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The New England Patriots’ (6-2) five-game winning streak came to an abrupt halt last weekend in Cleveland, where they suffered a 34-14 shellacking at the hands of the Browns.
Bill Belichick obviously didn’t read last week’s Keys to Victory column. His defense allowed Peyton Hillis to rush for 184 yards on 29 carries, and the offense turned the ball over in the red zone when rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski fumbled inside the ten yard line just before half-time.
“We were out of sync all day,” said quarterback Tom Brady. “It was not a good day at all. As an offense, we didn’t do much to advance the ball, and that includes the quarterback. If we play like we played today we are not going to beat anybody.”
This week the Patriots will continue their road trip against another AFC North opponent, the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2). If the Patriots play like they did in Cleveland, they’ll have no chance of beating the Steelers, who are led by a two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback, and boast one of the most physical defenses in the NFL.
When the Patriots’ offense enters the red zone, it must score touchdowns. Settling for field goals won’t be enough to overcome the Steelers, especially at Heinz Field, where three points is never a sure thing.
Just ask the Miami Dolphins, who recovered two fumbles at the Pittsburgh 22 and 13 in Week 7, but managed just two field goals. They went on to lose the game 23-22.
Place kicker Stephen Gostkowski was placed on injured reserve with a thigh injury on Wednesday, leaving it up to newly signed Shayne Graham to take over the kicking duties. Gostkowski is one of the best kickers in the league, losing him at this point in the season is a tough break for the Pats.
Losing Gostkowski should give the Patriots even more incentive to punch the ball into the end zone when they have the opportunity.
The Patriots lost to the Browns last Sunday because Cleveland was by far the more physical team on both sides of the ball.
Browns’ bruising running back Peyton Hillis carried the ball a whopping 29 times for 184 yards and two touchdowns. Meanwhile Patriots running back’s Danny Woodhead and BenJarvus Green-Ellis combined for just 68 yards on 18 carries.
The Pittsburgh Steelers pride themselves on being one of the most physical teams in the NFL. They are ranked first in rush defense, allowing the opposition a measly 58.3 yards per game. The Steelers currently rank 12th in the league in rushing offense, averaging 117.8 yards per game. Running back Rashard Mendenhall ranks seventh in yardage among NFL rushers.
The Patriots rushing defense is ranked 21st in the NFL, and their rushing offense is ranked 15th.
What does all of this mean?
The Browns were too physical for the Patriots, and the Steelers are even more physical than the Browns.
The Pats must prove they’re up to the task on Sunday night if they want to keep pace with the AFC’s elite. The Patriots don’t lose back-to-back games often, but I like the home team in this one.