PITTSBURGH — The Patriots are back in the win column for the first time in 2022.
New England rebounded from its ugly Week 1 loss in Miami with a 17-14 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Acrisure Stadium.
Here are eight at-the-buzzer takeaways from Sunday’s game:
1. Shaky showing from Mac Jones
The season is young, but Jones has not looked like the same smart, confident passer he was as a Patriots rookie. And this was an especially uneven performance from New England’s starting quarterback.
Jones threw an interception on an ill-advised deep ball to DeVante Parker. He nearly threw another that was dropped by a Steelers defensive back. He failed to notice multiple wide-open receivers, including Lil’Jordan Humphrey deep downfield on the opening play of the Patriots’ third drive and Jakobi Meyers in the flat on a late third-and-short. Jones also was flagged for intentional grounding when he faced immediate interior pressure and hurled the ball out of bounds.
His final line was respectable (21 of 35, 252 yards, one touchdown, one pick) but Jones’ play so far this season has not elevated the Patriots’ offense.
Penalties also hamstrung New England’s offense in this one. Isaiah Wynn and Mike Onwenu had false starts; Wynn, Meyers and David Andrews were whistled for holding; and pre-snap confusion led to a delay of game on third-and-8 in the red zone.
Effective rushing from Damien Harris (15 carries, 71 yards, touchdown) and Rhamondre Stevenson (nine carries, 47 yards) allowed the Patriots to drain the final 6:33 off the clock after a Pat Freiermuth touchdown cut their lead to three in the fourth quarter.
2. Steelers got Trubisky’d
After Mitch Trubisky checked down to running back Najee Harris on a third-and-long early in the fourth quarter, wide receivers Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool both threw up their arms in frustration. An appropriate summation of the Trubisky experience.
Outside of a few nice third-down completions to Johnson on one second-quarter drive, Pittsburgh’s offense lacked any semblance of explosiveness with the former Chicago Bears draft bust behind center. Trubisky averaged a meager 5.1 yards per attempt and was sacked three times, mirroring his similarly unimpressive Week 1 outing against Cincinnati.
The Patriots also did a nice job of stifling the Steelers’ run game, holding Harris to 49 yards on 15 carries. Pittsburgh scored one touchdown and went three-and-out on its final two possessions.
3. A gift from Gunner
Gunner Olszewski said this week that he planned to “show out” against the Patriots, who chose not to tender him as a restricted free agent this offseason. Instead, it was a reunion to forget for the former New England return man.
Olszewski muffed a punt late in the third quarter, putting the ball on the ground at his own 20-yard line. Undrafted rookie Brenden Schooler, whom Pittsburgh chose not to block on the play, recovered the fumble to give the Patriots prime field position. Olszewski slammed down his helmet in frustration as he returned to the Steelers sideline.
Three plays later, Damien Harris scored from 2 yards out on third-and-goal to put New England ahead 17-6.
4. Mack Wilson makes an impact
Wilson got the start at inside linebacker over Raekwon McMillan, and it didn’t take him long to initiate the Patriots’ first takeaway of the season.
On Pittsburgh’s second possession, Wilson drifted underneath an in-breaking route by Diontae Johnson, and Trubisky never saw him. The athletic ‘backer wasn’t able to haul in the pass himself, but he deflected it straight to Jalen Mills for the cornerback’s first interception as a Patriot.
The Patriots acquired Wilson from the Cleveland Browns to add speed and playmaking ability to their stagnant linebacking corps, and he’s done that thus far. He also flashed as a run defender in Week 1.
5. Banner day for Nelson Agholor
Agholor was the Patriots’ most productive receiver Sunday, surpassing the 100-yard mark for the first time in his New England tenure. The veteran wideout caught all six of his targets for 110 yards, 44 of which came on a deep-ball touchdown in the final minute of the first half.
Agholor pulled down a superb contested catch over cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon to give New England a 10-3 halftime lead.
The big-play touchdown was reminiscent of a similar hookup between Agholor and Jones back in the preseason. This is exactly what the Patriots want to see from their high-priced pass-catcher after his lackluster debut campaign in New England.
Meyers also continued to be Jones’ reliable security blanket, catching nine passes on 13 targets for 95 yards and converting three third downs.
6. Kendrick Bourne back in the mix
After not seeing the field on offense until late in the fourth quarter last week, Bourne was much more involved against the Steelers. Still a complementary piece in the Patriots’ receiving corps, the playmaking wideout saw a sizable bump in playing time and recorded first downs on each of his first two targets (gains of 6 and 10 yards). Bourne also was open on his third target, but Jones’ pass sailed high, and later had another first down wiped out by a David Andrews hold.
The Patriots rotated their receivers more liberally than they did in Week 1, with all five playing substantial snaps. That included recently promoted ex-practice squadder Humphrey, who started the game alongside DeVante Parker and Meyers. New England also used much less 12 personnel (1RB, 2TE) than it did in the season opener, with Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith both going catchless on four total targets.
Parker and Jones still have not clicked. Through two games, passes to the ex-Dolphin have produced more interceptions (two) than receptions (one). Parker finished with no catches on two targets Sunday.
7. Team effort to replace Ty Montgomery
The Patriots didn’t have a 1-for-1 replacement for Montgomery, who landed on injured reserve this week after serving as New England’s primary third-down back in Week 1. Harris and Stevenson shared those duties on Sunday, with both seeing action in passing situations. Both contributed more as blockers than receivers, finishing with two catches for 16 yards and one catch for 4 yards, respectively.
Third-string rookie Pierre Strong only played on special teams in his regular-season NFL debut.
8. Big mistake by Myles Bryant
The game’s opening drive very nearly ended in disaster for the Patriots.
Bryant tried to field a booming Pressley Harvin punt while running toward his own goal line — a big no-no for returners — and failed to do so. The ball bounced in the Patriots’ end zone and almost was recovered by Pittsburgh’s James Pierre before Bryant finally corralled it for a touchback.
Bryant did respond with a nifty 15-yard runback on his next attempt, but his early gaffe could prompt the Patriots to give highly touted rookie Marcus Jones a look on punt returns next week. Jones, a prolific return man in college, couldn’t beat out Bryant for that job in training camp and sat out Sunday’s game as a healthy scratch.
Bryant was valuable defensively, however, holding the much larger Chase Claypool to 26 yards on four catches as New England’s top slot cornerback.