The lesson learned Sunday night? Don't bet against Bill Belichick when the Patriots are coming off a loss.
Following an embarrassing 34-14 loss to the Browns in Week Nine, the Patriots seemingly had everything going against them, matchup-wise, heading into Sunday night against the Steelers.
All the Pats did was pile up 39 points on the Steelers and advance to 7-2 on the season. Belichick is now a ridiculous 23-2 in the game after a loss since 2003.
How did they do it? The Patriots simply reverted to what worked earlier in the season: a short-to-intermediate passing game on offense and well-timed blitzes and key plays on defense.
The PFW Spin
In the first four games since the trade of Randy Moss, QB Tom Brady's passing accuracy reached 60 percent just once (61.4 vs. the Ravens). On Sunday night, he regained his precision passing, completing 30-of-43 passes (69.8 percent) for a season-high 350 yards and three TDs.
Brady picked apart the Steelers' zone, finding WRs Wes Welker and Deion Branch a combined 15 times for 160 yards. His consistency through the air opened holes for RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, whose 17-yard rush was the longest against the Steelers all season. And rookie TE Rob Gronkowski had his best game, catching five balls for 72 yards, including all three of Brady's TD passes.
The only difference in the Patriots' offense on Sunday night from what we saw earlier in the season when they scored at least 38 points in three of their first four games was TE Aaron Hernandez. The team's leader in receiving yards through eight games had zero catches for the first time all season. Hernandez is not in Belichick's doghouse, rather the game plan was designed to utilize Gronkowski as the tight end in three-WR sets.
On defense, the return of Patrick Chung helped immensely. Despite still apparently being bothered by a knee injury that kept him out of two games, Chung led the team in tackles and his pass breakup deflected into James Sanders hands and led to a TD. Chung blitzed often off the edge and the defensive linemen benefited. The Pats had recorded just 13 sacks in their first eight games but took advantage of a banged-up Steelers O-line by bringing Ben Roethlisberger down five times.
While Roethlisberger eventually had success against the Pats' passing "D," throwing for 387 yards, it was too little, too late. Teams will score and pile up yards against the Patriots, we have seen that, but as long as Brady scores more, and the defense makes enough stops like it did in the first half Sunday night, the Brady-Belichick duo is still good enough to make this Patriots team, filled with rookies, an AFC favorite.