PITTSBURGH (AP) _ On the road in one of the toughest places to play no matter who’s at quarterback for the hosts, the New England Patriots never trailed in a 27-16 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.
And still, it wasn’t nearly good enough for Tom Brady.
Not that it ever is.
Though New England’s control of the game was only sporadically threatened, what struck Brady the most were the missed opportunities. The two dropped passes on third downs in the first half that cut drives short. The two fumbles that gave the Steelers possession in New England territory. The lack of any downfield passing game to someone not named Rob Gronkowski.
“Our execution, when it was good we made a lot of good plays,” Brady said. “I think there were self-inflicted wounds that really hurt us. It’s still really good to come in here and get the win.”
One that left little doubt about where the balance of power lies in the AFC as the season reaches its midway point.
New England (6-1) remained perfect since Brady’s return from his four-game “Deflategate” suspension. He improved to 9-2 all-time against Pittsburgh even on a day when he wasn’t as sharp as he would have liked.
Then again, the standards are pretty high. Brady’s thrown 26 touchdowns against just three interceptions when facing the Steelers. While Pittsburgh pressured him at times, the Steelers failed to record a sack and twice let the 39-year-old scramble for first downs. Yes, really.
“I feel like we definitely had some hits on him,” Steelers linebacker Arthur Moats said. “When you’ve got Brady back there running around, that’s a good sign but we’ve got to get him on the ground.”
Or any other important Patriot for that matter. Brady threw for 222 yards with two scores, LeGarrette Blount finished with 127 yards and two touchdowns of his own and Gronkowski added his 68th career touchdown reception to tie Stanley Morgan for the most in club history.
“We’re looking like garbage right now,” Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier said. “This is terrible right now.”
Not so much in New England, which responded emphatically whenever the Steelers made a push. Just like always.
“It was … good to make plays in the second half when we needed to,” Brady said. “They certainly made it tough for us.”
Pittsburgh backup quarterback Landry Jones played well at times while filling in for injured Ben Roethlisberger, who wore sweats on the sideline over his surgically repaired left knee and offered what advice he could.
While Jones wasn’t perfect while completing 27 of 49 passes for 281 yards with a touchdown and an interception in his third career start , he was hardly the only reason the Steelers (4-3) dropped their second straight and fell to 11-10 in games not started by Roethlisberger since 2004.
The bigger issue for the Steelers wasn’t Jones but an inability to stop the Patriots when it mattered and too many miscues in the red zone. The Steelers crossed the goal line just once, had a touchdown called back due to a penalty and watched normally reliable kicker Chris Boswell miss two field goals.
Blount received a loud chorus of boos during his first touch in the first quarter, a reminder of the ill will he generated when the Steelers cut him two years ago for insubordination . He had the last laugh, ripping off 74 yards in the second half alone to prevent Pittsburgh from focusing exclusively on Brady.
“To see him come in, run the ball super hard downhill, it’s just awesome,” Gronkowski said of Blount.
Patriots: escaped Pittsburgh largely unharmed, good news as they prepare for a visit to Buffalo next week. The Bills beat the Patriots 16-0 on Oct. 2, a game Brady missed while serving his suspension.
Steelers: Wide receiver Antonio Brown left briefly in the third quarter with a left quadriceps injury but returned, though he was largely ineffective late on a day he finished with seven receptions for 106 yards.
Pittsburgh is off next week, a much-needed respite for a team that had five regular contributors unavailable on Sunday due to injury. It’s uncertain when Roethlisberger may return, though Pittsburgh is hopeful to have defensive end Cam Heyward (hamstring) and right tackle Marcus Gilbert (ankle) back when it visits Baltimore on Nov. 6.
Regardless of what happens during the bye, the Steelers will still have at least a share of first place in the AFC North when they face the Ravens. For now, that’s little solace.
“It you want to look at the records that’s nice,” wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey said. “I guess the team that wins the division goes to the playoffs but after that loss I can’t really think about that. We’ve got to get better, get healthy.”