New England Bounces Back vs Steelers

The Patriots improved to 7-2 after dismantling the Pitsburgh Steelers 39-26 on Sunday night. It was a good win after getting blown out in Cleveland the week before.

Just when you think you've got this team pegged, they go and do something like this.

Fresh off a beating at the hands of the unimpressive Cleveland Browns, the New England Patriots bounced back with a big win over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field, setting the stage for what should be another made-for-TV showdown against the Indianapolis Colts next week at Gillette Stadium.

This week's game is the second of back-to-back "rivalry" matchups for the Patriots; they have a long history with the Steelers dating back to Tom Brady's first game as a quarterback and an even longer history with the Colts, who've been a nemesis through the years.

The difference now is Indianapolis isn't quite as explosive as it's been in the past, even with Peyton Manning off to one of his best starts ever. Manning has already thrown for 2,663 yards in nine games and could break his single-season career-high mark of 4,557, which he set in 2004 (the same year he threw 49 touchdown passes).

Some new faces litter this lineup, including rookie running back Javarris James, who has hit his stride with three touchdowns in the last two weeks.

The bottom line is there is no rest for the road-weary Patriots. They return to Gillette this weekend on the heels of their biggest win of the season and remain tied with the Jets for first place in the AFC East, but it could unravel quickly if Manning does what he does best, which is torment New England's defense.

As we seemingly do each week, we'll learn something new about the Patriots on Sunday. And while it's dangerous to look too far ahead, a Thanksgiving Day showdown against the hapless Lions looms on the horizon, meaning a win this weekend could put the Patriots in position to enter December with a 9-2 record. Coincidentally, their first game of the month is at home against the Jets, who beat them earlier in the season.

Time will tell what December has in store, but it appears the worst is behind the Patriots as they prepare to finish off the rest of November. Then again, you can never be too sure what the future has in store -- not in this league, and not this season, where there's a new surprise each and every week.

After getting clobbered by the Browns, many felt the Patriots were in line for a similar beating by a much stronger Pittsburgh team.

LINEUP WATCH: TE Rob Gronkowski should be considered the team's newest red-zone threat. Gronkowski caught three touchdown passes against the Steelers, including catches of 19 and 9 yards. He also hauled in a 25-yard touchdown catch, proving he's tough to stop outside the red zone as well.

UNDER THE RADAR: WR Brandon Tate is starting to emerge as Tom Brady's most dangerous weapon on deep passes. The loss of Randy Moss left many believing the Patriots could no longer stretch the field, but Tate is finally proving he's more than just a kick returner. Tate had a big catch in the win over Minnesota and hauled in a 45-yarder Sunday in Pittsburgh. Expect to see more from him as the season progresses.


--WR Wes Welker finished with eight catches for 89 yards against Pittsburgh, his best game since the Randy Moss trade, which has undoubtedly had an effect on his performance.

--LB Tully Banta-Cain had his best game of the year Sunday, setting the edge in New England's pass rush. The Patriots took advantage of the Steelers' banged-up offense line and harassed quarterback Ben Roethlisberger all night.

--S James Sanders' 32-yard interception return for a touchdown Sunday put the game out of reach and ended any chance Pittsburgh had of a comeback.

--K Shayne Graham hit two field goals in his New England debut Sunday, but also missed an extra point. Ironically, Steelers K Jeff Reed missed a chip-shot field goal in the same game, perhaps a byproduct of the wet, sloppy field conditions.

--DL Mike Wright continued to take advantage of his expanded role Sunday, tying Banta-Cain for the team lead with 1.5 sacks. Wright has proven to be a jack-of-all-trades and has the ability to play both nose tackle and defensive end.

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