PITTSBURGH -- One week after their worst performance of the season, the Patriots put on one of their best and defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 39-26 at Heinz Field.
The Patriots couldn’t do much right in a loss to the 3-6 Cleveland Browns last week, but against the 6-3 Steelers tonight, the Patriots were firing on all cylinders. Tom Brady passed for 350 yards and three touchdowns and the Patriots sacked Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger five times. Brady also ran for a touchdown.
“That was a good game. I’m tired,” Brady said. “That was an emotional win for us. It’s always fun to come in here and play well. We know what kind of team they have and what they’re all about, and I thought we showed what we’re all about, too. We fought hard, they fought hard. We made a bunch of plays that we needed to make. Everybody made the, and it was good to come out ahead.”
Tight end Rob Gronkowski, who dropped several passes and had a costly fumble in the Cleveland game, rebounded with a big game. He caught all three of Brady’s touchdown passes and had five receptions for 72 yards.
“Rob does a good job, he works hard, he’s improved a lot over the course of the year,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said.
Wide receiver Wes Welker had eight catches for 89 yards.
“We did a lot of good things out there and we were able to move the ball. I think there were some frustrating times, too, where we’re up 10-0 and we want to put more points on the board, and we weren’t able to. It’s a little bit frustrating, the penalties and stuff kind of stopped us, but at the same time, we did some good things and we were able to move the ball. It’s just whenever we’d stop ourselves, we had trouble,” Welker said.
The game turned into a bit of a shootout at the end, but the Patriots recovered two onside kicks and scored both times to repel the Steelers' late charge.
Gronkowski’s third touchdown reception gave the Patriots a 36-18 lead with 4:23 left in the game. His 25-yard touchdown play was the Patriots’ response to the Steelers cutting the lead with a 25-yard touchdown strike from Ben Roethlisberger to Mike Wallace that made it 29-18 midway through the fourth.
Rookie Emmanuel Sanders caught a floater from Roethlisberger from six yards to cut the Patriots’ lead to 23-10 early in the fourth quarter. But after the Steelers forced a punt, Patriots safety James Sanders picked off a tipped pass and returned it 32 yards for a touchdown and a 29-10 lead with 8:32 left.
Brady ran three yards for a touchdown late in the third quarter to put New England up 23-3. His quarterback sneak capped a seven-play, 80-yard drive that came on the heels of a missed field goal attempt by the Steelers.
The Patriots increased their lead to 17-3 on their first possession of the second half. Gronkowski caught his second touchdown pass with 9:48 left to cap a 10-play, 78-yard drive.
Jeff Reed gave the Steelers their first points on a 22-yard field goal in the second quarter that cut the Patriots’ lead to 10-3.
Gronkowski put the Patriots ahead 7-0 in the first quarter when his 19-yard reception capped the Patriots’ first possession, an eight-play, 70-yard drive that used 4:07.
Shayne Graham’s first field goal attempt for New England – he was brought in to replace Stephen Gostkowski, who is out for the season with a leg injury – gave the Patriots a 10-0 lead in the first quarter. Graham connected from 31 yards.
"It’s a good win, we got back on track here, and of course we’ve got a big one next week against Indy," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said.
The live blog recap follows:
Final: The Patriots repel the Steelers' final attempt and win 39-26. More coming shortly as we hit the locker room for postgame reaction.
4th quarter, 1:58: Shayne Graham hits a 35-yard field goal attempt. Patriots lead 39-26.
4th quarter, 1:58: Two-minute warning. Patriots have 4th-and-3 on the Steelers' 18.
4th quarter, 2:57: Patriots TE Alge Crumpler recovers the onside kick attempt.
4th quarter, 2:59: Roethlisberger hits Mike Wallace for a 33-yard touchdown as he beat James Sanders. The drive: 5 plays covers 80 yards in 1:24. Wallace has 8 catches for 136 yards tonight. The Steelers complete the 2-point conversion on the second effort after a penalty.
4th quarter, 4:23: Another Patriots touchdown. On a 3d-and-5, Brady hit tight end Rob Gronkowski on a 25-yard play, for his third touchdown of the night. The drive, 5 plays covering 41 yards in 2:21. 15-yard roughing the passer penalty on LaMarr Woodley after the touchdown pass. More seats than people in them here at Heinz Field now.
4th quarter, 5:36: Onside kick by the Steelers recovered by Patriots lineback Jerod Mayo, who had another solid game tonight. Patriots trying to wind down the clock now.
4th quarter, 6:44: Steelers score. Roethlisberger completes the 15-yard TD pass to third-year receiver from Old Miss Mike Wallace. Steelers complete the 2-point conversion on a rush from Mewelde Moore. The scoring drive was 53 yards in 5 plays in only 1:48. The Patriots celebration penalty gave the Steelers a short field to start the scoring drive.
4th quarter, 7:07: The diehards remain. The rest of the black and gold clad fans have run for the exits. Steelers going no huddle and moving down the field again.
