- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
PITTSBURGH -- Members of the Patriots' offense were admittedly frustrated while glued to the sideline Sunday night at Heinz Field, but it had nothing to do with their defense's inability to get off the field quickly against the Steelers.
No, it was the fact that a scuffling offense had put New England's defense in such a tough position early on.
The Patriots owned the ball for a mere 1 minute, 24 seconds in the first quarter Sunday, going three-and-out on their first and only possession of the frame. By the time the offense got back on the gridiron, Pittsburgh had a 10-0 lead and -- having put together two drives that totaled 27 plays, 140 yards and 13:39 on the clock -- had essentially sapped the New England defense.
The Patriots made a late charge, and their beleaguered defense gave the team opportunities to do such. But in the end, New England mustered a season-low 213 yards of total offense and endured a 25-17 loss in an AFC showdown. (The Pats went into the tilt averaging a whopping 474.5 yards per game.)
"It's our own fault that we were on the sideline," guard Brian Waters said. "When we had an opportunity to make something happen, we didn't. There's no faulting our defense. They did their job; they held them. Not only did they hold them, they kept them out of the end zone.
"We didn't do anything to help them by keeping [Pittsburgh's offense] off the field," he said. "And we didn't do anything to help ourselves by scoring points early in the game."
You'll hear plenty Monday about how the Patriots' defense has been exposed again. How solid efforts in wins over the Jets and Cowboys were clearly the outliers in a season in which the team is giving up a league-worst 423.7 yards per game. You'll hear how coach Bill Belichick put his team in a difficult position by cutting cornerback Leigh Bodden just days before a game against a gun-slinging Pittsburgh offense with some of the best young receivers in the game.
There's truth in all that, but here's how it's playing among members of the Patriots' offense: They didn't do their job. Bottom line. And it put their defense in a tough spot.
"We just didn't execute very well on offense," quarterback Tom Brady said. "I don't think we complemented our defense very well. The first quarter, we had an opportunity to go answer their score, and we go three-and-out.
"It's just a poor level of execution, all around," he said. "Individually, we'll have to look in the mirror and figure out what we need to do better."
The Steelers ultimately finished with having the ball for nearly two-thirds of the game, owning a 39:22 to 20:38 edge in time of possession. Did Brady & Co. get frustrated standing on a sideline that only got colder as the sun (and temperatures) dipped Sunday afternoon?
"Well, you always want to be out [on the field]," Brady said. "Your defense is busting their butts to get them off the field. We gotta complement them as well. If [Pittsburgh goes] on long drives, we can't go in there and go three-and-out like we did [on the game's first drive]. We gotta do a better job of that.
"Look, it's a good football team," he said. "We played them on the road, and there's not much margin for error when you play a good team on the road. And we certainly made plenty of errors."
Otherworldly against the Steelers in the past, Brady on the eve of Halloween didn't have his Superman costume on and was decidedly more mortal. He finished 24-of-35 passing for 198 yards and two touchdowns. His longest pass of the night was just 23 yards. Typically, when Brady completes 68.6 percent of his passes and doesn't throw an interception, it's a recipe for success.
Not on this night.
The Patriots struggled to get their running game going (12 carries, 43 yards), while penalties and sacks (Brady was dropped three times for 28 yards) didn't aid their cause. The offense left itself little margin for error, and it cost New England late in the game.
But it all kept reverting back to the sluggish start.
"You have 60 minutes -- the last minute is just one of them," Waters said. "We want to finish the game strong, for sure, but we gotta start the game a lot better than we did. We didn't start the game off with anything, to be honest with you.
"We gotta do a better job of playing for 60 minutes. We can't just hope and pray that we have an opportunity at the end. We gotta make better plays and do more with the other 59 minutes."
The Patriots will really kick themselves when they watch film. The team puts a heavy emphasis on the first play of any drive, noting it can set the tone for that march. Brady zipped an 8-yard pass to Aaron Hernandez on the offense's first play of the game, which should have lit the fuse.
"That's the thing," Branch said. "When we get on the football field, we have to take advantage of opportunities. We didn't do it. The defense did a great job. Even though [Pittsburgh] drove the ball down the field, they didn't get in the end zone.
"Our job was to go out and do the same thing, but we didn't," he said. "We didn't convert on third down; we didn't convert in the red zone. We had too many flags flying. That's the game of football. You minimize all the mistakes, flags, three-and-outs, and score in the red area, and we didn't do any of them."
And that left the Patriots far more frustrated Sunday than anything the Steelers were doing.
Chris Forsberg covers the Patriots and Celtics for ESPNBoston.com.