The Patriots rushed out to a 20-0 halftime lead en route to a 33-3 win over the Steelers, getting their 2019 campaign off to an impressive start.
The defense was as advertised, keeping the Steelers offense under wraps, while the offense was unexpectedly explosive out of the gate, racking up 465 yards. Tom Brady finished with 341 yards passing and 3 touchdowns, starting his 20th year in the NFL off with a bang.
It’s hard to ask for much more out of an opening game. The pregame celebration and raising of a sixth banner had the crowd rocking and, unlike 2017, the action on the field kept the party going.
Here’s what else stood out as the Pats move to 1-0.
-- After an initial drive that featured five-straight running plays and one incompletion on third down, the Patriots offense found their stride on the second possession, with Josh Gordon capping off a 7-play 82-yard scoring drive. It was sparked by a 32-yard double pass from Brady to Edelman to White that brought back memories of 2007’s double pass against the Steelers. The Pats offense never looked back.
-- The defense primarily featured a package with only Lawrence Guy and Michael Bennett with their hands on the ground, as the Patriots seemed to be daring the Steelers to run the ball. It left the Steelers with only underneath crossing routes which were all snuffed out. The defensive unit, which had a lot of John Simon and Shilique Calhoun on the edges, came out playing like we saw all summer. Kyle Van Noy wasn’t even dressed due to the birth of his baby and they didn’t miss a beat.
-- Plenty of new faces were sprinkled in – Chase Winovich as a sub rusher, Gunner Olszewski as a punt returner, Ryan Izzo as the only tight end and Jakobi Meyers with a handful of snaps (and a nice catch). All got their feet wet in their first NFL games and showed well for themselves. Isaiah Wynn had no issues in his first NFL game starting at left tackle and going wire to wire, while Jake Bailey had one nice punt, one okay one, and one bad one.
-- Danny Shelton was stout on a third-and-1 stop that forced a second quarter punt by the Steelers. Despite playing a lot of 3-4 defense in the preseason, it was nowhere to be found in this game, even on a short yardage situation like this one. As I’ve said for years now, the 3-4 is always the teaching defense but its application in an actual game continues to be minimal, at least it was once again for this game plan. What is clear is that four linebackers will be a feature of this defense and that is indeed a unique and welcome throwback.
-- The Pony Package with two running backs seemed far more prominent than it was in the past. There’s been much hype about its potential every year but it never really seemed to pan out. Maybe this is the year it becomes featured more often. It makes sense given the tight end situation, but it wasn’t particularly effective. Josh McDaniels appeared to get a little more creative with it, putting both backs on one side in the backfield and sending them both into passing routes.
-- Dont’a Hightower made some early tone-setting hits and tackles, while Jamie Collins ran through the line untouched on a third-and-1 forcing a punt in what might’ve been four-down territory for the Steelers. It’s great to see this dynamic duo back in action. Now, with even more linebacker talent around them, they seemed even more effective and the coaches were able to keep them fresh unlike how things were the first time around when they were everything.
-- The run game was not as effective as I’d hoped it would be, but the passing offense made up for it. The team had just 99 rushing yards on 24 carries (3.4 yards-per-carry), while Sony Michel had just 15 carries for 14 yards. It’s a bit surprising, since the run game was so effective late last year and how good Sony was all summer. With Antonio Brown entering the mix you have to wonder if the spread offense is back to being the main offensive engine.
-- Josh Gordon finished with 3 catches for 73 yards and a touchdown in a solid debut after an extended break. It was just the kind of start the receiver needed, but how will he fit in with Antonio Brown in the offense? Will he be the same every-down outside receiver? Or will he move to a more rotational role? Gordon’s 42-yard reception in the third quarter was a prime example of how he’s the first receiver with the ability to make tough catches down the field in traffic like this since Randy Moss.
-- The fourth-and-1 stop just after the two-minute warning in the first half gave the Patriots great field position and a chance to work on their no-huddle, but they had to settle for a field goal. Later in the season the team will want to land what could’ve been a knockout punch instead of just another 3 points. Still, 20-0 at the half is pretty good. The defense had two fourth-down stops on the night and held the Steelers to 3-of-12 on third down.
-- The Steelers responded after receiving the second-half kickoff, getting their biggest play of the game on a 45-yard pass down the sideline that beat Jason McCourty. But the Patriots’ defense held strong on the goal line, allowing only a field goal. Not sure why the Steelers didn’t go for it since they were down 20 points. It seemed like the sideline passes were open for Roethlisberger, with the Patriots playing a lot of single safety looks but he couldn’t consistently find them. J-Mac could find himself eventually replaced by J.C. Jackson this season.
-- Julian Edelman finished with 6 catches for 83 yards, picking up right where he left off in the Super Bowl and showing no ill effects of the injured thumb that kept him out most of the summer. Even when Antonio Brown arrives, Edelman remains the most important piece for Brady’s offense.
- Phillip Dorsett had 25-yard and 58-yard touchdown catches, his first multiple touchdown game. Not sure how the arrival of Antonio Brown will affect Dorsett, but he remains a steady and reliable option who gets to where he needs to be. Brown and Gordon are more talented but sometimes availability beats ability. We’ll see how it all plays out but it’s reassuring to see this kind of game from Dorsett, who totaled 4 catches for 95 yards.
-- Marcus Cannon went down with a shoulder injury midway through the fourth quarter. Jermaine Eluemanor came in at left guard and Joe Thuney slid over to right tackle to replace the veteran. There’s nothing worse than a major injury when the game is already decided and the Patriots were already razor thin at tackle. In a game of almost entirely positives, this is a significant injury to monitor. If Cannon is out for any period of time the team will have to scramble, either keeping Thuney at tackle or moving Korey Cunningham in to the lineup. Cunningham was inactive against the Steelers.
The Patriots move to 1-0 on the season and will next face divisional opponent the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, September 15th at 1pm EST.