PITTSBURGH -- Quick-hit thoughts after the second quarter of the Patriots’ game against the Steelers (with New England trailing 17-10):
1. The Steelers controlled most of the first half, but the Patriots are still in it. The Patriots also get the ball to open the second half. It hasn't been pretty, but they've hung in to give themselves a chance. Some might say they're fortunate.
2. Neither team is backing down from the physical battle. A lot of pushing and shoving after whistles. Logan Mankins, the Patriots’ enforcer on offense, has often been in the middle of it. Patrick Chung and Mike Wallace had an exchange as the teams headed to the locker room at halftime.
3. Ben Roethlisberger’s interception with 8:53 remaining in the second quarter, by linebacker Gary Guyton, has the potential to be a game-turning play. Guyton returned it to the 8, and two plays later, Deion Branch caught a 2-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady. That cut the lead to 10-7. The Steelers entered the game minus-9 in the turnover differential, last in the NFL.
4. The Patriots looked to be in trouble before the interception. It is a reminder of how one play can quickly change the complexion of a game.
5. Both teams are showing mental toughness. The Patriots hung in when it looked like it would be a blowout, with a red-zone stop and Guyton’s interception keeping things from potentially getting out of hand. At the same time, the Steelers’ 10-play, 76-yard touchdown drive that came after Ben Roethlisberger’s interception showed how Pittsburgh is also resilient.
6. The Patriots’ defense is wildly inconsistent. The unit flashes at times, but at other times, it looks like it couldn’t stop Foxborough High (no disrespect to the Warriors, a fine Hockomock League program, but this is the NFL).
7. In an attempt to jump start the running game, offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer was brought into the game, with the Patriots making offensive tackle Nate Solder an eligible receiver.
8. Solder played the first two series at right tackle, before Vollmer came on and held down that position the rest of the way.
9. The Patriots’ offense played fast on its second drive of the game, which didn’t come until the start of the second quarter. Given that style, it has been a game where Kevin Faulk and Danny Woodhead have taken the bulk of the snaps. Faulk played 18 snaps, more than any running back.
10. Receiver Taylor Price is being integrated into the mix in specific situations. He played two snaps in the first half. Veteran receiver Chad Ochocinco was on for four snaps.
11. Stephen Gostkowski’s 46-yard field goal with 29 seconds remaining in the half was solid. It came to the open end of the stadium, which is considered the harder end to kick.
12. Defensive end Shaun Ellis, who left with a rib injury, has not returned to the game.