PITTSBURGH — What got into the Patriots?

New England entered Acrisure Stadium on Thursday with many expecting it to suffer a boring defeat to the Steelers. But the Patriots left Pittsburgh with an entertaining (and hectic) 21-18 victory over their longtime AFC rival.

If only for just one night, the Patriots had reason to feel good about themselves.

Bill Belichick’s team didn’t waste any time, as Bailey Zappe led the Patriots to their first opening-drive touchdown of the season. After punting on two consecutive drives, the Patriots scored touchdowns on two of their next three possessions to take a stunning 21-3 lead.

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Zappe was the star, throwing one touchdown to Ezekiel Elliott and two to Hunter Henry.

At that point, the Patriots surely were feeling good about themselves.

But Steelers backup Mitch Trubisky ended an otherwise wretched half by connecting with Diontae Johnson on a 25-yard touchdown. The score stayed 21-10 until a blocked punt gave the Steelers a short field early in the fourth quarter. Pittsburgh eventually capitalized with a TD and a two-point conversion to make it a 21-18 game.

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The two teams exchanged sloppy possessions the rest of the way, but New England eventually held on to snap a five-game losing streak.

Zappe, making his second consecutive start, completed 19 of 28 passes for 240 yards and three touchdowns to go along with one interception. He also rushed for 13 yards and was sacked twice.

On the other side, Trubisky completed 22 of 35 passes for 191 yards and one touchdown to go along with one pick. He added eight carries for 80 yards.

Johnson led the Steelers with 57 receiving yards, while Najee Harris added 29 yards on the ground. George Pickens caught five balls for 19 yards.

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The Patriots posted 303 total yards compared to 264 for the Steelers. Pittsburgh posted four more first downs but was much worse on third down.

New England moved to 3-10 with the win while Pittsburgh dropped to 7-6 with the loss. The Patriots’ next game will be a home matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs on Dec. 17.

Here are three studs and three duds from a wild night in the Steel City:

QB Bailey Zappe
Was it perfect? No, but it was better than just about anything the Patriots have received at quarterback this season. Most importantly, Zappe got his team out to a fast start and enabled New England to play from ahead. The sophomore QB also showed a ton of swagger and is someone whom Patriots players clearly rally behind. There’s no way Zappe doesn’t start against the Chiefs.

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LB Anfernee Jennings
His breakout season continued. Jennings finished with four tackles, including two for a loss. The Patriots have one of the NFL’s top run defenses, and Jennings is a huge part of it. The fourth-year pro could be headed for a big payday when he hits free agency this offseason.

WR JuJu Smith-Schuster
It wasn’t a high bar to clear, but this was Smith-Schuster’s best game in a Patriots uniform. He needed just one quarter to set a season-high in receiving yards (54; previous high was 51) and finished with four catches for 90 yards. It’s been a rough campaign for the veteran receiver, but it must’ve felt good to play well in front of his old fans.

Honorable mentions: Hunter Henry, Jabrill Peppers, Ezekiel Elliott, Christian Barmore, Jahlani Tavai, Davon Godchaux, Mack Wilson

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Special teams
This group is just horrible. You can bank on a few bad plays from them each week, and this game was no different. The first half alone saw Bryce Baringer boot one into the end zone, Brenden Schooler commit a penalty, Ty Montgomery submit a poor kickoff return and Myles Bryant call for multiple fair catches when he didn’t have to. Oh, and Baringer had a blocked punt and another touchback in the fourth quarter. Brutal.

CB J.C. Jackson
He committed two pass interference penalties and gave up the TD to Johnson. Jackson’s been up and down since returning to the Patriots, with the bad mostly outweighing the good. The weird thing is it doesn’t appear to be an issue with health or effort. He simply isn’t playing well.

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Run blocking
Elliott ran 22 times for just 68 yards (3.1 average) as New England’s O-line struggled to open many holes. Pittsburgh has a stout front seven, so this kind of performance is understandable, but it still wasn’t good enough.

Honorable mentions: Mike Gesicki, Conor McDermott, Cole Strange, Bryce Baringer, Ty Montgomery

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