Rapid Reaction: Patriots 39, Steelers 26

November, 15, 2010
11/15/10
12:01
AM ET
PITTSBURGH -- Here are some early thoughts on the New England Patriots' 39-26 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

What it means: The Steelers fall to 6-3 in a battle for AFC supremacy. The Patriots (7-2) are tied with the New York Jets (7-2) for the best record in the conference and won a potential, head-to-head tiebreaker over Pittsburgh. The Steelers got off to a 4-1 start but are just 2-2 in their last four games. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has Pittsburgh's number, as he improved to 6-1 in his career against the Steelers.

What I liked: The Steelers were outplayed on offense and defense by New England. But rookie receiver Emmanuel Sanders had a few nice returns on special teams and caught a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Teammate Mike Wallace also caught two touchdown passes for the Steelers and had eight receptions for 136 yards.

What I didn't like: Pittsburgh's pass defense has been shaky all season, and it was further exposed by New England. The Patriots specialize in short and intermediate passing and consistently found holes in Pittsburgh's defense. Brady was masterful, completing 30-of-43 passes for 350 yards and four total touchdowns (three passing, one rushing). Pittsburgh's rebuilt offense line also struggled. New England stopped the run and recorded five sacks on Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Key injury: Steelers receiver Hines Ward suffered what was described as a neck injury late in the first quarter. He took a shot to the side of the head by Patriots' safety James Sanders and didn't return. This will be something to monitor during the week. Update: During the post-game news conference Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said Ward suffered a concussion during the game and that the receiver will be tested before being cleared to play.

What's next: The Steelers have a dangerous game upcoming at home against the Oakland Raiders (5-4), who have won three straight and are a surprise, first-place team in the AFC West. The Raiders also will be coming off the bye with two weeks to prepare for the Steelers. Recent history has proved Pittsburgh cannot overlook the Raiders, who came into Heinz Field last year pulled out an upset victory.

James Walker | email

ESPN Miami Dolphins reporter

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