PITTSBURGH — The 124th Army-Navy Game will be staged this Saturday at Gillette Stadium. Most expected Thursday night’s Patriots-Steelers matchup to be a spiritual precursor.

But rather than a single-digit rock fight, two of the NFL’s worst offenses squared off in a wild game that featured … points! A bunch of them! Well, at least by New England’s extraordinarily low standards.

It took the Patriots less than 16 minutes to surpass their point total from the previous three games combined (13). The 30-point over — the lowest for an NFL game in 30 years — hit with 2:50 remaining in the second quarter.

The game veered away from shootout territory after halftime, but the Bailey Zappe-led Patriots were able to survive a Pittsburgh comeback bid and win 21-18 at Acrisure Stadium.

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The road victory snapped a five-game New England losing streak and improved the Patriots’ record to 3-10.

Here are nine quick-reaction thoughts on the Week 14 result:

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1. Bailey Zappe sizzles, then cools
Save for a few dicey throws, Zappe was largely excellent in the first half of his second start of the season. The second-year QB attacked the Steelers’ defense in a way Mac Jones rarely has this season, fitting intermediate and deep balls into tight windows. His 24-yard pass to Hunter Henry for the tight end’s second touchdown was a dart.

Zappe’s stat line at halftime: 14 of 21, 196 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions.

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But the offense stagnated after halftime. Zappe threw an interception while trying to hit a tightly covered JuJu Smith-Schuster, giving Pittsburgh possession in the red zone. (New England’s defense forced a turnover on downs.) He nearly threw another one drive later, hitting cornerback Joey Porter Jr. in the chest with an errant on-the-run pass to Tyquan Thornton.

New England’s five second-half drives went: punt, INT, punt, punt, punt, punt, with just three total first downs during that span. Zappe finished 19 of 28 for 340 yards and three touchdowns with one pick.

Fortunately for the Patriots, their defense held against Mitchell Trubisky and the Steelers, who scored 15 unanswered points but couldn’t close the gap.

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Jabrill Peppers, Kyle Dugger, Christian Barmore, Anfernee Jennings and Mack Wilson were defensive standouts for New England, with cornerback J.C. Jackson (touchdown allowed, two pass interference penalties) standing out as the lone dud on that side of the ball.

2. Same old story on special teams
Between their roster and coaching staff, the Patriots invest more resources in the kicking game than nearly any other NFL team. Those investments have not paid off.

New England’s special teams rank among the league’s worst for the third consecutive season, committing at least one costly blunder in nearly every game.

Thursday’s installment: a blocked punt early in the fourth quarter that gave Pittsburgh primo field position. Myles Killebrew ran straight through Ty Montgomery to swat down Bryce Baringer’s punt near the Patriots’ goal line.

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The Steelers scored four plays later to cut New England’s lead to 21-18. Montgomery subsequently was removed from the punt team.

Special teams ace Brenden Schooler also was flagged for unnecessary roughness earlier in the game, and Baringer blasted two punts into the end zone for touchbacks.

Jahlani Tavai also jumped offsides on a fourth-and-1 punt with five minutes remaining — a mortal sin for a punt rusher — but was bailed out when long snapper Christian Kuntz was whistled for a snap infraction.

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3. Superb start
It took 14 weeks, but the Patriots finally scored an opening-drive touchdown for the first time this season. Zappe marched them 75 yards in eight plays, headlined by a 37-yard completion to Smith-Schuster.

The deep ball was underthrown, but Smith-Schuster was able to muscle it away from safety Damontae Kazee for his longest gain as a Patriot. It also was New England’s first completion of the season that traveled 30-plus yards in the air, per ESPN Stats and Info, snapping and 0-for-18 slump.

Zappe also scrambled for a first down on third-and-9 and got two chunk plays out of short completions to Elliott, including an 11-yard touchdown that opened the scoring.

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4. Happy homecoming for JuJu Smith-Schuster
Smith-Schuster’s first game back in Pittsburgh was by far the best of his mostly miserable Patriots tenure. The ex-Steeler finished with four catches on six targets for a season-high 90 yards, with 82 of those coming before halftime. And New England badly needed it, as fellow wideouts DeVante Parker (knee), Demario Douglas (concussion) and Kayshon Boutte (shoulder) all were inactive due to injury.

Thornton and Jalen Reagor were less productive. The former caught three passes for 17 yards and the latter finished without a catch on one target.

5. Happy birthday for Hunter Henry
The veteran tight end also turned in his best game of the season, catching all three of his targets from Zappe for 40 yards and two touchdowns on his 29th birthday. Henry had found the end zone just once in his previous 10 games.

6. Picked by Peppers
Earlier this week, Bill Belichick called Peppers and Dugger two of the Patriots’ best players and two of the top safeties in the NFL. They teamed up Thursday night to force a key turnover.

Up 7-3 late in the first quarter, the Patriots dialed up a disguised coverage on third-and-10, with Dugger rotating toward the line just before the snap and then blitzing off the edge. He quickly pressured Trubisky, resulting in an off-balance throw into traffic. Peppers capitalized, undercutting tight end Pat Freiermuth for an interception that he returned to Pittsburgh’s 11-yard line.

Zappe hit Henry for the first of his two touchdowns two plays later.

7. Left tackle rotation continues
Trent Brown came off the bench Thursday night, rotating with starter Conor McDermott on Zappe’s blind side for the second straight week. Brown has dealt with a pile of injuries this season and was listed as questionable for this game, which likely explained his limited recent workload. He didn’t play his first snap until New England’s third possession.

The Patriots largely contained superstar edge rusher T.J. Watt, who tallied a tackle for loss and no sacks after getting banged up on the game’s first play. Running mate Alex Highsmith suffered a neck injury before halftime and did not return.

8. Malik-less again
For the second straight week, Malik Cunningham was elevated from the practice squad but didn’t play a snap for the Patriots. Running back Kevin Harris also was elevated from the P-squad with starter Rhamondre Stevenson (ankle) inactive, but he didn’t see the field, either. Elliott played nearly every snap, save for a few Montgomery cameos, and finished with more than 100 yards from scrimmage.

There wasn’t much there for Elliott as a rusher (22 carries, 58 yards), but he caught seven passes for 72 yards and a touchdown. He also tackled Mykal Walker after Zappe’s interception to prevent a pick-six.

9. Draft implications
Obviously, a loss would have boosted the Patriots’ chances of landing the top overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. The Chicago Bears (via Carolina) now have a firm grasp on that top spot.

But even after winning, they almost certainly will come out of Week 14 in possession of the No. 2 pick, as they hold a strength-of-schedule tiebreaker over the idle 3-10 Arizona Cardinals.

New England’s remaining games: home against the Kansas City Chiefs next Sunday, at the Denver Broncos on Christmas Eve, at the Buffalo Bills on New Year’s Eve and home against the New York Jets in Week 18.

Featured image via Philip G. Pavely/USA TODAY Sports Images