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Red-zone woes, poor tackling costly

Injury-depleted Steelers don't make excuses following 27-16 loss.

PITTSBURGH -- Moral victories didn't interest the Steelers in their 27-16 loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday.

Yes, the Steelers stayed within a score of the powerhouse Patriots into the fourth quarter, in spite of playing without their quarterback, their best defensive player and a handful of other starters and top reserves.

And, yes, they made mistakes they could've easily turned into points.

And, yes, the officials made questionable calls that on a good day would've gone their way.

And, in general, yes, the Steelers proved they could play with the best the NFL has to offer in spite of those drawbacks.

"Don't just say we can play with them," snapped guard Ramon Foster. "We can beat them."

Coulda. But even with so many excuses the Steelers might've fallen back on, they didn't use them.

"I don't take nothing positive," said linebackers James Harrison. "We lost."

Mike Tomlin did acknowledge that his team entered the game a bit handicapped without Ben Roethlisberger. Replacement QB Landry Jones played well, but not well enough.

"You knew the margin for error was going to be minimal," said Tomlin. "You've got to make combat catches. You can't waste red-zone trips. You've got to come off blocks and make tackles in the run game. You can't give up explosion plays. We did. That's why we lost."

The Steelers were 1-for-4 in the red zone, with the first mistake perhaps the costliest. Jones was intercepted in the end zone by Malcolm Butler on a short pass to Antonio Brown in the first quarter. The Patriots then put together two long touchdown drives and appeared on the verge of blowing out the home team.

Tom Brady, who completed 19 of 26 passes for 222 yards, topped a 13-play drive with a 19-yard screen pass to James White, who ran past a prone Lawrence Timmons as the second-team defensive line could only flail.

DL Coach John Mitchell berated his group on the sideline, but it didn't help much as Brady drove the Patriots 84 yards on a second drive capped by LeGarrette Blount's 3-yard run for a 14-0 lead.

The Steelers answered with a quick touchdown. A 51-yard Jones to Brown pass was followed by a 14-yard touchdown pass to Darrius Heyward-Bey, who went up over Eric Rowe and tapped his right foot in bounds for his second touchdown in as many games.

Heyeward-Bey had another touchdown called back on the next possession because of a hold by Chris Hubbard, and Chris Boswell missed a 42-yard field goal.

The Steelers had a chance to tie the score before halftime, but settled for a 32-yard field goal with two seconds left to cut New England's lead to 14-10.

Boswell kicked a 46-yard field goal to cut the lead to 14-13 midway through the third quarter, but the Patriots finally turned to Rob Gronkowski to widen the lead.

On a third-and-7, Gronkowski ran down the seam past his old college teammate, Robert Golden. Brady threw a laser that Gronkowski hauled in for a 36-yard touchdown and 20-13 lead.

The Steelers answered with their third field goal, this one a 44-yarder, to cut the lead to 20-16 with 14:44 left. But Brady and Gronkowski hooked up again for a 37-yarder to set up Blount's 5-yard touchdown run to put the Steelers away for good at the 11:44 mark.

The Steelers had a chance to get back in the game after Steve Johnson forced a fumbled punt return by Julian Edelman. The ball was recovered by Greg Warren at the New England 43, but a third-and-3 drop by Le'Veon Bell was followed by a missed 54-yard field goal attempt by Boswell with 9:00 left and the Steelers fell to 4-3.

Jones completed 29 of 47 passes for 281 yards, a touchdown, an interception and a respectable passer rating of 76.6.

Bell gained 149 yards from scrimmage -- 81 rushing and 68 receiving on 21 carries and 10 catches.

Brown, who struggled with a nagging quadriceps injury, caught seven passes for 106 yards.

Defensively, the Steelers focused on stopping Brady through the air but in doing so allowed Blount 127 yards on 24 carries.

"We acknowledged schematically that we were willing to bleed a litle bit in the run game in an effort to minimize big plays," said Tomlin. "In doing so we would have to come off blocks and make tackles. Not enough of that for us to be successful."

The Steelers are bound to be healthier against the Baltimore Ravens following their bye week. They'll soon have Roethlisberger, Cameron Heyward and Marcus Gilbert back, as well as Ryan Shazier and Sammie Coates, who both played hurt Sunday. The Steelers will also have Ladarius Green and possibly Bud Dupree at their disposal as well.
Not that it mattered to anyone in the locker room Sunday.

"Yeah, yeah, I'm excited for the guys coming back," said Heyward-Bey. "But the guys on the field have to play better. We have to execute. We can't have penalties. We minimize that stuff, we have a chance to win games."


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