4th quarter, 8:32: Interception > Touchdown. Pick 6 for James Sanders the nickle back, 32-yards for the score. Patrick Chung may have tipped it. Sanders first interception of the season. The Roethlisberger pass was intended for Antwaan Randle El. Patriots get a penalty for excessive celebration as a group after the TD. Patriots went for 2-point conversion. Incomplete. Brady took a shot from James Farrior after the conversion effort.
4th quarter, 9:12: BenJarvus Green-Ellis having himself a pretty nice evening here. 11 carries for 67 yards to go along with 4 catches for 36 yards. The Patriots drive stalls at midfield. The key play, an intentional grounding call on Tom Brady, who threw the ball way down the right side of the field, but there was not a Patriots receiver in sight. Steelers get the ball back needing two TDs for a win. They'll start at their own 11 after the punt.
4th quarter, 14:42: Patrick Chung was shaken up on the last play, a 20-yard completion to Heath Miller. For the Steelers, Lawrence Timmons has a hip injury, return questionable. Starting to see more empty yellow seats here at Heinz Field.
3d quarter, 00:52: Bad foot? Not so much. Tom Brady takes it in himself for the touchdown on a 3-yard run. A little skirmish after the play between the two teams. Logan Mankins involved. An 8-yard run by Green-Ellis and a 6-yard catch by by Branch were key after the big play to Tate. Oops. Graham shanked the extra point, wide right. The scoring drive, a lightning-quick 3:18, 7 plays covering 81 yards.
3d quarter, 2:59: Randy who? Tom Brady hits wide receiver Brandon Tate on a 45-yard deep post pattern and the Patriots are on the move again. Welker, on a 16-yard gain, has the Patriots inside the Pittsburgh 25 yard line.
3d quarter, 3:40: Reed misses the 26 yard field goal. The kicker just knuckled the ball. The Patriots take over at their own 20.
3d quarter, 4:30: Critical 38-yard pass interference play on Brandon Meriweather gives the Steelers a first down from the 8 yard line. The pass was intended for Mike Wallace and Meriweather was all over him. Heath Miller misses a pass in the end zone, then Roethlisberger missed Emmanuel Sanders, who wasn't even looking when the ball was thrown.
3d quarter, 6:41: Not a good drive by the Patriots. A holding call on Matt Light. A ball thrown near Wes Welker's feet. A -3 yard completion cross field to Welker. Incomplete to Woodhead... looked like a flashback to many of the drives vs. the Browns last week. Patriots punt.
3d quarter, 8:23: The Wright stuff. Ben Roethlisberger sacked for the fourth time tonight, a 10-yard loss on the Mike Wright sack, and the Steelers forced to punt. And the boo-birds are out at Heinz Field. None of the analysts and pregame pundits expected the Patriots to mount this much pressure on Big Ben tonight, but they've done it. Mike Wright has been in the thick of things in the middle all night.
3d quarter, 10:44: Touchdown Patriots. Brady to Gronkowski. The Patriots started the second half the way they started the game... driving down the field. Key plays: 13 yard run by Green-Ellis, a 16-yard completion to Green-Ellis, a 13-yard pass to Wes Welker, followed by a TD pass to Rob Grankowski in the flat, wide open on the right side for the 9 yard TD catch. The scoring drive: 10 plays covering 78 yards in 5:12... the Patriots never got to a third-down play on the drive. No signs of the Steeler faithful (64,359 total attendance tonight) leaving yet, but it's gotten awfully quiet out there...
Halftime: A tale of two quarterbacks. Patriots QB Tom Brady was 17-for-25 for 180 yards and a touchdown. QB rating: 102.1. Roethlisberger was just 7-for-20 for 90 yards. Sacked three times. No TDs. QB rating: 50.0.
Halftime: The Steelers made the final minute of the first half interesting. A short pass from Roethlisberger to Mewelde Moore resulted in a 29 yard gain after Moore bounced off Kyle Arrington and just kept running. But a Hail Mary pass with 00:01 second left went incomplete in the end zone and the Patriots, who seemed to outplay Pittsburgh for most of the first half, go into the locker room with just a 7 point lead. The Patriots and the Steelers each held the ball for 15:00 in the first half.
Second quarter, 00:34: A crushing offensive pass interference call on Rob Gronkowski pushed the Patriots back after they decided to go for it on fourth down instead of going for a long field goal with a new kicker. Steelers get the ball back on the punt for one more drive before the half ends.
Second quarter, 00:56: Patriots trying to get more points on the board before the half. After a 12-yard catch by Deion Branch, Brandon Tate dropped a perfect pass, then Brady later overthrew Welker, who was hit hard by Steelers safety Troy Polamalu.
Second quarter, 2:00: A penalty on fill in starter at LT Jonathan Scott has set the Steelers back into a 2nd and 12 situation from their own 16 yard line. Roethlisberger throws an incomplete pass to Antwaan Randle El down the field over the middle. Looked like and old Terry Bradshaw to Lynn Swann play, but Swann would have had it. On third down, Ben R. throws incomplete to Heath Miller at the 37 yard line, Devin McCourty all over the play. Pittsburgh punts it away.
