field goal attempts while Brady and company marched downfield for touchdowns. The Steelers also missed a few attempts to put points on the board — a touchdown was called back because of a penalty, and Chris Boswell missed two field goals, a 42-yarder and a 54-yarder. And Landry Jones threw a costly pick in the endzone at the end of the first quarter.
The Steelers’ inability to capitalize on those scoring chances cost them.
Jones was clearly no Roethlisberger, but he did an admirable enough imitation to make Steelers fans relax about not having Roethlisberger in the starting lineup (at least for a little bit). He finished 29 of 47 for 281 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
Jones was the recipient of some phenomenal offensive line protection, which let him settle in the pocket and scan the field to make (mostly) smart decisions. That same o-line was key in a huge performance from Le’Veon Bell, who continues to show why he’s easily the best running back in the NFL.
On several occasions, Bell was handed the ball and looked like he’d take it for no gain or a loss before escaping three or four tackles and taking it seven-plus yards — where he usually had three or four Patriots players holding onto him.
He finished with 81 rushing yards and also had 68 receiving yards, proving he continues to be a dangerous dual-threat.
Pittsburgh’s wide receivers were pretty successful, especially when it came to crossing plays that tripped up New England’s defense. Antonio Brown had seven receptions for 106 yards, and Darrius Heyward-Bey had three catches for 30 yards and Pittsburgh’s lone touchdown.
The Steelers’ receiving corps continues to be one of the deepest in the NFL; without Markus Wheaton (shoulder injury), Cobi Hamilton stepped up and had three catches for 36 yards.
The Steelers’ defense, much maligned (deservedly) after the loss in Miami, performed respectably. For considerable stretches of the game, Patriots tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett were shut down. The problem came when Brady was able to find Gronkowski in the open field for a couple of huge gains that let the tight end finish with 93 yards and one touchdown on four receptions. (Bennett had just one catch.)
A week after allowing 204 yards to Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi, the Steelers gave up 127 yards to running back (and former Steeler) LeGarrette Blount and two touchdowns. But Blount was quieted for large stretches of the game, which allowed the Steelers to keep things competitive for a stretch.
For a Pittsburgh defense that is desperately missing star defensive end (and captain) Cam Heyward and that needs linebacker Ryan Shazier to be back at full strength, there were some good performances. Linebacker Lawrence Timmons recorded 11 solo tackles, and linebacker Jarvis Jones had six solo tackles and forced a fumble.
The Steelers still need to do a much better job of putting pressure on the opposing quarterback — Pittsburgh allowed Tom Brady to scramble and run the ball for three first downs. Brady finished with five rushing attempts for 13 yards. (Yep, you read that right.)
Of course, Pittsburgh also needs to still improve in its secondary. (Julian Edelman had nine receptions for 60 yards, James White had two receptions for 32 yards and Chris Hogan had two receptions for 25 yards.) But the Steelers are hampered with injuries and youth, and this group has been improving.
Right now, the rest during the bye week just can’t come soon enough.
Image credit: Jared Wickerham/AP