Coming into Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the New England Patriots were riding a terrible five-game losing run. Few predicted the Patriots’ offense, which had been underperforming, would suddenly come alive with rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe at the helm.
At Acrisure Stadium, nevertheless, that is precisely what transpired when Zappe and company scored an astonishing 21-18 thanks to a total offense explosion of more than 350 yards.
Zappe Lights Up Steelers Defense With Career Day
Bailey Zappe delivered a historic effort in only his second career start. The rookie quarterback shredded the Pittsburgh defense, throwing for 296 yards and three scores on 26 completions and 37 attempts. Among his early career highs, his passer rating of 128.1 stands out.
The wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster set new season records for receptions (8) and yards (127) after connecting with Zappe early and frequently. Even though he was celebrating his 29th birthday, tight end Hunter Henry caught two touchdown passes thanks to Zappe’s pinpoint passing.
The Patriots wasted no time getting on the board, as Ezekiel Elliott scored the game-winning touchdown after a 75-yard opening drive that the team engineered in just 10 plays. The Patriots had not scored a touchdown on their first possession of the season before this game. In the first half alone, they would score twice more, with Zappe connecting with Henry for a 4-yard pass.
A startling 21-10 lead belonged to New England at halftime. The Steelers had a second-half opportunity to mount a comeback with an interception by Zappe, but the Patriots’ defense would eventually shut the door.
Dominant Defensive Effort Sets Table For Offensive Outburst
Once again, New England’s superior defense was a huge factor in their impressive offensive performance. Throughout the game, the unit blocked Pittsburgh from getting a rhythm, and the Steelers only managed 10 points in the first half.
No less than twice did the Steelers seize control of the ball deep in Patriots territory. The defense led by Bill Belichick performed admirably on both occasions. The second touchdown for New England came on an interception by safety Jabrill Peppers. Afterwards, early in the fourth quarter, the defense stonewalled Pittsburgh at their own 8-yard line, forcing a turnover.
Over the course of the game, the Patriots defense stifled the Steelers, limiting them to just 308 yards. Pittsburgh was able to get back into the game thanks to two touchdowns scored by the unit in the second half. However, in the end, the defense successfully preserved the lead.
Special Teams Miscues Help Steelers Stick Around
The offense and defense for New England were outstanding, but the special teams had some unusual problems. The Patriots appeared ready to seal the deal early in the third quarter after taking a 21-10 advantage into halftime.
That changed when Pittsburgh got back into the game thanks to two huge special teams mistakes. To start, the ball was stopped midway into New England territory on a punt. It was a direct cause of the Steelers’ first half-two touchdown. After that, Pittsburgh scored again in the final seconds of regulation thanks to a penalty for pass interference in the end zone. With a two-point conversion in the bag, the game was suddenly down to one score.
It was fortunate that the Patriots’ offense dragged out the rest of the clock. However, a huge upset victory for New England was almost lost due to special teams errors.
Key Takeaways From New England’s Statement Win
The unexpected victory on Sunday provided the much-needed morale lift for New England. Their season is nearly over at 3-10. There were, however, a number of promising indicators in the Patriots’ Pittsburgh statement victory:
- With the composure and conviction of a seasoned quarterback, rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe made his arrival known. Particularly noteworthy was his pinpoint precision and skill with the ball. The future seems brighter for Zappe after Sunday’s spectacular performance.
- Even though the offense has been struggling, the Patriots have been able to stay in the game because to their outstanding defense. The squad is in its early stages, but it is evolving quickly and improving weekly. They have the potential to become a top-tier NFL defense in 2023 and beyond.
- When their team needed them most, playmakers like Hunter Henry and Juju Smith-Schuster came through. There have been times this season when New England’s skill position players have let the team down. However, Sunday’s victory was a direct result of their efforts, which ended the losing streak.
It appears that New England has found their future quarterback in Zappe, even though they will not make the playoffs in 2023. Additionally, the groundwork for an outstanding defense has started to materialize. Patriots fans have a lot to be optimistic about after this season’s dominating victory over Pittsburgh.