TNF Tonight: Steelers Fans Turn on Team in Loss to Patriots
If boos were a weather system, then the storm front unleashed by Steeler fans Thursday night in their team's 21-18 loss to New England would have brought NFL action at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field once again to a halt.
The Patriots built a 21-3 first-half lead then held off the Steelers who slowly cut into that advantage in the second half.
Pittsburgh had two chances to tie or take the lead late in the fourth. The last opportunity fell to the wayside when, on 4th-and-2 from his own 48-yard line, quarterback Mitch Trubisky missed on a long pass intended for receiver Diontae Johnson.
Last in the NFL in scoring, New England took the game’s opening kickoff and drove 75 yards for a touchdown. QB Bailey Zappe hit running back Ezekiel Elliott on an 11-yard TD pass. The score was set up by a 37-yard pass from Zappe to WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, who burned his old team for six catches and 90 yards receiving on the night.
The Steelers eventually answered with a field goal, before Zappe twice hit tight end Hunter Henry for second-quarter touchdowns. Zappe finished the night with 240 yards and the three touchdowns and, in the first half anyway, played his best football since replacing Mac Jones.
Down 21-3 in the second quarter, the Steelers’ offense finally made some headway — against both the New England defense and the choruses of displeasure raining down at each incomplete pass or running play stuffed for a loss. Though he took the brunt of the fans’ ire all night, Trubisky came through with a 25-yard TD pass to Johnson that capped a 75-yard drive in the second quarter. The QB finished 22-of-35 for 190 yards and the one TD.
The 21-10 score held going into halftime. In the second half, the Steelers defense stiffened. Safety Michael Walker came up with what appeared to be huge play when he intercepted a deflected pass thrown by Zappe near midfield.
But Patriots RB Ezekiel Elliott’s hustle kept Walker from scoring. Taking over at the Patriots’ 16-yard line, the Steelers failed to capitalize and turned the ball over on downs when Trubisky did not see reciever George Pickens, standing alone in the end zone, on 4th-and-2 from inside the 10-yard line.
The Steelers’ special teams got the ball right back in Patriots territory, however, when it blocked a New England punt. This time Trubisky and the offense cashed in, with the QB doing the honors on a 1-yard sneak with seven minutes left to cut the New England lead to 21-18 following a successful two-point conversion.
But Pittsburgh’s offense could not generate clutch plays on their final two drives. The fact that Pittsburgh got as close as it did only seemed to tease its fanbase into a furiousness as hot as a Steel City blast furnace.
And who could blame them? Heading into Week 13, the Steelers stood at 7-4, in the thick of the chase for an AFC North title, with games against Arizona and New England. Instead of taking care of business, the Steelers fell in back-to-back home games to teams with a combined three wins and seemingly nothing to play for. You might need to go all the way back to the 1960s to find a lower point for the Steelers’ franchise.
An overreaction? Hyperbole? Rewatch the game and turn up the volume as each Trubisky pass hits the ground — though I guess it’s possible Pittsburgh faithful were hollering for “booze!”
The road does not get easier for the Steelers, who next week visit an Indianapolis Colts team enjoying a five-game win streak. The Steelers will likely start Trubisky but his backup, Mason Rudolph, better have his helmet within reach.
As for New England (3-10), it’s just nice to see Bill Belichick finally catch a break.