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Muffed Punt Looms Large as Gunner Olszewski, Steelers Drop the Ball vs. Patriots

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Steelers Gunner Olszewski

PITTSBURGH — For the second straight week, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ game hinged on a special teams play.

In Week 1 against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Steelers got a blocked extra point from Minkah Fitzpatrick to stave off defeat in the final seconds of regulation, and then also needed another missed Cincinnati field goal before winning in overtime.

This week, the special teams splash play went the other way, as Steelers punt returner Gunner Olszewski muffed a punt in the third quarter, setting up the Patriots with a first and goal at the 10-yard line.

New England punched it into the end zone three plays later, giving the Patriots a two-score lead for the first time in the game and providing a margin of victory that the Steelers were unable to recover from as the Pats won, 17-14.

“When we didn’t handle the punt, that was a significant play,” head coach Mike Tomlin said after the game. “Sometimes when you’re in games like this, that’s the difference. It felt like it was today.”

Olszewski was to the point when asked about the play after the game.

“I gotta catch it,” Olszewski said. “I didn’t catch it. There’s no excuses. … I just dropped it. That’s on me. Game that tight, you can’t have mistakes like that.”

Olszewski was a First-Team All-Pro return man for the Patriots in 2020, and was expected to stabilize the Steelers return game after the loss of Ray-Ray McCloud to free agency. On Sunday, he got the chance to face his former team, but it didn’t turn out the way he wanted it to.

“Anytime you play the ex, you want to show out,” Olszewski said earlier this week. “It stings a little bit. … If you’ve ever been let go from a job or someone doesn’t want you back, it hurts.”

Olszewski did make an impact on offense against the Patriots, carrying a jet sweep for 18 yards. But overall, the offense struggled to put together drives and also turned the ball over once, something that didn’t happen against Cincinnati.

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