PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers did it again.
Four days after losing a game to a two-win team, mostly because of their own failures to execute, the Steelers scuffled their way to a 21-18 loss to the New England Patriots on Thursday Night Football, a team that has for all intents and purposes, been angling for the first overall pick for half the season.
The Steelers started this one by digging themselves a massive hole with more of the same: a leaky defense unable to cover over the middle of the field, and boneheaded mistakes on offense that sank the whole team.
The Patriots drove right down the field on the opening possession, picking on the Steelers’ linebackers in coverage over and over again before Bailey Zappe hit Ezekiel Elliot for a short touchdown, snapping a Patriots streak of over 90 minutes of game time without finding an end zone.
The Steelers answered with a Chris Boswell field goal on their opening drive, but then things fell apart for the offense. The Patriots possess one of the NFL’s best run defenses, and the Steelers were never able to get either Najee Harris (29 yards on 12 carries) or Jaylen Warren (11 yards on 7 carries) going.
Instead, most of the task of moving the offense down the field fell to backup quarterback Mitch Trubisky, and he was rarely up to the task. Trubisky completed 20 of 33 passes (60.6%) for 145 yards (4.4 yards per attempt) and a 68.4 passer rating.
Trubisky helped set the Steelers back before he pulled them forward. He threw into triple coverage, looking for Pat Freiermuth, but instead threw it straight to Jabrill Peppers, who set the Patriots up deep in the red zone.
Zappe picked on linebacker Mykal Walker again to find tight end Hunter Henry for his first of two scores. A big play by returning Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who led all receivers with 90 yards on four catches, set Zappe up for another shot at Henry, this time over Damontae Kazee.
The Patriots had raced out to a 21-3 lead, after failing to score at all in their previous game.
The Steelers whittled the lead away, with Trubisky leading a touchdown drive at the end of the half, finding Diontae Johnson for a 25-yard score.
The Steelers took the opening possession of the second half for a 7-minute drive that only made it to midfield. The punt went into the end zone in a microcosm of the offense’s struggles throughout.
The Steelers defense and special teams set the offense up with two golden chances late. Walker intercepted Zappe after an Elandon Roberts tip and returned it into the red zone, but the ensuing drive failed on a 4th and 2, when Trubisky threw a 1-yard pass to Jaylen Warren.
Miles Killebrew partially blocked a punt to give the Steelers offense yet another chance, and Trubisky found pay dirt on a 1-yard run. He hit Pat Freiermuth for a 2-point conversion to get the Steelers to within a field goal with just under 12 minutes to play.
The Steelers defense got the offense the ball back two more times, but the Steelers punted on the first and Trubisky threw incomplete on a deep ball to Johnson on the final 4th and 2 to seal the loss.
The Steelers will now have an extended break to lick their wounds and contemplate how their season has slipped away from them. They are now 7-6 and await a Week 15 trip to Indianapolis.