FOXBOROUGH — The Patriots won their seventh game of the season Sunday, defeating a depleted Steelers team, 55-31.
New England enters its bye week with a two-game lead over the surprising Jets in the AFC East, after New York upset New Orleans Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
After a stellar third quarter a week earlier against the Dolphins enabled them to turn the game in their favor, the Patriots stumbled out of the locker room Sunday and allowed Pittsburgh to tie the game.
But New England rebounded in a big way in the fourth with 28 points, pulling away from a Steelers team that has just two wins on the season and has dealt with myriad injuries to key players, particularly on offense.
The 55 points scored by New England were the most ever given up by Pittsburgh, one of the oldest, most storied franchises in the NFL.
The Patriots also have seen top players go down, most recently adding Tommy Kelly to injured reserve, and added perhaps one or two more Sunday.
Steve Gregory left the game in the second half with a thumb injury, Austin Collie suffered a knee injury that knocked him out of the game, and Rob Ninkovich also did not finish the game. It was announced that Ninkovich had a foot injury, and though he did not play again, he was on the sideline, giving hope that perhaps his injury is not significant.
Aaron Dobson scored twice in the fourth, on a pretty 17-yard fade, and then on a gorgeous, 81-yard catch-and-run down the sideline, the longest play of the season for the Patriots.
They also got rushing touchdowns from Stevan Ridley and LeGarrette Blount in the quarter, the latter aided by an interception from rookie safety Duron Harmon, who came in after Gregory left the game.
All told, the Patriots racked up 610 yards of offense, third-most in franchise history, and had three receivers – Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola, and Dobson – top 100 yards receiving. Ridley also went over 100 yards rushing.
Brady threw for 432 yards and four touchdowns.
The Patriots’ defense wasted little time getting its first turnover of the game, extending the team’s league-best takeaway streak to 36 consecutive games.
Pittsburgh won the toss and elected to receive, and on third-and-short inside New England territory, Ninkovich got a coverage sack of Ben Roethlisberger and stripped the ball from the quarterback; Joe Vellano recovered the loose ball.
New England wasn’t able to do anything offensively with the turnover, going three-and-out, which the Steelers also did when they got the ball back.
Though they got inches from the goal line on their second possession, the Patriots were denied a touchdown. On third down, Brady hit Gronkowski, and Gronkowski was ruled down just short of the line. It was surprising that the Patriots didn’t challenge the call, since it looked like Gronkowski may not have been downed by a defensive player before stretching the ball over the line.
The Patriots went for it on fourth down, and the initial call was that Brandon Bolden did score. However, that play was reviewed, like all scoring plays can be, and was overruled. Since Steelers safety Troy Polamalu had been flagged for a false start on the play, New England got another chance.
This time Ridley got the ball, and was stuffed.
But Devin McCourty gave the Brady & Co. another opportunity seconds later. Pinned deep, Roethlisberger heaved up a wobbly deep ball, and McCourty made the interception.
Starting at the Pittsburgh 34, it took one play for New England to get on the board: the Steelers left Amendola wide open about 10 yards from the end zone, and it was an easy play for Brady to get the ball for him.
Amendola ran in untouched for his first touchdown as a Patriot.
The Patriots went into halftime with a 24-10 lead, but the Steelers had touchdowns on each of their first two drives of the third quarter to tie the game.
New England would get a 32-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski before the quarter was out to re-gain the lead, and only built on it from there.