Monday, January 23, 2017

Patriots Crush Steelers To Advance To Super Bowl

The Patriots ran the Steelers defense out of the building last night, beating them 36-17 to advance to face the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI(ar). The game wasn't even as close as the score would indicate, as the Patriots scored more points on Sunday than the Steelers scored in two games against New England this season.

It's tough to choose whether the offense or defense had a better game. The Pats scored on 7 of 9 "real" possessions, and put up the most points allowed by Pittsburgh this season. And the defense held the Steelers to 9 points through 57 minutes of playing time, and their 17 total points were their lowest total since November 6.

As is sometimes the case, there are too many superlatives to go over every position group. So here are five things to know in five categories.


Quarterback Tom Brady destroyed Pittsburgh once again. In addition to his great stats yesterday (32 of 42, 384 yards [Patriots playoff record], 3 touchdowns, 0 INTs, and a 127.5 QB rating), he moved well in the pocket to buy time and nailed every open receiver right between the numbers. He is 8-2 lifetime against the Steelers with 27 touchdowns and 3 interceptions.

Running back LeGarrette Blount didn't do as much damage in this game as he did the last time they played Pittsburgh, but his 47 yards rushing included one where he carried the entire Steelers defense five yards and almost scored a touchdown. (Note: he scored on the next play, so it was all good.)

James Devlin caught one pass for 13 yards but most importantly he converted an important third-down on the drive that eventually led to a touchdown that salted away the game at 27-9.

The entire offensive line improved markedly over the last game. They gave up just one bad sack and three QB hits in the game. And at least three times Brady held the ball for five-plus seconds without the Pittsburgh defense laying a glove on him.

Notable was the Patriots offense committed just one penalty in the game. This against a very active front-seven that usually draws a few holds or "hands to the face" penalties every game. Nice discipline by everyone on offense.


Chris Hogan set a Pats playoff record with 180 yards, and he did it on just nine catches, for a 20-yard per-catch average. He also hauled in two touchdowns, including one on a beautiful flea-flicker.

Julian Edelman's eight catches for 118 yards and a touchdown were nothing to sneeze at, either. As he usually does, he also converted a high percentage of those catches into first downs, five of them this week. He's also seventh in NFL history with 84 postseason receptions.

Tight end Martellus Bennett had a quiet game statistically, but he is really gutting it out on what is reportedly a broken bone in his ankle. The team has very few tight end options behind Bennett, and he still managed to block well downfield and make five catches on five targets for 32 yards.

Brady completed 78% of his throws, due mostly to receivers finding holes in the defense but also because they caught everything thrown their way.

A quick thank you to the Steelers receivers, who dropped two touchdown passes and had just one touchdown reception on the day.


Defensive ends Malcom Brown, Alan Branch, Vincent Valentine, and linebacker Dont'a Hightower stopped the Steelers running game cold. And the key to beating Pittsburgh is always to make them one-dimensional.

Safety Patrick Chung stuffed several running plays at the line of scrimmage, stopped a receiver at the half-yard line (saving the Patriots four points), and broke up a pass that forced a Steelers punt -- and the Pats scored a touchdown to make it 27-9 on the ensuing drive.

Corner Malcolm Butler virtually shut down Pittsburgh's star receiver, Antonio Brown. Brown had over half his seven catches against zones, and Butler battled him every play for every yard all night long.

Fellow corner Eric Rowe had a surprising bounce-back game, making four tackles, breaking up two passes, and nabbing his third NFL interception, first in the playoffs.

Linebacker Kyle Van Noy spelled Hightower to keep him fresh and forced a fumble that Rob Ninkovich recovered.

Special Teams/Coaching

Jonathan Jones had two spectacular special teams tackles. The first was a big hit on a kickoff return, and the second was a diving tackle of Antonio Brown on a play where he would have gained another 20 yards if not for Jones.

Punter Ryan Allen averaged ten more yards per punt than his counterpart on the Steelers (48.5 to 38.5).

Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels gets kudos for the plan to abandon the run and just pass, pass, pass all game long. He also called for the up-tempo attack that wore out Pittsburgh's defense and allowed the Patriots to run them out of the building. And of course, he called the flea-flicker at the perfect time.

In their last seven games, the Patriots have given up an average of just 5.8 points in the second half. Credit defensive coordinator Matt Patricia for that, and wonder aloud why he gets less interest as a head coach than McDaniels.

Often overlooked, long snapper Joe Cardona finished of a great campaign with another flawless performance.


Corner Logan Ryan was as bad in this game as he was great against Houston. He led the team with nine tackles, but mostly because his man caught the ball over and over again.

Stephen Gostkowski missed yet another extra point. Maybe he will fare better in the dome during the Super Bowl.

Malcolm Mitchell's first playoff game was forgettable. He caught one pass and allowed another one to slip through is fingers on third-down, forcing the Patriots to settle for a field goal.

Elandon Roberts was mostly a non-factor against the run, even though he run-blitzed a fair amount in the game.

The Patriots defense had no sacks and just one QB hit in the game. They did force one or two throws to come out early, but they just didn't generate enough pressure on the quarterback.

When you bring a Weather God to the game, you expect better than 40s and rain... just sayin'

(Just kidding, Al!)

So where does that leave us? The Patriots need two things to compete effectively in Super Bowl LI(ar): a healthier Martellus Bennett, and a faster offensive start after the bye week than they had against Houston.

Non-Brady MVP of the Week: Hogan's stellar day made him the man of the hour.

Statistical Oddity of the Week: It has to be that the Patriots now hold the record for most Super Bowl appearances (9) in the history of any franchise. Who would have predicted that when they went 1-15 in 1990?

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "Can we play Pittsburgh in the playoffs every year?"

Keep the faith!

- Scott

PS. 16-2 & 2-0!

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