Second quarter, 3:00: Steelers defense is stepping up. Patriots forced to punt again. Wes Welker was wide open in the middle of the field but dropped a pass as he may have heard the footsteps of safety Ryan Clark coming at him. The Patriots are 3-of-5 in third down situations tonight.
Second quarter, 5:12: Steelers have to settle for three. Another dropped pass in the end zone, this one intended for Antwaan Randle El. Patrick Chung was right on top. It was a 10 play drive for Pittsburgh, covering 76 yards in 5:22, capped off by the 22 yard field goal by Jeff Reed.
Second quarter, 5:22: Looks like the Steelers are going to need to whole 60 minutes to pull this one out as Mike Wallace just lost control of what looked like a touchdown pass.
Second quarter, 5:30: Just after Ben Roethlisberger took the running game in to his own hands with a 12-yard scramble rush on third down, Rashard Mendenhall broke loose for a 34 yard gain. That was followed by an 18-yard pass to Heath Miller and the Steelers are on the 12 and closing in on pay dirt.
Second quarter, 10:30: The Patriots tried to blow it open on a fake reverse pass play to the end zone intended for Brandon Tate, but the play was slow to develop and broken up in the end zone by Steelers cornerback Bryant McFadden. Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons followed by breaking up another Brady pass (intended for Aaron Hernandez) and the Patriots were forced to punt for the first time tonight.
Second quarter, 12:47: Patriots seemed to have made the right adjustments on their run defense compared to the debacle in Cleveland. Steelers just 14 yards rushing on 6 carries. And Big Ben has been sacked three times so far.
Second quarter, 12:47: Hines Ward neck injury, his return is questionable. Roethlisberger sacked by Banta-Cain on a 3d-and-10. Loss of 8 on the play. Steelers punt team is on. Cunningham came from one side and Banta-Cain came inside for the sack. Steelers offense continues to struggle.
Second quarter, 15:00: Roethlisberger finally hits speedy receiver Mike Wallace for 7 yards and the Steelers will start the second quarter with a first down. Patrick Chung laid a smashing hit on Wallace. The Patriots are not getting pushed around by the Steelers like they were by the Browns last week.
First quarter, 0:10: Scratch that. The Patriots wisely challenged the play and the call was reversed. Ward did not have possession of the ball as he hit the ground. Third down Steelers.
First quarter, 0:00: Hines Ward has now caught a pass in 187 straight games, a Steelers record, after a 6 yard reception that ended the first quarter. Ward was slow to get up and was limping of the field. Looks to be a left foot problem, but Ward was definitely shaken up on the hit by James Sanders. Ward receiving treatment on the Steelers bench.
First quarter, 00:57: Tom Brady is off to a good start. 10-for-12 passing for 107 yards and a TD. Big Ben is just 1-for-4 for 16 yards so far. Brady looks mobile and shows no signs of the foot sprain that hampered him last week.
First quarter, 1:03: Shayne Graham gets it done from 31 yards out. His first field goal as a member of the Patriots. It was a 10 play drive covering 46 yards in 5:26. The Patriots looked like they were marching in for another TD, but a couple of short yard runs, and the penalty, forced New England to settle for 3.
First quarter, 9:48: Touchdown Patriots, Brady to Gronkowski on 3d and 9. Tom Brady came out firing, the Patriots had four consecutive plays for first downs on the drive. Gronkowski caught passes for 7 yards and 12 yards before the 19 yard touchdown catch. Green-Ellis had a nice 17 yard run. 8 plays, 70 yards, 4:07 on the scoring drive. The Patriots made it look fairly easy on the first drive.
First quarter, 13:50: A quick 3-and-out for the Steelers. Gary Guyton broke up one pass, and Kyle Arrington broke up another play. The Steelers offensive line picked up the Patriots blitz, but it did not help them get a first down.
We're finally just a few minutes away from kickoff here at Heinz Field where there is a playoff atmosphere in the air. It's a packed house in the press box, the stands are nearly full for kickoff, and the Steeler fans are enthusiastically waiving the famous yellow Terrible Towels.
The game time temperature is 49 degrees and the rain has stopped; the field looks to be in good condition. Should be in the mid-40's by game end. Winds out of the southwest at 8 m.p.h.; 10 percent chance of precipitation tonight.
The Steelers are wearing their throwback uniforms tonight. They are 1-1 with the yellow helmets.
The Patriots have won the toss and will defer and take the ball to start the second half. The Steelers will defend the north goal to start.
Lynn Swann is in the house for as are a host of other former Pittsburgh players who are here for the annual Steelers Alumni Weekend. Rush Limbaugh is also here.
Be sure to continue to hit the refresh button as we will continue to update this post with news and observations as the game progresses.
Matt Pepin contributed to this report.